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10 Mythologies Centered Around The Glory Of Beer

Shannon Gadberry

While an array of flavorful adjectives can be ascribed to this intoxicating beverage, few words can capture the true soul and spiritual connection that has been shared between man and beer for thousands of years. Since its first batch, beer has brought enlightenment to humanity, encouraging man to manifest himself in a way that would mold a vibrant, expressive, and innovative civilization. Of course, in gratitude for giving humanity its creative input, sharing mythological tales about the epic qualities and creation of beer was also prominent during the evolution of civilization. Raise your glass and fill your mind’s mug with these tales of brew.

10A Heavenly Goat

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There’s plenty a goat can provide—cheese, milk, YouTube videos of them fainting—but what if you had a goat capable of supplying an endless current of beer? You would undoubtedly be able to throw the most outlandish keg parties in town, an eternal celebration no stranger to fallen soldiers in the Viking heaven of Asgard.

According to Norse mythology, the principal god Odin houses the noblest of fallen soldiers in his massive banquet hall, Valhalla, on top of which a giant goat brimming with beer named Heidrun is perched. At each daybreak, these warriors hone their battle skills by fighting on the Asgard plain in preparation for their final contest against Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. Fingers, hands, and even heads may be sacrificed during the fighting, but at nightfall, their bodies are reassembled and an endless supply of beer and food is offered to all. Heidrun sits atop Valhalla, nibbling on branches from the Norse tree of life and awaiting the dead, with udders full of frothy brew eager to flow down into Valhalla’s bottomless tub. Asgard’s Viking maidens, the Valkyries, serve the fallen soldiers beer after beer in reward for their hard day’s work.

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9The Salvation Of Humanity

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If your night has ever consisted of sloshing down seven beers, you’re no stranger to the beverage’s intoxicating consequences. Now imagine chugging 7,000 beers, a feat that transcends Andre The Giant’s unofficial world record by 6,881.

The Egyptian goddess of war, Sekhmet, not only sports a head of a lioness but can drink just about anyone under the table. Regarded for her uncontrollable rage, she was originally sent forth by the Sun god, Ra, to destroy evildoers. When she could no longer suppress her lust for blood, she conspired to slaughter all of humanity.

Ra thwarted Sekhmet’s plot by ordering his high priest to whip up 7,000 jars of beer mixed with red ochre and scatter them all over the land. While storming through Egypt in preparation for the massacre of mankind, Sekhmet discovered the red beer and immediately guzzled down every drop, believing it to be blood. Her thirst quenched, Sekhmet drunkenly staggered away, unable to fulfill her plan. Thus, according to Egyptian mythology, beer is the savor of the human race.

8Enlightenment

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Photo credit: Tang Lung

The oldest piece of written literature known to man, dating somewhere between the years of 2750 and 2500 B.C., The Epic of Gilgamesh originates from ancient Sumeria and recounts the adventures of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk. The epic also tells of a feral half man named Enkidu who was raised by wild animals in the hills and guided toward civilization by a prostitute named Shamhat. Of course, what is civilization without beer?

As a representation of primitive mankind prior to enlightenment, Enkidu is clueless in the ways of man and even unaware of how to accept an offering of bread and beer. Shamhat explains that eating bread is what humans do for survival, while drinking beer is what civilized people do as a custom of the land. Seven pitchers in, Enkidu becomes human, shaves his matted hair, and acquires a proper wardrobe. This evolution from primitive creature to humanity is symbolic of the fierce relationship Sumerians ascribed to beer and the civilization of mankind.

7The Kalevela

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The Kalevela is an epic of Finnish mythology published in its entirety in 1849 by Elias Lonnrot. A collection of earlier works ranging from 1000 B.C. through the 17th century, The Kalevela tells the story of the creation of Earth and humanity, but more importantly, the creation of beer. One of the most intriguing aspects of the epic is the number of lines dedicated to beer—approximately 400—while the creation of the Earth is summed up in a measly200. The Kalevela also illustrates the mythological history behind beer’s first fermentation, revealing what scholars believe to be the origins of using hops in the brewing process.

According to the mythology of The Kalevala, a female brewer wished to make beer for a wedding celebration, but to her distress, the beer wouldn’t ferment. She sent a white squirrel into the forest to gather cones from a fir tree, but the beer remained flat. She then sent a marten to collect foam from the mouths of irritated bears, but still, the beer would not bubble. Once more, the brewer sent a honeybee to travel to a desert island and harvest pollen from blooming flowers. Elated, the brewer observed the beer froth up and overflow into the streams of the mythical city of Pohjola, thus creating the first batch of hoppy beer.

6The Hymn To Ninkasi

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Since boiled water was used in its brewing, beer was actually healthier than the available canal water in Mesopotamia in 2500 B.C. Additionally, beer contained nutrients all other beverages lacked, making the brew a prominent aspect of the Mesopotamian diet. It’s no surprise, then, that the earliest instruction manual for the brewing process of beer was recorded in Mesopotamia.

The Hymn to Ninkasi—which was also a chorale of praise to the Sumerian goddess of beer, as the title implies—was recorded around 1800 B.C. However, it is believed to be much older, as the brewing of beer in Mesopotamia dates back to 3500–3100 B.C. The hymn instructs readers and listeners to handle the dough with a shovel; mix with sweet aromatics, honey, and grains; soak the malt in a jar; and filter it in the vat. The end result was not just any beer—it was a beer comparable to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, bringing life and enlightenment to all those who partook of it.

5The Hospitable God Of The Sea

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While feared by sailors due to the immense amusement capsizing ships brought him, Aegir, the Norse god of the sea, is regarded in the deity realm as one of mythology’s most hospitable gods. The Norse god of thunder, Thor, gifted Aegir with a mile-deep cauldron brimming with ale for use during annual banquets for the gods. With a cauldron of that substantial size, many honorable gods in Norse mythology would gather at Aegir’s golden sanctuary at the bottom of the sea during the winter months and partake in his neverending supply of perfectly crafted ale.

Because of these lavish celebrations, Aegir is known for not only his hospitality but putting any host to shame by providing a literal “bottomless keg” that instantly replenishes mugs upon draining. In fact, so much beer is enjoyed by his guests that the white froth seen atop waves is attributed to Aegir’s massive parties.

4Witch’s Brew

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Cerridwen, the Welsh witch-like goddess of barley, resides in the underworld and keeps guard over the Cauldron of Wisdom, which is believed to hold a beer concoction known as the “Brew of Inspiration and Knowledge.” According to Welsh mythology, Cerridwen birthed two children, a beautiful daughter and a hideous son. Taking pity on the boy, she decided to grant him more wisdom than any other in existence, but in order to do so, she has to stir her brew for a year and a day. Soon tiring, she handed the task over to a young boy named Gwion, warning him to avoid tasting or letting his skin come in contact with the brew.

At the end of the year, when Gwion had faithfully completed his duty, three drops splashed out of the cauldron, burning his hand. After sucking on his finger to relieve the pain, he instantly became the wisest to have ever lived. Furious at the enlightened Gwion for unintentionally defying her, she chased after the boy, who met his end when the witch ate him after he shape-shifted into a single grain of wheat in an attempt to conceal himself.

3The Flemish King Of Beer

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Photo credit: EPei

According to the Flemish myth, a lowly apprentice glassmaker named Gambrinus was rejected by a beautiful maiden he had fallen in love with named Flandrine. Heartbroken and distraught, he fled from his home in Fresne to a nearby forest to hang himself. While there, however, he was confronted by the devil, who proposed a deal. If he could not win Flandrine’s love, the devil would grant Gambrinus the ability to forget the maiden forever, at the cost of his soul in 30 years.

Even with the devil’s luck, Flandrine remained unimpressed with Gambrinus and rejected him yet again. He stormed back to the forest, vexed by his unrequited love as well as his inability to forget the maiden, but to his surprise, a field full of green, aromatic plants appeared before him. The devil explained that the plants were hops and would make a drink called “beer” that was strong enough to make Gambrinus forget about Flandrine once and for all. In addition, he was granted chimes, which he played for the townspeople of Fresne when they complained of the brew’s bitterness.

Unable to resist Gambrinus’s tunes, the townsfolk began dancing uncontrollably and soon became thirsty, acquiring an appreciation for the beer. Gambrinus began playing chimes all around the world to introduce beer to humanity, landing him the title “King of Beer.” In response to his newfound fame, Flandrine returned to Gambrinus to profess her love for him, but as he was too wasted to recognize her, he simply offered her another beer and carried on with his life.

When the devil returned after 30 years, Gambrinus played the chimes until the devil was too tired of dancing and agreed to break off the deal. When Gambrinus died, his body disappeared and was replaced by a barrel of beer, having lived a happy and drunk life.

2Mythology’s Party Animals

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Dionysus, the Greek god of pleasure and festivity, seemed to live an enviable life, even for a mythological deity—eternally tipsy, surrounded by a flock of devoted nymphs, and able to cause a ruckus anywhere he goes because “Oh, it’s just Dionysus. He’s probably drunk again.”

But one isn’t born mythology’s most notorious party animal—he had to be taught. His teacher was the sozzled, big-bellied Greek god of beer named Silenus. As a foster father and drinking buddy to Dionysus, Silenus is usually depicted as a jovial man, often having to be carried on the back of a donkey due to his immense enjoyment of all things intoxicating or cavorting all night to a dance he named “The Silenus.”

Unlike most drunkards, who believe beer grants them some sort of philosophical enlightenment, Silenus actually acquired prophetic powers upon a heavy night of drinking, which made him one of Greek mythology’s wisest deities. In fact, he was so respected and renowned that he was once taken hostage for five days by King Midas, who sought his drunken prescient knowledge. Dionysus, concerned for the whereabouts of his tutor, finally discovered Silenus and was so elated by his well-being that he granted King Midas the ability to turn everything he touched into gold.

1The Beer Of Life

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Also known by his Welsh name of Govannon, Goibniu is a respected Celtic god and master goldsmith. In addition to constructing the most valuable and sustainable weapons in Ireland, he is also known for his skill and craft in brewing the most vital of beers.

According to legend, his brew was crafted with fruit from trees of the Otherworld, a realm of Celtic deities, and rendered the drinker indestructible in battle. Even those with a simple illness could take advantage of Goibniu’s fantastic ale, as it could cure any sickness. If thought worthy enough, a soldier killed in battle could be placed in Goibniu’s cauldron and brought back to life, fully intact.

The primary purpose of his beer, however, was to bestow immortality and invincibility upon Celtic deities. Served at the sacred Manann’s Feast of Age, all those sipping the heady elixir were granted immortality as well as eternal youth.

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