The below myth has been adapted from the Norse myth regarding the origins of the mead of poetry. I have, where possible, attempted to adapt the names from the Norse to Old English equivalents or “near-as-dammits” as I call them. I am not traditionally a big fan of adapting in “like for like” fashion but this is one that I particularly enjoyed, removing such items that have no obvious cognates in Fyrnsidu (Such as Ásgarðr, the Aesir/Disir war etc.) and I have substituted some of the locations and other details to reflect a more “Englisc” feel to the story that hopefully comes across in the reading.

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Wōden & The Mead of Poetry

There did come a time when the gods and goddesses sealed a truce by spitting into a great cauldron. From their spittle they formed a being that they named Hæcine (Grape Water). Hæcine was the wisest human that had ever lived. Indeed, none were able to present him with a question for which he didn’t have a satisfying answer. He became famous and travelled throughout the world giving counsel to many kings and leaders.

Hæcine was soon invited to Hwītdolg (White Scar), the cave home of two dwarfs named Beswīcend (Deceiver) and Fryccea (Herald). For all his wisdom, Hæcine was unsuspecting of the true purpose of the dwarfs. Upon his arrival, the dwarfs slew Hæcine and brewed mead with his blood. This mead contained Hæcine’s ability to dispense wisdom, and was appropriately named Æteōwedniss (A Revelation). Any who supped of it would become a poet or a scholar.

When the gods questioned the dwarfs about Hæcine’s disappearance, Beswīcend and Fryccea told them that Hæcine had choked on his wisdom. The gods were suspicious, yet none intervened.

The two dwarfs found that they delighted in murder. Soon after this incident, they took the giant Gētla out to sea and drowned him for sport. The sounds of Gētla’s weeping wife irritated them and so they killed her as well, this time by dropping a millstone on her head as she passed under the doorway of their house.

But this last mischief got the dwarfs into trouble. When Gētla’s son, Druncen (Saturated), learned of his father’s murder, he seized the dwarfs and, at low tide, carried them out to a reef off the coast of Scotland that would soon be covered by the waves. The dwarfs pleaded for their lives, and Druncen granted their request only when they agreed to give him the mead they had brewed with Hæcine’s blood. The dwarfs retreated back to their cave dwelling and were not seen again. Druncen hid the vats of mead in a chamber beneath the mountain Scafell Pike, where he appointed his daughter Cempestre (Female Warrior) to watch over them.

Now Wōden, the chief of the gods, who is restless and unstoppable in his pursuit of wisdom, was displeased with the precious mead’s being hoarded away beneath a mountain. He bent his will toward acquiring it for himself and those he deemed worthy of its powers.

Disguised as a wandering farmhand, Wōden went to the farm of Druncen’s brother, Bēag (Ring). There he found nine servants mowing hay. He approached them, took out a whetstone from under his cloak, and offered to sharpen their scythes. They eagerly agreed, and afterwards marveled at how well their scythes cut the hay. They all declared this to be the finest whetstone they had ever seen, and each asked to purchase it. Wōden consented to sell it, “but,” he warned them, “you must pay a high price.” He then threw the stone into the air, and, in their scramble to catch it, the nine killed each other with their scythes.

Wōden then went to Bēag’s door and introduced himself as Wēstend (Destroyer). He offered to do the work of the nine servants who had, as he told it, so basely killed each other in a dispute in the field earlier that day. As his reward, he demanded a sip of Druncen’s mead.

Bēag responded that he had no control of the mead and that Druncen guarded it jealously, but that if Wēstend could truly perform the work of nine men, he would help the apparent farmhand to obtain his desire.

At the end of the growing season, Wōden had fulfilled his promise to the giant, who agreed to accompany him to Druncen to inquire about the mead. Druncen, however, angrily refused. The disguised god, reminding Bēag of their bargain, convinced the giant to aid him in gaining access to Cempestre’s dwelling. The two went to a part of the mountain that Bēag knew to be nearest to the underground chamber. Wōden took a bore made of silver out from his cloak and handed it to Bēag for him to drill through the rock. The giant did so, and after much work announced that the hole was finished. Wōden blew into the hole to verify Bēag’s claim, and when the rock-dust blew back into his face, he knew that his companion had lied to him. The suspicious god then bade the giant to finish what he had started. When Bēag proclaimed the hole to be complete for a second time, Wōden once again blew into the hole. This time the debris was blown through the hole.

Wōden thanked Bēag for his help, shifted his shape into that of a wyrm, and crawled into the hole. Bēag stabbed after him with the silver bore, but Wōden made it through just in time.

Once inside, he assumed the form of a handsome young man and made his way to where Cempestre was guarding the mead. He won her favour and secured a promise from her that, if he would sleep with her for three nights, she would grant him three sips of the mead. After the third night, Wōden went to the mead, which was in three vats, and consumed the contents of each vat in a single draught.

Wōden then changed his shape yet again, this time into that of a raven, and flew off towards his great hall with his prize in his throat. Druncen soon discovered this trickery and took on the form of a red kite before flying off in pursuit of Wōden.

When the other gods spied Wōden approaching with Druncen close behind him, they set out several vessels at the rim of Wōden’s great hall. Wōden reached his abode before Druncen could catch him, and so the giant retreated in great anguish, whistling with rage and thus giving the red kite their haunting call to this day.

As Wōden came to the cauldrons, he regurgitated the mead into them. As he did so, however, a few drops fell from his beak to Middangeard, the world of mankind, below. These drops are the source of the abilities of all poor and mediocre poets and scholars. However, the true poets and scholars amongst mankind are those to whom Wōden gifts his mead personally, and with care. Such a gift must be met with an equally precious gift and many are those whose wyrd dictates that their lives be notably shorter, though the richer in talent for it.

 

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