Observations in Eddic Astronomy
The Three Vessels  

by Christopher E. Johnsen
© 2016

  The Norse myth describing the three vessels of the Mead of Poetry begins after the Aesir/Vanir war – when the two clans came together, each side spat into a bowl and the all-knowing Kvasir was born who was the wisest of all beings.  The two dwarves Fjalar and Galar killed him, and drained his blood into three vessels. Two were vats or crocks, called Són ("blood") and Boðn ("vessel") and the third was a pot or kettle called Óðrerir ("stirrer of inspiration" or "stirrer of fury"):  
"He [Kvasir] went up and down the earth to give instruction to men; and when he came upon invitation to the abode of certain dwarves, Fjalar and Galarr, they called him into privy converse with them, and killed him, letting his blood run into two vats and a kettle. The kettle is named Ódrerir, and the vats Són and Bodn; they blended honey with the blood, and the outcome was that mead by the virtue of which he who drinks becomes a skald or scholar.:"
Skáldskaparmál (V), A. G. Brodeur's translation

The two dwarves mixed the blood with honey and fermented it and the mixture became the Mead of Poetry – starkly different from regular mead because Kvasir’s blood had been mixed in with it - there is a special quality within it that causes one who partakes of it to become a poet or scholar.  Kvasir’s blood had become the Mead of Poetry and the name itself “Kvasir’s blood” (Old Norse “kvasis dreya”) is a skaldic kenning for poetry. 

Gilling was a giant who was also murdered by the dwarves Fjalar and Galar.  Galar then killed Gilling’s wife by dropping a millstone on her head. Gilling’s son, the giant Suttung, found the dwarves and threatened to tie them to a rock in the ocean that would be submerged by the rising tide. They begged Suttung not to drown them and offered him the mead of poetry they had made from Kvassir’s blood to spare their lives. Suttung took the mead and hid it in the center of the mountain Hnitbjorg in three containers and commanded his daughter Gunnlöð to stand guard over it.  

Odin, after deciding to obtain the mead, disguised himself and worked for Baugi, Suttung's brother, a farmer, for a whole summer, and asked him only for a small sip of the mead for his wages, which Suttung refused. Odin convinced Baugi to drill into the mountain with an auger named Rati so that he could steal a sip of the mead to pay him for his work. 


Odin changed into a snake and slithered into the mountain. Once inside, he met Gunnlöð who was on guard and he persuaded her to give him three sips of mead in exchange for three nights of pleasure with him.  After three nights, Odin went for his reward but instead of sipping from each vessel Odin proceeded to drink all the mead in each of the three containers.  He then changed into an eagle and flew off.  Suttung chased him in eagle guise, but Odin was faster and made it back to Asgard and spit out the mead into 3 vessels.

Odin steals the mead from Gunnlod

Katherine Pyle


Óðrerir is also mentioned in two passages of the Hávamál:
Vel keypts litar
hefi ek vel notit,
fás er fróðum vant,
því at Óðrerir
er nú upp kominn
á alda vés jaðar.
—Hávamál (140)
Guðni Jónsson's edition
Of a well-assumed form
I made good use:
few things fail the wise;
for Odhrærir
is now come up
to men’s earthly dwellings

—Hávamál (107),
B. Thorpe's translation

 In another stanza (140), the meaning of Óðrerir depends on the translation: 

Fimbulljóð níu
nam ek af inum frægja syni
Bölþorns, Bestlu föður,
ok ek drykk of gat
ins dýra mjaðar,
ausinn Óðreri.

—Hávamál (140)
Guðni Jónsson's edition
Potent songs nine
from the famed son I learned
of Bölthorn, Bestla’s sire,
and a draught obtained
of the precious mead,
drawn from Odhrærir.

B. Thorpe's translation

Óðrerir seems to refer to a vessel, but other interpretations of “ausinn Óðreri” could also mean that Óðrerir is the mead itself or perhaps referring to the mead by its container.
So - why are there 3 vessels and what is it that Odin is sipping from them (other than special mead)?

Odin returns with the Mead of Poetry
by Helliam at Deviant Art
Mead is essentially honey wine and honey is a unique, almost mystical substance that takes on the qualities of the surrounding foliage that the bees gather pollen from. It is a great natural preservative as long as it doesn’t get wet. Honey will last as long as its container does, but once water is mixed in with it, yeasts locked inside will begin to ferment the honey into alcoholic mead.  Once the concentration of alcohol reaches a high enough level to kill the yeasts, the fermentation stops.  In ancient times, mead was rarely made with honey alone and a variety of herbs spices and presumably other ingredients were mixed in with the brew – some of which were probably hallucinogenic.
The root of the name, kvas- in Kvas-ir, likely stems from the Proto-Germanic base *kvass-, meaning to “to squeeze, squash, crush, bruise”. Linguist Albert Morey Sturtevant states in reference to this base that “fluids may result from the crushing or pressing of an object (cf. Dan. kvase ‘to crush something in order to squeeze out the juice’).
There is a drink called Kvass that is a traditional Slavic and Baltic fermented beverage usually made from black or regular rye bread – usually in the summer. It has been especially popular in Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, but it is also well known throughout Estonia and Poland, and Georgia, Kazakhstan and Armenia. The color of the bread used contributes to the color of the resulting drink. It is classified as a non-alcoholic drink by Russian standard, as the alcohol content from fermentation is typically less than 1.2%.

Kvass is made by the natural fermentation of bread, such as wheat, rye, or barley, and sometimes flavored using fruit, berries, raisins, or birch sap collected in the early spring. Often times, poor peasants would brew Kvass out of stale, left over bread crumbs, leading to a phrase about brewing beer from breadcrumbs meaning to be able to make ends meet. Kvass was a peasant’s drink. A brew started by spittle doesn’t denote a high brow beverage – but it is a drink that the common man could identify with. 

In Tolstoy's War and Peace, French soldiers after trying kvass upon going into Moscow, enjoyed it but referred to it as "pig's lemonade." This would, understandably, explain why beer and mead dominated in Germany and Scandinavia, but it shows that the “tradition” with Kvass was to mix other substances into the brew to give it different taste and perhaps to make it stronger.

Thor drinking from Utgard-Loki's Horn

Giovanni Caselli
The Mead of Poetry, that Odin stole for the gods and that Thor drinks copiously of and that the giant Mimir guards in his well has as its’ equivalent in the Rgvedic soma madhu or the Soma mead that the god Indra quaffs daily.  Soma madhu, the drink, was the ambrosia and liquid sustenance of the gods. The way the giant Gilling’s wife was killed (a millstone was dropped on her head) reflects how the soma madhu of the Rgveda was made - by pressing it between stones.
The Vedic god Indra, was a great Soma drinker, and counterpart to the Norse god Thor with whom he is usually equated - both were great drinkers of this “special” mead.  Before he confronted the dragon Vritra, Indra drank large amounts of Soma to gain the strength he needed to defeat it. Soma, like the Norse “apples” of eternal youth (probably the same substance from which the Soma mead was made) provided the Vedic gods their immortality. 
It was also a drink for mortals, which was golden and made from the Soma plant. This drink brought visions and ecstasy and helped inspire poets to create verse.  Soma was the bridge between the mortal world and that of the gods (it is the same as Haoma in Persian mythology). Soma was also one of the more important gods in the Rig Veda since 20 hymns and one whole book are devoted to him. He has multiple forms; a celestial bull, a bird, a giant, lord of plants, sometimes a human.  A Rgvedic hymn states: 
“Indra, the killer of Vrtra, the first born of the snakes,
the generous one, drank, filled with ardent desire,
three vessels of the pressed Soma.” RV 1.32.3
Soma was equated with the god Chandra, the moon deity, the same as Mani in the Norse mythology. In the Rgveda, the moon was considered a large vessel or a kettle that held the drink Soma for the gods, and the moon would wax and wane as the gods drank the soma from the kettle.  In Tibetan Thangka images, a skullcap or calvarium was used by the gods to drink the Soma. When the moon waned, it was due to the gods drinking the Soma until the new moon arrived and all the Soma was gone; as the moon waxed, the moon filled up with Soma at the full moon.  The Soma of the moon is reflected solar energy that is also equated to the “life force” and the “filling” and “emptying” of it is what creates the moons phases.
The Sumerians also recorded that this life force was stored within the moon.  A Sumerian ‘ersemma’ hymn to Nannar emphasizes the intoxicating quality of the life force stored in the moon and the “Hymn to Ninkasi” is both a song of praise to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, and an ancient recipe for brewing. (The Grail Two Studies Leopold Von Schroeder (1910) & Alexander Jacob, (2014) Australia).
Timothy Stephany has suggested that the myth with Odin and Gunnlöð is an image that is visible on the moon.  Speaking about the goddess Bil and the moon, Viktor Rydberg wrote “Odin came to her every day and got a drink from the mead of the moon-ship, when the latter was sinking toward the horizon in the west. The ship is in Grimnersmal called Sökkvabekkr, “the setting or sinking ship,” in which Odin and Saga “daily drink from golden goblets,” while “cool billows in soughing sound flow over” the place where they sit. The cool billows that roar over Sokkvabekk are the waves of the atmospheric sea, in which Nokver’s ship sails, and they are the waves of the ocean when the silver-ship sinks into the sea. The epithet Saga is used in the same manner as Bil, and it probably has the same reason for its origin as that which led the skalds to call the bucket which Bil and Hjuke carried Sœgr. Bil, again, is merely a synonym of Idun.” (Teutonic Mythology pg. 987).
The phases of the moon and the equating of reflected solar energy with Soma or the Mead of Poetry have inspired the poetic fiction that the moon is a vessel that can be filled and emptied by the light of the sun.  The moon is not the only “vessel” in the heavens that waxes and wanes with the light of the sun and has phases from full to new.  The so-called “inferior” planets Mercury and Venus lie between the sun and the planet earth and this placement causes them to have observable phases just like the moon.  The reflected solar energy causes Mercury and Venus to be “filled up” and also to be “emptied” as they wax and wane with their movements around the sun.


Mercury is the least conspicuous of the visible planets and never moves further than 28° from the Sun. Since they need to be at least 12° apart for Mercury to be visible against the Sun's light, its appearance is limited to a short period just before sunrise or just after sunset. In northern Europe, it can be seen on no more than twenty days each year and has phases that are just able to be made out with unassisted vision.               

The planet Venus also has a sequence of phases similar in appearance to the moon's phases. It presents a full image when it is on the opposite side of the Sun and shows a quarter phase when it is at its maximum elongation from the Sun. Venus appears as a thin crescent as it comes around to the near side between the Earth and the Sun and presents its new phase when it is between the Earth and the Sun. The full cycle from new to full to new again takes 584 days (the time it takes Venus to overtake the Earth in its orbit).
All three “vessels”, the Moon, the planet Mercury and the planet Venus are the macrocosmic vessels that the gods use to consume their astral mead.  This is a heavenly representation of the cups and containers that humans use to mix and consume the earthly Soma drink or Mead of Poetry.  The solar energy that is stored within the Poetic Mead is just like the “reflected energy” of the planets, only the sunlight is first “reflected” through vegetation and then made into mead and finally consumed in its liquid form.