The Story of Kvasir and the Mead of PoetryThe full story about Kvasir and the Mead of Poetry is told in the Prose Edda written down by Snorri Sturluson, but there are references to it in the Havamal. It's an older story, and one we may not have all the versions of, but at least we have a story. I won't recite it in it's entirety; there are many good sites that have the story line, and you're welcome to read it in the text.
|Yes, it's bird crap|
For those with the tl;dr attention span, here's the basic story:The gods craft a man named Kvasir from their spit (ewww) that is so wise and knowledgeable, that he goes around the world imparting his wisdom to those who would learn it. Somehow Kvasir didn't get the memo that two dwarves named Fjalar and Galar were up to no good and killed him. They crafted the mead of poetry from his blood (another ewww), and anyone who drank from it was given great wisdom and poetry. To make a long story short, a Jotun eventually kills the dwarves and secrets the mead in a mountain with his daughter. Odin gets wind of this, goes undercover, seduces the daughter, steals the mead in his beak, and flees in the form of an eagle back to Asgard with the Jotun on his heels, errr... tail feathers? So close, he poops out some of the mead, which was not saved. (And anyone can partake of the bird droppings with predictable results.) The rest Odin give to the Aesir and doles out sparingly to those people gifted with poetry.
So, is it Bird Crap?I look at the story as a metaphor for the creative process. I'm pretty sure it fits to most anything creative whether it is writing, music, crafting, or some sort of handiwork. We all start out as, well, crappy beginners. Some of us may be better or gifted with the mead of poetry, but most of us deal with bird crap. I use writing as an example. Writing is hard work for those of us who do it for a living and work at honing our craft. When we first start out as writers, we're basically consuming the bird crap Odin left behind. Eventually, we get better, but it takes practice and study.
Looking Deeper into Odin's Hard WorkIn the Mead of Poetry story, Odin doesn't just trick the Jotun and get the mead. Oh no. He first comes across nine field workers of the brother (Baugi) of the Jotun (Suttung) who has the mead. He calls himself Bölverkr and tricks them into killing themselves and then goes and visits their master, who is perplexed by his misfortune. Bölverkr/Odin makes a deal to work for Baugi for the season and do all the work his nine dead workers would do in exchange for a sip of the mead. Baugi agrees and Odin does the work, but Suttung is none too keen on giving him a sip.
Odin convinces Baugi to help him get the mead. It takes a few setbacks and the Jotun nearly skews the All Father when he shape changes into a snake and slithers into the hole in the mountain. There, he changes back and beguiles the daughter who sleeps with him three nights for three drinks of mead. Odin drinks all three jars in three sips.
We can take this story at face value and find it amusing, or we can actually consider what it means. I suspect it is a metaphor for how we acquire our skills as creatives. Let me explain.
He carries the mead in his bill when he changes into an eagle, and regurgitates it (ewww) for the Aesir as he returns so that the gods have it. He is dogged by Suttung, who may be a metaphor for failure, as Odin craps out lousy mead of poetry while regurgitating the good stuff.