Tag Archives: beer

Drizzle and Drink


Here in the UK we are not kind to our rain deities and grumble incessantly when they go about their business, which is especially harsh considering that sorting out precipitation is invariably only a fraction of their duties. Looking after the fertility of the land and keeping an eye on agriculture are often part of the job, and they can also get lumbered with storms, giants, livestock, weather in general, the year, alcoholic beverages and dragon slaying.

Rain is a feature of storms so you are fairly likely to get both as a job lot and sometimes end up with all the weather by default, though it is fairly common for everyday wind to be left to someone else and the Sun deity is unlikely to hand over their crown without a fight. The problem with being a storm god is that you will almost certainly be considered rather short on temper: Thor, Zeus, Jupiter and Susanoo-no-Mikoto (the Shinto storm god), are all famously quick and unpredictable rag-losers.

The link between rain and growing stuff is obvious so it’s no surprise to find agriculture on their chore list and once you have the crops you may as well handle the pastoral side too. The alcoholic beverage link may not be so obvious to us twenty-first century types but it follows on quite logically when you think about the crops that brewers use combined with water.

Mbaba Mwana Waresa, the South African rain and agriculture goddess, finds the gods a little too obsessed with weapons for her taste and decides to look for a husband amongst the mortals. She thinks she has found the right man when she hears Tandeeway singing about the crops, the cattle and the rain. After appearing to him in a dream she sets him a couple of tests: a storm that he does not hide from and a temptingly beautiful girl who he does not mistake for the goddess. As they enter in to marriage the gods suddenly start taking notice and get rather huffy about her having married a mortal as they do not consider the mortals as good as the gods. Mbaba Mwana Waresa, distressed that the two sides of her family have fallen out, goes for a walk on the plains, ambling between the great sorghum grasses. The ripe grasses give her an idea and she takes their seeds back to the village and mixes them with water. After a while the mixture ferments and becomes the first beer. She gives it to the mortals and it makes them more like the gods! The gods, looking down from the clouds and wonder if, maybe, they are not so different after all. They also wonder if they can have some of the new drink themselves. The goddess gives them the beer and after a while… it makes them more like the mortals! So by inventing beer Mbaba Mwana Waresa solves the conflict… and gets another thing to be goddess over.

As the June skies darken again and another downpour falls on our veg plot like someone tipping an olympic swimming pool over the garden, I know it is giving the crops just what they need to grow and fatten. With any luck we’ll get a bumper crop of raspberries and my own domestic goddess, Jo, will brew them in to another vat of her excellent mead.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

The Travelling Talesman www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk

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Cheers!


I’ve got a 40 pint bucket of a yeasty sugar mix bubbling gently in my office. If all goes well it will transform over the next month in to 40 pints of cheap but very drinkable beer. The best thing about it is that I can honestly say that it is part of my research for work. A new year brings a new tour, “The Nectar Of The Gods”, in which I shall be looking at the place taken in mythology by the fermentation of alcoholic beverages.

My old favourites the Norse Gods have a couple of adventures on the subject. In one, the truce between the Aesir, the gods of Asgard, and the Vanir, the ‘shining ones from beyond’ is sealed by all of these divine beings spitting in to a cauldron. Odin makes Kvasir, a man of great wisdom, from the resultant holy goo and sends him off in to the world to do good. Two dwarves kill him, mix honey with his blood and brew a sublime mead that can bestow a magical ability to speak with great skill and weave words together in rhythm and rhyme.
The giant Suttung steals the three cauldrons, putting them under guard of his daughter Gunlod in a cave deep under a mountain. Odin then embarks on a long and arduous journey to retrieve the Mead Of Poetry for the gods. In another Norse tale there is no ale for a feast and no cauldron big enough to brew it so Thor is despatched to the land of the giants to fetch an appropriate brewing vat.

The theme of not having the necessary equipment seems common in the North. The Finnish epic “The Kalevala” contains a section in which the wedding beer will not start its fermentation. It appears they know about barley, hops and water but not yeast. A magic virgin despatches a squirrel, a marten and a bee on quests to bring back pine cones, bear spittle, and honey respectively. Even when they finally get the bubbles to rise the beer itself refuses to have a beneficial effect unless someone sings about how marvellous it is.

In the cuniform tablets of the ancient Sumerians we find a hymn to the goddess of beer, Ninkasi, which also contains the full recipe and instructions. Similarly, in the epic of Gilgamesh, when the wild man Enkidu comes to Uruk it is not the eating of bread that civilises him but the drinking of beer. No story that I have come across recounts the amazing discovery of leavening bread with yeast. Despite all the associations we, as modern people, have with grain goddesses, there are relatively few deities of bread and apparently no existing recipes from the earliest writings. It is also an interesting point that the instigators of agriculture were not growing wheat but barley. It is not surprising then, that some archaeologists and historians are of the opinion that the driving force behind the spread of agriculture was not food supply but the discovery of the delights of beer! Certainly the mythological record accords far more importance to beer than bread.

The journey into the origins of the myths about beer has lead me to the possibility that the amber nectar may be behind the greatest shift in human society we have yet experienced: the move from nomadic hunting and gathering to a settled agrarian society with cities and all that they bring. With my foaming bucket of barley and hops I am following in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors (except for the pinecones and bear spit), and I look forward to a very civilised March before I head off on tour in April, May and June.

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