So last time we discussed the Norse pantheon and the war that raged on for ages between the two distinct families of gods, the Aesir and the Vanir. When the war turned into a stalemate, the gods created a new creature to maintain peace and order: Kvasir. He would be the wisest creature of all, the one that could resolve all their disputes. A tough job, as the gods would often bicker over the littlest of things.
The divine diplomat
Kvasir lived up to the task. He moved from dispute to dispute, resolving conflicts between Aesir and Vanir alike. No more disagreements about who was entitled to shoot a mystic deer or about who was in his rights to steal a magical artifact. Kvasir passed judgment swiftly and surely. None felt left out, everyone respected his wisdom.
It is therefore not hard to imagine that the gods were distraught when he announced he would travel to the humans of Midgard. Apparently, he thought humans to be in more need of his wisdom than the gods. The gods would now have to resolve their own conflicts again, until the day that Kvasir would return to them (a day that would never come).
And so, Kvasir traveled to the human realm. He resolved disputes between kings and their vassals, jarls and their priests, fishermen and woodcutters, chieftains and farmers. He would teach them about all sorts of things, ranging from how to craft new tools to a broader vocabulary. Ah, such bliss. The world would be free of conflict forever. This must be why all troubles in our world are gone.
Somewhere, something went wrong
Wait! Something must have gone awfully wrong there. Indeed, Kvasir’s drive to help mortals fix their issues would result in his demise. The god that was created out of the combined spit of both Vanir and Aesir became a bit of a legend during his time in Midgard. He shared his knowledge with all mortal beings and nullified all conflicts. All mortals were happy. Two dwarven brothers enter the scene: Fjalar and Galar.
Fjalar and Galar perfectly fit the dwarven stereotype as depicted by various sources. They were rowdy, little men with a taste for violence and beer. And just like most dwarfs, they were incredible craftsmen. They lived in an underground brewery in Svartalfheim, where they would craft beer in a magical cauldron. And they were just as greedy as any dwarf. Nay, they were even greedier. Their beer was glorious, but it had not brought the fame they had longed for. They had heard of Kvasir’s deeds in Midgard, and they lusted for his infinite wisdom.
A thirst for knowledge
We are going to assume that they were drunk when they came up with a gruesome plan. “Since Kvasir has so much wisdom flowing through his veins, it would make perfect sense if we would just drink him. That would make his wisdom flow over into our minds”. Yep, you read that part right. The brothers had seen the deeds of a good Samaritan and decided to turn him into a beer. And so they set up a trap for the divine mediator.
The dwarfs invited Kvasir to their underground brewery, most likely claiming that they had a dispute about who was allowed to drink the most. When he arrived to help them resolve their issues, they swiftly killed him with a magical weapon. They then drained his blood and distilled it in their kettles. After letting their grotesque brew ferment for a proper amount of time (as if they were following a normal recipe), they drank their newly crafted beer.
The Mead of Poetry
But as they gulped down their drinks, their minds did not turn brighter. They were not filled with the wisdom they had hoped for, but for a short period of time, they were struck by a strange side effect. Instead of the rowdy language that they would usually utter, the words that left their mouths formed eloquent verses of poetry. This was some time ago: poetry did not exist yet. The brothers smiled. They had invented something that would drive all beings, mortals, and immortals, to jealousy. Finally, they would have the fame that their greedy little minds wished for.
Many were impressed by the newly acquired skills of Fjalar and Galar. They would often exclaim poetry, demonstrating their mastery of the verse. Of course, the dwarfs were selfish enough to keep all of the Mead of Poetry (that’s what they dubbed it) to themselves, refusing to share it with anyone. But just like drinking a beer that is made out of a divine being’s blood, these boasts would bear an unpredicted side effect.
A giant fan
Word of the dwarfs and their new trade was spreading. Soon, there was a giant that heard rumors of the Mead of Poetry. His name was Gilling and he planned to investigate the stories about these dwarfs by traveling to their brewery. He asked them to share a sip of their mead with him so that he could experience the beauty of poetry for himself. “Of course”, the brothers answered with a smirk, “ but we would have to cross the sea to get to the mead first. Will you join us using your own boat?”. Gilling agreed, and so they set course for the Mead of Poetry.
The brothers were a devilish duo. When they were out on the open sea, they asked Gilling if he was able to swim. When the giant told them that he could not, they turned over his boat, making him topple overboard into the water. Unable to swim, he quickly drowned. Another unlikely kill for the dwarfs (although they did not gobble down this victim like they did the first one).
You let in one giant…
When returning to their brewery, they noticed a giantess waiting. Not for them, but for her husband, whom they had just executed out on open water. Again, the brothers would show their deceitful nature, by putting on a mask of sorrow. They told her that her husband did not make it.
The giantess is overcome with sadness and falls to the floor. She keeps on sobbing and wailing, making the walls of the brewery shake as her giant cries echo through its halls. This goes on for some time until the dwarfs decided that they are fed up with her complaining. They make her sit next to the mill of the brewery, which was probably used for grinding barley. They lift the millstone and drop it on top of her head. Her cries stop as she dies instantly. The dwarfs have increased their kill count again.
Now that the dwarfs got rid of the giants, they could continue their banter. They would drink, boast, and (of course) exclaim poetry. Not only did they have cool stories about how they had killed a god, but they had now also killed two giants. If one did not know of their deceitful tricks and morbid drinking habits, one would indeed think of them as prestigious individuals. Then again, some acts should not be bragged about. Another giant decides to visit them in their brewery. This time it Suttung, the son of Gilling. He came to avenge the murder of his parents.
The dwarfs understand that they might be in trouble. So they quickly invite Suttung to join them on the open sea, hoping he will fall for the same ruse as his father. Suttung is smarter than that. Instead of falling for their treachery, he picked up the dwarfs and put them on a rock in the middle of the sea with low tide. The brothers know that the rising tide will soon mean the end of them, so they make the ultimate sacrifice: they offer to exchange the Mead of Poetry for their lives.
Suttung, who is clearly not sentimental, accepts this deal. He takes all casks of mead with him when he leaves for his giant fortress, which is located in the middle of a mountain. The dwarfs would never see the Mead again, but they would live to see another day. The fact that they had to barter for their lives out on the open water, where they had killed Suttung’s father, can only be called poetic justice.