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in search of the god of beer

That throwaway query about the god of beer. On reflection, I must agree with sophia, it is interesting. Although also, rather long, so under a cut for your convenience:

The problem with Google and gods is the predominance of the cult and the corporate. The popular pages are brewers reciting a few well-worn "facts" and gaggles of paganesque sites with purple backgrounds and animated flames claiming all gods are Ishtar/Mary, Jesus/Dionysis etc. and other such obvious "facts". Gah!

However, I will not be confounded, and I will look deeper for my god of beer.

One of the best contenders seems to be Ninkasi, a Sumerian goddess who was born in order to heal Enki's mouth as he lay dying in paradise. (A punishment for tearing up his sister-wife Ninhursag's plants/children.) Named as the goddess who sates the heart, this instructional hymn makes it fairly clear that brewing is her business.

But it's all about the action of creating beer; I am more interested in the spiritual aspects of alcoholic consumption. And also, ancient Mesopotamia? It's been a while.

So I fed "drink" into Godchecker.com to see what was going on with gods and booze, and oh, I found out so many things:

That Acan, the Mayan God of Wine and Intoxicating Beverages is probably not as much fun as Huitaca, Incan owl-goddess of drinking, dancing and lust, but probably more fun than Macuiltochtli, Aztec five-rabbit-god that warns against excessive drunkenness (Ometochtli is the two-rabbit-god of drinking the right amount, Centzon-Totochin is the four-hundred-rabbit-god of the different ways drink may affect you). That Calliope may have had a thing about drinking songs; that Silenus was granted immortality and with it, rough status as the god of getting pissed with your mates; that Dis, as well as being a grim underworld, is also the Ancestral Goddess of the Disablot, a midwinter ritual of drinking and storytelling; that Hathor, after Ra filled the Nile with red beer and she got very, very drunk, switched from being a somewhat slaughtery goddess to being the one who does the floods and feasts; that after Geshtinanna (goddess of wine) slept with Dumuzi (god of agriculture) they ended up in so much trouble that they had to do alternate six-month stints in the underworld of ancient Mesopotamia; that Kvasir, post-mortem, became something of a God of drunken inspiration; that over in Aztecland another husband-and-wife team, Mayahuel Goddess of Alcohol, and Patecatyl God of Medicine, were inspired by a drunken mouse to mix psychedelics with spirits; that if all these seem a little hard to pronounce, Semargl (Slavic god of beer and barley) may come more naturally; and that if all these seem a little obscure and/or unwise for proper workship, there's always the great goddess Isis, who counts among her ten thousand names "Lady of Beer".

I also accidentally ran into Chalchuihtotolin, God of Pestilence, Precious Night Turkey and a God of Mystery. And ran away again, very quickly indeed.

So, what about HIM? You know, the Big Guy? Apart from that water-into-wine incident we all know about? Beer and monks are natural bedfellows, but I also found quite a few miraculous beer-making saints, mostly from Belgium and mostly called Arnold. And some jerk called Gambrinus who claimed to have invented beer, to which one can only say, wrong! fool! My favourite is Saint Brigid of Kildare, who once transformed a leper colony's dirty bathwater into cool ale for them to drink. She also gives us prayer #1: "I should like a great lake of ale, for the King of Kings. I should like the family of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal." Which is most generous and charitable. Saint Colombanus was also eloquent on the subject: "It is my design to die in the brew house; let ale be placed to my mouth when I am expiring, so that when the choir of angels come, they may say: 'Be God propitious to this drinker.'" More beery saints may be found here and here.

Nowadays, though, the church is a lot less keen on the booze; St Columbanus' conversion methods are frowned on, and it's whispered that St Brigid is actually an early fertility goddess in nonastic drag.

I'm also uneasy about the Incans, Aztecs and Mayans, despite the animal magnetism of drunken owls and hundreds of pissed rabbits. While it's all pulque, chocolate and coca on the way in, it's hard to shake the suspicion that sooner or later you'll be asked for your heart on a golden platter and then whomp! goes your civilization. No, they are not gods with humanity's best interests at heart.

Perhaps the encylopedia mythica can be of help?

Ah, dispute! The Ancient Egyptian goddess of beer was actually Tenenit. Too bad no-one seems to know anything about her. And it wasn't Hathor at all who drunk a Nile-full of beer, but Sakhmet. Egyptian gods are so confusing ... oh, clarification. Apparently Hathor "becomes" Sakhmet for the duration of this story, and was later "almost totally absorbed" into Isis. Hmm, I scent odeur de "all goddesses are one goddess" going on here.

..and Rain(bow) Goddess Mbaba Mwana Waresa also brings beer to her people, although the childrens books seldom mention this fact. I somehow doubt she's the only African god that does that ... I'm fairly sure there's a living incarnation of the Rainbow Goddess out there somewhere, but don't try googling for "rainbow goddess", really. Just. Don't.

Ah! Finally, the booze-hound of the Tuatha Dé Danann! Hullo, Goibniu, smith and son of Danu. His weapons are always lethal and his beer gives the drinker immortality. He doesn't sound like much fun, though; probably more suited to being the god of arms-dealing.

So many gods approve of booze. Stranger still, they're a very varied lot. But there are some common threads running through their stories, worship and drunken processions. In fact, there are four, which is annoying because if we know anything about how gods work, it is that they come in threes:

thread one - eloquence and inspiration
thread two - violence and destruction
thread three - fertility, sex and lust
thread four - cures, relief and refreshment

Some straddle several; the Disir, for example, are worshipped through storytelling (one), but associated with Valkyries (two). The Saints have cures and relief well covered, the Egyptians are big on the violence ... and, unsuprisingly, Bacchus/Dionysis manages a fairly good spread across all four.

Such a mixed bag, drunkenness is.

Isis, Tenenit, Brigid, Dionysis, Ninkasi, Silenus, Huitaca, Kvasir, Goibniu ... and I still don't know whom I should dedicate the god's portion to, when I spill my pint on the floor.

Perhaps I should go for Pan.


( 7 worms — Feed the birds )
24th Oct, 2005 16:27 (UTC)
Ah! That reminds me; I'm sure Caliope was shoe-horned into a CAMRA campaign a year or two ago; feature one attractive, scantily clad lady holding a frothy pint aloft with the tagline "I've been drinking beer for 4,000 years and look at me! join camra TODAY!"

(can not find any reference to this online)
24th Oct, 2005 16:48 (UTC)
poor old Calliope
I think it's more likely she drank wine ...
24th Oct, 2005 17:10 (UTC)
Oh wow, I'd forgotten all about St Brigid and the lepers' bathwater!
25th Oct, 2005 13:03 (UTC)
Re: Brilliant!
as she seems to have conviviality, compassion and company covered, I'm quite tempted to start invoking her as my overseer of beer:

I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us. I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all. I would like Jesus to be present. I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts. I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me. I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching Heaven's family drinking it through all eternity.

She sounds like quite the party saint!
(Deleted comment)
25th Oct, 2005 13:21 (UTC)
John Barleycorn!
How could I have forgotten our very own hedge-god! I utterly refuse, however, to worship you, although perhaps this explains why you're so often in the pub.

John Barleycorn is the sweetest grain
That ever was sown by man
And he'll do more than any grain
By the tipping of your hand

He'll turn a boy into a man
And a man into an ass
Your gold to silver he will change
And silver into brass

But little Sir John and the nut brown bowl
And the brandy in the glass
John Barleycord and the nut brown bowl
Are the strongest man at last

The farmer he can't haul the hay
Nor shepherd greet the morn
And the tinker can't mend neither kettle nor bowl
Without a little John Barleycorn
24th Oct, 2005 23:20 (UTC)
surely the god/holyman of beer is san miguel?
25th Oct, 2005 13:39 (UTC)
San Miguel usually refers to
St Michael the archangel. The jury's still out on whether angels drink, however, if they did it seems the drink in question would either be mysterious drink made of angel-stuff or the Wine of God's wrath. Probably not beer, anyway.

However, San Miguel Austin Pro, one of Pope John Paul's hundreds of new saints, might be a good one to invoke when you drink to relieve oppression or unhappiness:

"Does our life become from day to day more painful, more oppressive, more replete with sufferings? Blessed be He a thousand times who desires it so. If life be harder, love makes it also stronger, and only this love, grounded on suffering, can carry the Cross."

Or perhaps against hangovers.
( 7 worms — Feed the birds )