A is for Alcohol: wine and mead

Though I am getting started late, after much consideration, I have decided to jump in and do this “pagan blog project” thingy…not in any official sense but because hey why not..it would be a fun way to organize my thoughts to follow through in this pattern. So here we go.

A is for alcohol…A for Apollon was my first instincual choice but I talk about him *constantly* so I decided that to make it a bit more work on my part I should go in another direction. So then A is for alcohol.

I have spoken before of the symbolism of the wine when it comes to Dionysos…in fact I have spoken of it *at length* so I will just gloss over that part when I come to it. Needless to say though that alcohol in various forms has played a significant part in European and Mediterannean religions in general. While wine tends to have a history of superior sacredness is most of the ancient Mediterannean it doesn’t detract from the fact that spirituality through alcohol has also been anciently linked in other parts of Europe to mead brewed from fermented honey…a practice that has also been carried out in Hellas though not possessing the distinguished place that wine has…perhaps attributed to its dark bloodish hue as the “purple wine” which associates it with the highest of divinities. That said, I do think though that when we have the contest of Aristaios against Dionysos in regarding libations, we can see a history of mead being a pleasurable offering to the Olympians because how else is honey to be libated in its raw state. Raw honey is fairly thick and while tasty is not a very convenient substance of libation. I would suggest that considering that there is a mead that is common to Hellas it more likely that this offering of Aristaios, the son of Apollon, would have been the fermented form of honey…mead. This would place it in an even contest squaring off against the offerings of wine from Dionysos. This would also make sense agriculturally in which honey, as both a wild and domestic product, probably has a more ancient providence as an available resource than the cultivated vineyard. And both substances are viably connected with spirituality and the soul in both their fermented and raw forms. This then gives us the *golden* honey of the bees (golden being in itself a signifier of divinity for which it was not uncommon to gild with gold images of the gods) which is fermented into an equally golden..though sometimes reddish, elixir as mead, and the grape vine and cluster that produces the wine. There can have even be said to be some mild connection between them as Dionysos has been associated in icons as a kind of bee himself. But this makes a kind of sense too when we consider some mythic sources that have a daughter of Aristiaos, a girl named Melissa (the bee) as a nursemaid for Dionysos. In such a manner Dionysos was suckled on the substance of the bees as if he were an immature bee himself. For which we can also take another leap and say that the first alcohol substance that Dionysos drank from was the mead of Aristaios.

The domestication of bees is the art directly attributed to Aristaios, the shepherd of the bees…specifically the bees of the Muses. He plays a role towards the bees like that which Apollon plays for the muses, he is essentially the ringleader. That he is called the shepherd Apollon we can infer that his providence as shepherd is related to the domain and function of Apollon. Essentially Apollon is the leader of the muses, the leader of the bees (for which it makes sense that his own oracle is also refered to as a bee) and Aristaios is the domesticator of these in relation to his father’s domain, in which he makes the gifts of the bees more accessible to human kind by the art of horticulture. If the bees are related to muses, and the arts of the muses specifically, we can the bees as more specifically the children of the titanide Mnemosyne. By which the practice of the thyiade nymphs from whom bee divination was said to have been is specifically tapping into the well of Menmosyne…the memory (arguably nonlinear) of the world. As such it can be said that mead is a fermintation that is directly associated with the divine essence earth.

That the gods, while delighting in both, found the wine of Dionysos more pleasing seems to be a matter of very slight division when we compare the two substances. After all both are alcoholic substances which, to remind you from my previous posts, serve to elevate through a sense of euphoria in simulation of the blessedness of divine existance and allows a kind of temporary connection with the gods in moderation. So we must then divide among the few differences.
Source: Wine and mead have to very different sources. Mead is by and large an animal byproduct because it comes from honey. Though this originates in nectar gathered from flowers, much of it also comes from the internal processing of this nectar by the bees to make it into a food source for their hives. It therefore requires an “animal” intermediary between the raw substance and the honey which can be fermented. Of course there ways to make artificial honey from boiling flowers with sugar but when compared to honey it is quite inferior in color and flavor….and I don’t really think it can truly be called honey in any case. Some might say though that this extra processing can be what makes mead a more valuable substance.
Wine on the other hand is a vineyard plant, and the fermintation comes directly from the grapes. It cannot be comparable with beer, which is grown from grains, because this is a substance which comes directly from the fruit of the plant and part of a painstaking cycle in which flowers need to be fertilized (the marriage of essences) in order for the blossom to bear the necessary fruits. This process can of course be considered very reflective of the initiations preserved in pompeii in which the initiate is addressed as a kind of bride. The fruit, the summation of the flower’s being, can only be accomplishd via the marriage of essences, just as life takes a husband and wife to propigate a new life…however we cannot consider the fruit a new distinct life from the flower which makes it symbolism all the more poignant. It is a rebirth of the self. Therefore wine itself is the transformation (via fermentation) of this higher self. The wine itself then has an arguably great symbolic presence when it is offered, as it may be more aligned with the offering of one’s soul and being.

Honey (and mead) has a very mellow and beautiful golden color which seems to connect by that virtue to some identity of the divine. As such it can be representative of the divine world in general. This possibly explains why honey is such a popular offering to chthonic deities, nymphs etc.
Wine is red/purplish in hue (taking the white wines etc out of consideration for a moment) and in its character represents blood, but also can represent royalty as this reddish-purple hue was a popular fabric die for those of royal lineage. Therefore we can say that wine is “royal blood”. It is the highest essence of the greatest gods (Zeus specifically via Dionysos). As such its color can also be representative of the essence of life (in all its various forms) in general.

In the end the symbolic merit of the wine prooves superior to that of the honey/mead, and Dionysos wins over Aristaios. But in response Aristaios became the first to mix the two substances. This can take the form of honeyed-wine (in which honey is mixed with wine) or honey wine (in which, from my understanding, honey is part of the fermentation process). It is for this reason that I prefer to give honeyed wine as an offering to Apollon on his most sacred of days, particularly the mulled wine (which is made with honey and various spices) for Apollon Noumenios and the household gods on the Noumenia.

However, regardless of what offering is given, it is clear that alcohol plays a significant role, but this doesn’t excuse excessiveness either. By knowing that alcohol is in part a holy susbtance it charges us to use it responsibily too and place it back in the realm of the sacred. The gods loved symposiums, and so I don’t look down at sharing a social drink with friends at a gathering or anything of the kind, but I do feel that this is different than the casual drinking just for the sake of drinking, and doing this excessively, and calling that spirituality.