Aqua mulla, balche', cashiri, honey beer, honey
kwass, honey mead, honey wine, honigbier, honigmeth,
honigwasser, honigwein, hydromel, hydromeli,
kaschiri (Arawak), madhu, melicraton, met,
meth, metu, mid, mydromel, t'adj
Mead is an alcoholic drink that is brewed from
water, honey, other additives ("bitter herbs"), and
wild or cultivated yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).
Traditional mead has a very low alcoholic content
(approximately 2 to 4% ) and is not at all sweet,
because the sugar in the honey is completely
transformed into alcohol. The mead that is most
popular today is a sweet, sticky drink with 140/0
alcohol that is brewed by fermenting a saturated
solution of honey. In former times, honey was
often fermented together with malt. As a result,
the ancient literature often did not make a
distinction between mead and beer. In recent
years, an increasing number of drinks have come
on the market that are reminiscent of mead
Mead, which probably was invented during the
Stone Age, was found in many regions around the
world. It was sacred in all ancient pagan cultures
and was used ritually as a libation and for
collective inebriation (Maurizio 1933). It was also
considered sacred in ancient India and is sometimes
associated with soma. The Indian gods were
referred to as madhava, those who "sprang from
the mead." The beverage was also known to all
Indo-European peoples. In ancient times, it was
used primarily for medicinal purposes. The Celtic
and Germanic tribes-both enthusiastic drinking
peoples-considered mead sacred (Markale 1989,
203*) and were aware of the divine origins of the
inebriating drink: '~ong the Germanic peoples,
mead itself was the symbol of the drink of the
gods, which had fallen from the world tree like a
heavenly dew" (Delorez 1963,23*).
During Germanic libation ceremonies, the
sacred mead (and/or beer) that was specially
brewed for the festival was passed around the
circle of participants in drinking horns decorated
with mythical motifs. The priest or chief took the
horn and drank to the gods, offered some to the
earth, and sprinkled a few drops into the air. He
thanked Wotan (Odin, Woden), the god of ecstasy
and the lord of magical drinks. He called to the
ancestors and to the heroes who had founded
human culture, and he wished his tribe peace,
well-being, and health. Then he passed the horn to
the next participant, who once again drank to the
gods, to friends, or to specific ancestors. The horn
was passed on around the circle until it was empty.
Then another would immediately be brought to
the circle, passed around, and emptied, until
everyone in the circle was communally and simultaneously
inebriated and the gods were present
among the people (Gaessner 1941). As the effects
of the alcohol became apparent, the door to the
world of the gods and goddesses opened:
Mead was attributed with the power to
enthuse humans and open to them the
entrance to the supernatural world. It was thus
to a certain extent the source of wisdom and
artistic inspiration. (Fischer-Fabian 1975, 196)
It is likely that the Germanic peoples prepared
their mead with inebriating berries (Empetrum
nigrum and Vaccinium uliginosum) and possibly
also the root of white hellebore (Veratrum album).
The earliest sources on Germanic beer and
mead brewing indicate that a variety of psychoactive
plants were added to mead, including henbane
(Hyoscyamus niger), wild rosemary (Ledum
palustre), bog myrtle (Myrica gale), and bearded
darnel (Lolium temulentum) (cf. Maurizio 1933).
There have been some suggestions that mead
or beer was brewed with the addition of mushrooms.
But why would mushrooms be added to
what was an only mildly alcoholic drink? The only
sensible explanation is to improve the effects.
Could the Germanic peoples have enriched their
mead with such psychedelic mushrooms as liberty
caps (Psilocybe semilanceata) or dark-rimmed
mottlegills (Panaeolus subbalteatus)? After all, mead was a ritual drink that was consumed at
communal gatherings so that the gods might come
down and stay awhile among the inebriated people.
A last memory of this practice was documented in
the late Middle Ages, when Johannes Hartlieb
wrote that a man died in Vienna because he had
drunk a mead that contained mushrooms
(chanterelles!) (cf. witches' ointments). The fact
that mead was being brewed with the addition of
plant products can also be seen in the herbals
written by the "fathers of botany:' For example,
To a measure of good honey / take eight
measures of water / mix together in a wide
kettle / allow to simmer over a gentle fire
without smoke / and continually remove the
foam / until it becomes entirely clear: and the
longer one wishes for the mead to keep / the
longer it should simmer: afterward when it
cools / pour it into a small cask / leaving three
fingers / that he pours out.
If one wants it to be stronger and more
powerful/then put ginger / cinnamon / cloves
/ galanga root / nutmeg [Myristica fragrans]
and such herbs in it / one can also add a little
saffron [Crocus sativus]; when it has been
poured / one should store it for three months /
and thereafter use it. (Tabernaemontanus 1731,
In medieval England and Ireland, it was said
that mead could increase a man's virility. For this
reason, a newlywed couple were given a great
amount of mead at their wedding in order to
ensure the continuation of the clan. This practice
is the source of the term honeymoon.
Mead also was and is still prized among some
Native American tribes, who use it as a ritual drink
(cf. balche'). The South American Mataco Indians
brew their mead from honey, dried and ground
tusca fruits (?), and water. They use the thick,
hollowed-out stem of the bottle tree (Chorisia
insignis H.B.K.; cf. ayahuasca) as a fermenting vat;
as a result, the tree is known in Argentina as palo
borracho, "drunken tree" (Wilbert and Simoneau
1982, 120 f.*). Mead was also known in North
America. A note included with a North American
herbarium specimen of the honey locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos 1.; Leguminosae) reads:
"[T]he sweet pith of the pods is used as a remedy
for catarrh, a mead is also simmered from it" (von
Reis and Lipp 1982, 126*).
Africa, in addition to its ever-popular barley
beer, also has mead and honey beers that are
ascribed with magical protective powers. Because
of this, people often sprinkle a few drops of the
drink. In Ethiopia, the chopped branches of a
buckthorn known as gescho (Rhamnus prinoides;
Rhamnaceae) are added to brewing mead
(Haberland 1981, 172). The honey collected from
the mimosa (Mimosa spp.) is preferred for
brewing there. Mead brewed from a mixture of
honey and water (1:5) is distilled to make a kind of
schnapps (alcohol) (Haberland 1981, 173). Mead
was also administered as an antidote for Strychnos
In the summer of 1997, a "hemp mead" was
introduced to the German market; the drink, however,
contains no THe. Recipes for making mead
with psychoactive mushrooms have recently been
making their way around the underground (Kelly1995).
See also the entries for honey.
Cross, Tom Peete, and Clark Harris Slover, eds. 1936.
Ancient Irish tales. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
Fischer-Fabian, S. 1975. Die ersten Deutschen.
Gaessner, Heinz. 1941. Bier und bierartige Getriinke
im germanischen Kulturkreis. Berlin:
Veroffentlichungen der Gesellschaft fur die
Geschichte und Bibliographie des Brauwesens.
Haberland, Eike. 1981. Honigbier in Athiopien. In
Rausch und Realitiit, ed. G. Volger, 1:170-73.
Cologne: Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum fur
Kelly, I. 1995. Mushroom mead. Psychedelic
Maurizio, A. 1933. Geschichte der gegorenen Getriinke.
Berlin: Verlag Paul Parey.
R~itsch, Christian. 1994. Der Met der Begeisterung
und die Zauberpflanzen der Germanen. In Der
Brunnen der Erinnerung, ed. Ralph Metzner,231-49. Braunschweig: Aurum.