Other Names

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

(honey beer).

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,

Tabernaemontanus wrote:

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,

1526*)

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

nux-vomica poisoning.

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 (Kelly

1995).
Literature

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.

Munich: Knaur.

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

Volkerkunde.

Kelly, I. 1995. Mushroom mead. Psychedelic

Illuminations 8:84.

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.

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