IE Studies 2, Requirement 2
Describe and compare the ritual use of intoxicating beverages in two cultures. (100 words for each culture)
Perhaps the most obvious use of intoxicating beverages in ritual in the western IE cultures is the use of alcoholic beverages to seal the loyalty of the warband in Germanic lore. Wedding rituals revolved around the bride bringing the cup of mead to her husband (or husband-to-be) first, and then serving the rest of his band at his direction. This sets up a system by which the woman first serves the husband, and then (at his urging/allowing) serves their "children," the other men loyal to her husband and bound by warfare. This forms a contract and draws the men into familial bond with one another. (Enright, 80-86)
In Vedic lore, the drink soma is much celebrated (an entire book of the Rgveda is devoted to praise of Soma). Unlike the drink in Germanic lore, Soma is a drink that is offered to the gods, this sacrifice being central to the Rgvedic religion. Here, the whole process of creating the drink is ritualized, and the identification with the cosmic waters (as the soma is mixed with waters; not a feature shared with Germanic use of the drink) is very strong. When drunk, Soma confers immortality on gods and men, healing the sick. It is truly a magical drink. (MacDonnell, 104-109)
The best comparison might be that in Germanic culture, the drink is a part of the ritual, with the choice of the warband leader being the important part of the use of the beverage in ritual; in Vedic lore, the act of creating the soma and then sacrificing it is really what is important. This change likely has to do with the place of the priest and warrior within each culture: in Germanic cultures, the warrior was atop the societal pyramid, while in India the priest was. Thus, in Germanic cultures the drink reaffirms the leadership of the warband, while in Vedic culture, the focus on the rituals surrounding the very creation of the drink and its ultimate fate as a sacrifice show us that the priests are reaffirming their own central role in society.
- Enright, Michael J. Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age. Portland, OR: Four Courts Press. 1996
- MacDonnell, A. A. Vedic Mythology.
- Maurer, Walter. Pinacles of India's Past: Selections from the Rgveda.
- Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins. 1987
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