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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

God is on the Side of the Drinking Man

There are some religions that ban any and all consumption of alcohol. There are some that use alcohol as part of sacred ceremonies. I know while doing yard work on a hot summer day I've said a few prayers for an ice cold beer. If you ask me, God is on the side of the drinking man -- and I think I have proof.

First of all, I've personally consumed the good works of a few talented Trappist monks toiling away at monasteries in Belgium and France. Just taste a Chimay, an Orval, where the religious started brewing during the 11th Century, or one of the other brews from these craftsmen and tell me God is not pleased by the results.

Bourbon as we know it would not be the same drink without the handy work of Elijah Craig, an ordained Baptist minister. In addition to founding Georgetown College in Kentucky, running several businesses and serving as pastor of churches in South Carolina and Kentucky, he founded a distillery in 1789. Legend has it that a fire charred some barrels at Craig's distillery and created the circumstances under which corn whiskey was aged for the first time in charred oak barrels. Without the Rev. Craig, Bourbon might be nothing more than white lightning. There is a very fine Elijah Craig 18 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon made by Heaven Hill that pays homage to the good preacher.

Want more proof? Just look at the number of mythical gods closely associated with alcohol:
Bacchus was the Roman god of wine.
Dionysus was credited by the Greeks with bringing wine to mankind. They still celebrate a three day festival in his honor each year in Athens.
Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of alcohol and known as the "Lady who fills the mouth."
Osiris was the Egyptian god of agriculture and two of its most important products: beer and wine.
Aegir was the Norse god of the sea and brewed beer in a kettle.
Spenta Armaiti was a Persian goddess charged with guarding the vineyards.
Mayahuel was the Aztec goddess of alcohol.
Mbaba-Mwanna-Warsea was an African goddess who produced rainbows to signal celebrations and was also the goddess of beer.

Then there are the Christian patron saints that keep those who make, serve and consume alcohol safe. There is a near legion of these fine folks:
Saint Luke (1st Century), Saint Barbara (d. 235 AD), Saint Medard of Noyon (470-560), Saint Adrian (b. 303), Saint Lawrence (d. 258), Augestine of Hippo (354-430), Nicholas of Myra -- also known as Santa Claus (4th Century), Saint Veronua, Boniface of Mainz (680-754), King Wenceslas (907-929), Arnold of Soissons (1040-1087) and Arnou of Oudenaarde (11th Century) are all recognized as Patron Saints of Brewers.
Wine, winemakers and vineyards have their protectors, including Vincent of Saragossa (d. 304), Urban of Langres (d. 390), Martin of Tours (316-397), Morand of Cluny, Goar of Aquitaine and Walter of Pontnoise (d. 1099).
Distillers have Louis IX of France (1214-1270), canonized for leading crusades.
Merchants selling beer and wine, vine growers and bartenders claim Amand of Maastricht (584-679).
Saint Brigid (475-525) was credited with turning dirty bath water at a leper colony into thirst quenching beer.
Saint Benedict (480-547) established the Benedictine order, whose rules include hospitality as a key element. This allowed monks to start brewing beer and selling it to locals and travelers.
Saint Columbanus converted Swiss pagans about to sacrifice a large kettle of beer by telling them God wanted them to enjoy the drink in his name.
Saint Arnold of Metz (580-640) is credited with saving countless lives during the plague by telling people to drink beer instead of impure water. It quenched many thirsts and sure beat the Black Death.
King Gambrinus is not an official saint of the Catholic church, but brewers claim him as their patron saint. It is said Gambrinus was king of Flanders and was the first to use hops and malted barley in beer. Historians argue that Gambrinus may actually have been Jan Primus (John I, 1251-1294) who was the Duke of Flanders, Brabant, Louvain and Antwerp. Others say he was Jean Sans Peur (John the Fearless, 1371-1419).

I know there have been a number of times I would have nominated a talented brewer, distiller or vintner for sainthood after trying one of their fine creations. Certainly those who turn grapes and grains into enjoyment for the masses deserve it.


Anonymous said...

Del Maguey means “of the maguey.” The otherworldly experience induced by Pulque, an was of fundamental importance to the religious rituals and cultures (Zapotec, Mixtec, Toltec and Aztec) in pre-columbian Mexico. The maguey was seen as a cosmic plant that received and dispensed energy, so pulque eventually became a powerful symbol of nature’s rebirth. When distillation was introduced during the Spanish conquest, many of Pulque’s ancient uses were simply transferred to Mezcal.

The ancient Mexican Gods and Goddesses of intoxication and ecstasy are “the Centzon Totochtin” (the Four-hundred Rabbits), Four-hundred in the old numerological system being synonymous with infinity...thus the infinite Gods of the infinite forms intoxication and ecstasy take. The intoxicating properties of the maguey were discovered by the Goddess Mayhuel and the secret of fermenting pulque was given to Man by the trickster figure Tlachuache. Ometotchtli (Two-Rabbit) is the supreme god of intoxication. There is no One-rabbit!

These figures of intoxication and transformation relate to the Greek God Hermes also known as the trickster. Hermes has a close connection with walled gardens, in fact all that is enclosed with, or by, intent. Hermes guides the establishment of boundaried places, particularly those areas set aside for inward work. A nun's cloister, a meditation room, a deep well, a niche for a god, the lover's room, the philosopher's study, the alchemists vessel are all Hermetic containers.

The European walled garden of the middle ages (including monasteries) drew many inspired traits from gardens that flourished in Persia, Arabia, and other near eastern countries. The Alchemical art of distillation, of Eastern origin, was first introduced to Europe through the monastic system. We could say that in the walled garden, as in the alchemical vessel, new metals get formed as the old ones melt. Enjoying ritual space is an intimate, imaginative and transformational act.

One rarely sees mention of one of the most important early inventions - Distillation, the great alchemical art of transformation - used in the search to understand the essence of existence.

Alchemy appears to have roots in Ancient Egypt. (Al-khem means "the art of Egypt" in Arabic). With Islam alchemy spread across Northern Africa, and it traveled to mainland Europe with the Moorish invasion of Andalucia in the tenth century. Alchemy tries to make sense of the world by, among other things, working with the elements to transform matter and strip away the extraneous and capture its purest essence. Some suggest that alchemy's founding father was the Egyptian god Thoth (in Greek, Hermes). Both are symbols of mystical knowledge, rebirth, and transformation.

One finds evidence of the distillation of spirits in fourth-century China, where the alchemist Ko Hung wrote about the transformation of cinnabar in mercury as being "like wine that has been fermented once: it cannot be compared with the pure clear wine that has been fermented nine times." Is he talking about distillation? It seems possible; how do you ferment a wine nine times unless you distill it?

The Alexandrian Greeks had discovered that by boiling you could transform one object into another. Pliny writes about distillation being used to extract turpentine from resin, while in 4 A.D. Aristotle recounts how seawater can be turned into drinking water.

Aside from alchemy's being the basis of modern science and industry, the transformation of human beings brought on by the imbibing of distilled spirits is of great interest to me.

Hopefully every man and every woman on this planet is on the road from the law to the legends. The legends stand for the moist, the swampish, the wild and untamed. The legends are watery, when compared to the dryness of the law.

and this from Pablo in Denver:
all spirits have a somewhat stimulating quality, but I have noticed a qualitative difference in the buzz you get from mezcal. He feels that this difference is most pronounced in the village mezcals, that some of these spirits seem to have almost psychotropic characteristics.
"I've had some that have sent me into a different state after just one mezcalito", and then he adds that there seems to be little evidence to explain why this would be so.  He thinks that maybe it's karma.  I agree, as we pass through the arid valley floor.  I recall reading about a small producer of Tobala, the mezcal made from the rare wild agave with the same name.  Prior to harvesting, he makes offerings to ancient deities asking for permission and blessings.
You may recall, in a previous entry here, Don Florencio saying the mezcal gets made by "the will of God and the maguey" as if the maguey itself were a spiritual entity.  All the village producers seem to have that combination of reverence and love for the plant, for the drink.  Perhaps that is what we feel.  Maybe when the human will is exerted, when the production becomes overly-manipulated, there is little room left for the will of God and maguey.

I mention to Jaime that in ayurveda, the ancient yogic science, every plant has its own distinct consciousness; when you consume the plant, you assume its consciousness.  He starts talking about the maguey, what we can infer about its consciousness.
"The maguey asks for little.  It barely needs water.  It grows in soil that is virtually unusable for any other purpose.  It requires little care and grows in what would be extreme conditions for most crops.  It think that it makes you feel strong, that it imparts a certain resiliency due to its life as a survivor".
I think about vodka or whiskey, how they are produced from plants that have barely seen one season, and the maguey has seen 8, or 10 or even 12 seasons. If you believe what many here do, the maguey is a very wise plant, asking very little from us, what it asks of us is time; the gifts that it bestows, by comparison, are truly magical. 

Rick Lyke said...

Thanks for checking in and making me thirst for a shot of mezcal so I can get closer to God.