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IE Mythology 2, Requirement 4

Describe instances of "freeing" or "winning" the waters in two different IE cultures. How can this theme be used to reinforce our current practices and cosmology? (300 words min.)

Winning the Waters in Vedic Culture

In Rgveda Hymn I.32, a complete description is given of Indra's battle to take the waters from Vrtra, whose name literally translates to "encloser," the serpent or dragon who has stolen the waters and hidden them away. It is usually described as a poetic description of a thunderstorm.

Vrtra steals the waters from the people, and Indra takes up his lightning bolts and drinks deeply of the soma. Vrtra is said to challenge Indra, striking with his fangs, throwing hailstones and mists at Indra. Indra strikes Vrtra, however, with his thunderbolt, and tears the serpent apart, breaking him against the mountain. Indra is said to bore into the mountain that the serpent lay upon (a stormcloud?) to obtain the waters, and that the waters flowed out, like cows going to water, after Indra smashed the serpent. (Maurer, 42-43)

Winning the Waters in Norse Culture

When describing the origin of poetry, the Prose Edda provides us with the story of Kvasir: Kvasir was created from the combined spit of the Aesir and the Vanir, and was so wise that he knew the answer to all questions. After being killed by dwarves, his blood was mixed with honey and became the mead of poetry and fell into the hands of Suttung, a giant who vowed to keep all the mead to himself. Oðin found out where the mead was from another giant, Baugi, and got Baugi to help him steal the mead. Baugi drilled into the mountain where Suttung was keeping the mead, Oðin turned into a snake and entered the mountain, sleeping with the giant's daughter for three nights before drinking up all three vats of the mead. He then turned into an eagle and fled, with Suttung also transforming and chasing him in the form of an eagle. The Aesir put out vats to catch the mead that Oðin spit out, and thus won the mead from Suttung. (Sturluson, 62-63)

Reflection and Relevance

Aside from some very nice alliteration, the concept of "winning the waters" can be brought out most readily in the notion of the blessings or the return flow, where we can call out to the deities who won them and ask for them to bring us the benefits that are described of those particular waters. For this, the Vedic reflex might be best, as it's less specific about what the waters do (or perhaps more "broadly specific," as the waters in RV I.32 and VII.49 generally seem to bring invigorating strength, purity, clarity, and sweetness). There's a notion that the waters contain fire (a "fire of blessings" could be imagined within them) and bring wealth and soma as well. All these things are good. They also, according to the end of RV I.32, bring the world back into order under the rule of Indra: "As a felly the spokes, he encompasses [the people]".

For inspiration, the Norse version might be better: these waters are very specific, and may or may not encompass all the blessings that the omens say we might receive. As a result, I might tell the story derived from Indra's victory for the Blessings section of an ADF rite, and tell a story derived from Oðin's winning of the waters for the inspiration portion of the rite.


  • Lincoln, Bruce. Death, War, and Sacrifice.
  • MacDonnell, A. A. Vedic Mythology.
  • Mallory, J. P. In Search of the Indo-Europeans.
  • Phuvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology.


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