Alcohol and mankind go hand in hand since the beginning of history. Alcoholic beverages can be found in nearly all cultures spanning through time and space. These beverages come in many different forms, ranging from crude fermented fruits to sophisticatedly brewed beer and wine. They have been used for numerous different purposes, most notably as offerings at religious rituals. Seeing the importance of alcohol in virtually all cultures and society in history, it is not at all surprising to see that people have created deities devoted to these beverages. The place of origin for alcohol is unclear since many parts of the world seems to have been fermenting fruits, honey, and rice at the time of around 7000-6650 BCE. The first few traces of archaeological evidence prove that fermented drinks was found in 7000 BCE in China. This was also the approximated time when fermented beverages were found in many other cultures and parts of the world. Since alcohol is so widespread today, we would like to talk about the Gods associated with it in three different cultures around the world.
Gods of Alcohol
Yi Di (or Yi Ti)
Yi Di originated in ancient China around the time of the Emperor Yu (2200-2100 BC). Emperor Yu the Great was the emperor who introduced his plans of flood control and was famed for his wisdom and his upright moral character. Hence, he was given the title of ‘The Great’. Yi Di was originally a human who gained the God status, promoted by the daughter of Yu the Great.
The story began when Emperor Yu’s daughter wanted to present a present to her father. Knowing that Emperor had a love for wine, Yi Di did many experimentations to make a special alcohol with the perfect brew. It was described to be a very strong rice wine. However, although the emperor loved the brew, he was afraid that the emperors after him would not be able to handle their alcohol as well as him. He was worried that society and the future of the nation would be ruined by the potent alcohol. Hence he eventually banned the brew. Nonetheless, Yi Di was still promoted to the status of God and the tradition of drinking and the making of rice wine was passed down through China history.
Culturally, alcohol was used in China for celebratory purposes as they toast to celebrate an event or person. The ability to hold alcohol was also associated with strong leadership and power, as shown in the story of Yu ‘the Great’. This is true both in the ancient dynasties and in businesses now. It is also seen as a rude or ‘cowardly’ to reject a toast, even if you have already had too much to drink. But not to worry, if you are looking for an exit strategy, toasting with water or tea is fine too, though they will most likely laugh at you for having lesser ‘Drinking Courage’.
Jesus is not exactly a God of only alcohol per se but there are many instances when he is related to alcohol in certain ways. Jesus Christ is the Son of God from the religion of Christianity and Catholicism. Scholars often place Jesus Christ’s birth year at c. 4 CE with the exact date on the 25th of December. The story of Jesus Christ is believed to be documented in the Holy Bible, which is the official scripture for the Christian and Catholic religion.
Stories in the Bible often depict Jesus performing miracles which are related to alcohol and spirits, most notably wine. One of the most famous miracle happened at the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine in order to satisfy the thirst of the wedding guests. Jesus himself had also proclaimed that bread is his body and that wine is his blood.
The use of wine is still prevalent in Christianity and Catholicism. Most commonly the wine and the bread is found during communion, where every member of the Church is to eat the bread and drink the wine. The bread and the wine is a symbol of Christ’s body and blood. Consuming them is done in order to remember Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for his people, strengthen their faith and relationship with God and as a reminder that Jesus would one day return.
Dionysus (c. 1500-1350 BCE), also known as Bacchus, was a Greek god of fertility of nature, and wine and ecstasy. Being the god of fertility, Dionysus was associated with agriculture and harvest. On the other hand, being the god of wine and ecstasy, he was associated with insobriety and madness.
He was the son of Zeus and Semele, the Theban princess, born in Thebes on 25th of December. During his time in the mountains, Dionysus discovered the culture of vine where he invented grapes growing and wine. As the god of wine, there were many celebrations held in honor of Dionysus. One of which is the Anthesteria Festival, or the “festival of flowers”. Despite its name, it actually celebrates new wine which are ready to be opened after fermentation, as well as to appease the spirits of the dead.
In ancient Greece, wine was consumed daily after meals by the ancient Greeks due to its nutritional value. Other than its health benefits, wine played a vital role in the economy of the ancient Greece as the ancient Greeks traded wine across the ancient world. Finally, the act of drinking wine served as a way of praising the gods and achieving intellectual development.