Wine, beer & sacred drinks

– Beware, alcohol abuse is dangerous for your health –

If it’s difficult to determine exactly when human beings started to ferment food to obtain alcoholic beverages, one thing is certain, they did not take too long to do so in their history. To date, archaeologists believe that as early as the Paleolithic period (which begins about 3.3 million years ago), humans discovered the principle of alcoholic fermentation, but that at this stage it was rather accidental. In contrast, during the Neolithic period (which begins about 11,000 to 12,000 years ago, depending on location), our ancestors understood how to “create” alcoholic beverages, and they most certainly consumed them.

At the beginning, the first alcoholic beverages are not very strong and look a bit like beer (if we really have to compare with what we know today). And at the very beginning, it’s likely that not everyone consumed it. The first suspected use as a ceremonial drink was found in Raqefet (Israel) in a burial site. It’s known from ancient authors that alcoholic beverages, which are similar to beer, were consumed in Mesopotamia for religious or at least sacred reasons. From there, alcoholic drinks entered Egypt, where they were improved and developed. Later, in Greece, and then especially in Rome, it will be wine that will be closely associated with the cult, but also with the festival, with the god Bacchus (or Dionysus). In this case, the alcoholic beverage is no longer ceremonial, but its consumption still has a form of sacredness insofar as it allows communion with the god of the vine and of excess (and also, we forget too often, of fertility; we wonder why…).

© Pylyp Sukhenko

The alcoholic drink is the sacred accessory that allows to enter into mystical ecstasy, to get closer to the gods. For the ancients, alcohol, or more precisely wine, is a “fire drink”. It’s the drink that allows to get closer to the gods, to understand the existence. After all, wine is a drink of truth, not only one does not lie when one has consumed it, but for them, it would even allow to discover THE truth, the one that everyone seeks to know. When Dionysus became Roman, the bacchanals were festivities that lasted for days where almost everything was allowed, and the alcoholic beverage naturally flowed freely.

This sacred use of alcoholic beverages was taken up by the first Christians, who adopted wine as a triply sacred beverage, since in their eyes (when it was consecrated) it was nothing less than the blood of Christ. Thus, God is literally in the wine. One moves from wine as the drink of the gods (which is basically what mead is, for example), to wine as a drink made from God. This perspective will later inspire alchemists who will see in wine the alliance of the five elements, but also of fire (again!) and water, the alchemical quest for meaning being found in the quest for meaning of the one who seeks the truth in his glass. The quest for truth, for goodness, for beauty, for rebirth from the mysteries discovered, is also very similar to the quest for the Grail, another cup, this time containing blood. But in the end, wouldn’t the blood of Christ and the wine be the same thing? The Bible, as early as the Old Testament, praises wine and consecrates it. Wine is love in the Song of Songs, it is rejoicing and celebration in Judges, it is literally sacred in Isaiah, and even wisdom and glory in Ecclesiasticus. In the New Testament, to drink wine is to sign the Covenant with God, to unite with him.

For the Jews, a Sabbath never opens without a kiddush, a special prayer that is recited with a glass of wine in hand. And while it’s true that Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, it recognizes its virtues by calling it “pure drink” or “spring liquor”. In fact, certain alcohols have often been considered in history as “medicines” or at least as “tonics”. Hildegard of Bingen, known for her remedies that are often surprisingly in line with modern medicine, prescribed a glass of wine to heart patients. It was later proven that the antioxidants it contains can indeed fight against cardiovascular diseases by preventing the formation of atheromatous plaques. Since its official formulation in 1605, chartreuse liqueur is reputed to have cholesterol regulating virtues, to calm heart palpitations, and to soothe insomnia. The list of alcoholic beverages used for their more or less medicinal uses could be quite long…

© Kevin Hikari

Today, in our countries, it’s rare that alcoholic beverages are considered ceremonial or sacred. However, under the surface, we notice behaviors that come out from time to time. But beyond these remanences in everyday life is the sharing, free distribution, and heavy consumption of these beverages in a setting that is not only festive, but also creative. The festivals that constitute my object of study are a seemingly endless reservoir of examples of exchanges or gifts of alcoholic beverages, often explicitly consumed for sacred use in the sense of communion with greater than oneself, with the divine (be it nature, the other, the inner, etc.) and with a form of artistic creativity that claims to be in search of the truth. When one adds to that the importance of fire in these space-time, the loop is closed. Symbolism ? Rediscovery of a meaning or virtues once lost? These are the thoughts that must be led, with a glass in hand.

Thank you and see you soon!

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Mélissa Aberkane (2022, 6 octobre). Wine, beer & sacred drinks. Aesthetic Gathering. Consulté le 18 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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