Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

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Liquid Glow: A Brief History and Myths Surrounding Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is a staple beverage throughout Europe during the winter season. I remember Christmas shopping in Wϋrzburg as a kid and passing by vendors selling the beverage, the blend of cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and other spices wafting through the crisp, cold air.

Mulled wine has a long history, dating back to at least as far as the 2nd or 3rd century BCE, when the Greeks and Romans would boil wine, then add honey and spices to the concentrated beverage. They called it by a variety of names, including mulsum, rapa, carenum, and defrutum (Fosbroke).

The Roman god of wine is Bacchus, and sacred rites of his cultus were called bacchanals. Like the Greek Dionysus, Bacchus was a god of not just wine but of vegetation, fruitful growth, and specifically the “sap, juice, or lifeblood element in nature” (“Dionysus”). Viewed by the Romans as a “foreign god,” Bacchus was particularly attractive to women, although men (especially men in powerful positions) viewed Bacchus and his cultus with mistrust and contempt (“Ancient Rome”). The contempt of the Roman Senate went so far as to condemn and place restrictions on Bacchic revels in the 2nd century CE, including the prohibition of male priests in the cult, requisite governmental authorization of ceremonies involving greater than five people, and the banning of secret meetings (ibid.). Even so, the worship of Bacchus continued.

As the Romans ventured out and conquered much of Europe, they brought the process of mulling wine (along with the rest of viticulture) with them, where it took on other names. In Germany, it’s called glϋhwein (the term I’m most familiar with because of my personal history), and Scandinavians know it as glögg, glögi, or something similar. All of these terms essentially mean “glowing,” referring to the heating process and warmth of mulled wine.

These words are etymologically connected to Glöð, the wife of the fire jotun Logi. The daughter of Grimr, a king in Jotunheim, she is a supernatural being and legendary queen, whose name means “glowing embers.” Rather than the wild fire of Logi, glowing embers are fire in its tempered, serviceable state, ideal for warming bodies, cooking food, and – yes – mulling wine. While Glöð is a jotun – a term that means something like “eater” or “consumer,” spirits of wildness that consume or break things apart – she seems very close to the powers of creation, perhaps through her wood and coal consumption.

Speaking of consumption, it wouldn’t be right to write a post about mulled wine without including a recipe. Here is the glϋhwein I make each year at this time:

 

The Cunning Wife's Glϋhwein

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of red wine (I do pinot noir)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, or 1/2 cup orange or apple juice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 orange, sliced and everything but the flesh removed
  • Optional: whole cranberries and/or other berries, lemon slices/peel, raisins, cardamom pods, star anise

Directions:

  1. Pour the juice, honey, and spices into a saucepan and heat to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes to create a spiced syrup, adding a little water if it gets too thick.
  2. Add wine, orange slices, and any additional ingredients you like, and stir to blend it all together. Do not let the wine boil!
  3. Once heated through, you can opt to strain out the spice bits, if desired. Serve in mugs while hot and enjoy! Any leftovers can be poured into a mason jar and refrigerated to be reheated later.

***

 

Works Cited

“Ancient Rome.” Britannica.com. https://www.britannica.com/place/ancient-Rome/The-transformation-of-Rome-and-Italy-during-the-Middle-Republic#ref26619.

“Dionysus.” Britannica.com. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Dionysus.

Fosbroke, Thomas Dudley.  A Treatise on the Arts, Manufactures, Manners, and Institutions of the Greeks and Romans. Vol. 2. Longmans, 1835. https://books.google.com/books?id=go7UAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA327#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Image via Max Pixel

 

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, spirit worker and traveler, guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic and Slavic folk traditions. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  

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