Beer brewed by Gobniu, smith of the gods, was called ‘the drink of kings’, while Medb, the name of the Queen of Connaught, who personified the Lordship of Ireland, also had the connotation of drunkenness. Enormous amounts of beer were drunk by the warrior caste at major festivals and especially at Samain, celebrated on 1 November. At the end of his reign and in the ashes of his palace, the old king, deposed because of age or for his abuse of power, used to be drowned in a vat of beer or, after the introduction of Christianity, in a butt of wine. In contrast with mead, which was reserved for the priestly caste, beer, the royal drink, was apparently a privilege of the warrior.
Apocryphal writings confirm the Welsh legend of how Ceraint the Drunken, son of King Berwyn (berwi = boil), was the first to brew beer with malt (brag). With the malt he boiled wild flowers and honey and while the brew was simmering a wild boar let fall a drop of foam from its jaws and made it ferment. Although there is no equivalent legend surviving in Irish mythology, it should be noted that consumption of pork (or rather of boar’s flesh) was on a par with the consumption of beer at all the ritual feasting at the festival of Samain (the Celtic New Year) and in the myths of the Other-world. Since the pig (or wild boar) was the animal which symbolized Lug and beer was the warrior caste’s drink of immortality, it is hardly suprising that the creature which is the god’s symbol should come to instil the seed of life in the brew, in the form of its own spittle.
Banana-beer (pombe) seems to play a similar role as the drink of immortality among the warrior caste in the rigidly hierarchical society of the Tutsi of Rwanda (central Africa).
In tropical America beers made from maize (chica in the Andean cordillera) and manioc (Amazonia) had and even today still have an important ritual function, their use being prescribed in all rites of passage (see the description of the initiation ceremonies of the Piaroas in GHEO). Sometimes beer is the sole nourishment of the elders, or wise men. Its symbolism is undoubtedly connected with that of fermentation. It is to the initiate who has accepted the responsibilities of the involutional stage of life, what milk is to his opposite, the baby, unaccountable as it begins its development.
In Ancient Egypt beer was a national drink as well as a drink of immortality, prized by the living and the dead and by the gods.