Some Brief Points On The Indo-European Empowering Elixir – Nectar, Ambrosia, Amrit, Soma, Kvasir. 

Earlier, an Indian associate had lamented what he termed the rather “lazy” translation of Amrit as “Nectar”.
Now for what it’s worth, I somewhat agree with him – because when people see ‘nectar’ in print, they tend to presume it simply means something to do with the inside of flowers.

Except truth be told, ‘Nectar’ is an entirely apt rendering for ‘Amrit’, and it is the modern reader and the manner in which Culture Marches On that has lead to the translational inadequacy.

Confused? Let’s examine the linguistics.

For ‘Nectar’ – the ‘Nec-‘ in question is the same as that in ‘Necromancy’ etc. .. i.e. ‘Death’; and the ‘-tar’ means ‘to overcome’ [compare one of the Sanskrit तार (‘taar’) , as in ‘carry through’].

Hence … with Nectar in Greek mythology being .. well, basically Amrit, as in what the Gods are drinking and which can render one Immortal (in the sense of protected from death) – well, it matches up rather well.

A more direct cognate would be ‘Ambrosia’ – the ‘A-‘ prefix is the same [‘negating, opposite to’] and the ‘-brosia’ is basically where the same PIE that produced ‘Mrta’ (‘Death’ – like ‘Mort’, ‘Mort-ality’)) has wound up in Ancient Greek. [it’s a rather curious looking sound-shift, going from an ‘mr’ to a ‘b’, but you can kinda see how it works by sounding it out]

This then also gets into some further discussion around .. well .. linguistic vs functional cognates – insofar as we can see that ‘Nectar’ is a functional cognate ; whilst ‘Ambrosia’ is a functional as well as a linguistic one ..

.. and then when we consult the Iliad – we get this:

“Athena had dropped Nectar and Ambrosia into Achilles
so that no cruel hunger should cause his limbs to fail him,”

This is immediately preceding Achilles carrying out some rather superhuman ultra-violence upon the Trojan foe, in figuratively resonant terms that also appear to show up for, in an array of IE cultural contexts, warrior divinities that have just imbibed a certain empowering elixir.

In other words:

Just as there’s a certain degree of overlap between Soma & Amrit .. so too do we find the Greek ‘A-mrt’ (Ambrosia, Nectar) being utilized in similar fashion to Soma.

Which then leads on to subsequent discussion around Nordic ‘Kvasir’ (as with Soma – ‘That Which Is Pressed), which matches up in various ways with Soma in terms of the myth of its obtaining, even if it’s evidently gone down a bit of a different trajectory with its speculated effects upon the obtainer. 

Also, because this also comes up, there’s a rather coterminous relationship between Soma and Amrit – as seen, for example, via the well-known verse from RV VIII 48 3:

अपाम सोममम्र्ता अभूमागन्म जयोतिरविदाम देवान |
किं नूनमस्मान कर्णवदरातिः किमु धूर्तिरम्र्त मर्त्यस्य ||

Apama Somam Amrtah Abhuma Aganma Jyotih Avidama Devan
Kim Nunam Asman Krnavat Arati Kim Om Iti Dhurtih Amrta Martyasya

Rendered in Griffith:
3 We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.
Now what may foeman’s malice do to harm us? What, O Immortal, mortal man’s deception?”

In these terms, it may perhaps be preferable to think of ‘Amrit’ as an effect – something attained or achieved via the imbibification of the relevant brew. 

Certainly, even though Soma is, strictly speaking, of the ’empowering elixir’ class rather than the ‘elixir of immortality’ class directly – the notable ’empowerments’ to Soma, and its consequent protections from ordinary mortal concerns like disease, injury, feeble-mindedness, and yes … death … mean that functionally, it most certainly fulfils the ‘Amrit’ classification as well. 

Of course, the way to ‘square the circle’ with some of this is to note that figurative language is what we expect from epic poetry – and that ‘become immortal’, could quite feasibly be read in at least some situations as having transcended the perishable to engage with the absolute … which could definitely be a visionary experience and not necessarily mean you are forever protected from death in perpetuity. At least, in terms of your ‘mortal’ form. Localized (or, rather, de-localized) soul-phenomena are, as ever, a bit more complex in their (in)tangible manifestation.

Nevertheless, it is quite remarkable when one thinks about it – that we have such an archaic and meaning-rich term as ‘Nectar’ “hiding there in plain sight”. And this is before I start talking about various ‘Honey’ terms and how those are relevant also. More upon that some other time. 

Along with, no doubt, further commentary upon the certain deific figure(s) responsible for its provision. 

Hail to Them !
And also to the Brew ! 

2 thoughts on “Some Brief Points On The Indo-European Empowering Elixir – Nectar, Ambrosia, Amrit, Soma, Kvasir. 

  1. Pingback: Some Brief Points On The Indo-European Empowering Elixir – Nectar, Ambrosia, Amrit, Soma, Kvasir.  – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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