Alcohol has long been part of Western culture. We drink it and we sometimes even cook with it or use it in food. In Great Britain, at Christmas, flambeing the Christmas pudding in brandy is traditional (though the actual alcohol is burned off in the process). And, from the poetic mead of Odin to the Eucharist wine, it has also been part of myth, ritual, and the sacred.

Yet, if modernity can be characterized by anything then it can be characterized by the absence of the sacred. And when a sense of the sacred goes, people will do things in excess, in, perhaps, an attempt to break out of the mundane and to rediscover what is lost. Hence, the obsession with drugs among some “spiritual” seekers. And hence also the drunkenness that can be witnesses in most Western cities on a Saturday night.

Alcohol is intoxicating. And, misused, it can ruin lives. There are 95,000 alcohol-related deaths in the U.S.A. and over three million globally every year, making up over five percent of all deaths. Some of these are from liver disease or heart disease, etc., caused by long-term alcohol consumption. But alcohol is also a factor in death by motor vehicle accident and suicide and in crimes. And alcohol consumption is also a very common factor in assaults, rapes, and murders.

Drunkenness also makes you vulnerable to attack. Although women are probably most at risk, with perpetrators often getting the potential victim (or victims) drunk before carrying out the act of rape or sexual assault, men are also sometimes confronted on the street (in muggings or random attacks) or in bars (by angry, intoxicated groups or individuals). If you are confronted by a potential attacker (or attackers) your ability to defend yourself or to get the hell out of there will be seriously diminished. A strong body and a sharp mind are rendered useless by too much alcohol.

Drunkenness, in other words, makes you a potential victim.

While we think of the Vikings as drunken, marauding, primitive thugs, reflecting Norse (or “Viking”) culture, the 13th century Hávamál has several warnings about consuming alcohol. Here are three:

Less good there lies | than most believe
In ale for mortal men;
For the more he drinks | the less does man
Of his mind the mastery hold.

A better burden | may no man bear
For wanderings wide than wisdom;
Worse food for the journey | he brings not afield
Than an over-drinking of ale.

And again

Shun not the mead, | but drink in measure;
Speak to the point or be still;
For rudeness none | shall rightly blame thee
If soon thy bed thou seekest.

This holiday season, if you are going to consume alcohol, then think of yourself as participating in a sacred ceremony. Drink with caution and respect for yourself, for others, and the sacred nature of friendship and the season. Instead of getting drunk, be intoxicated on conversation with friends, the company of a loved one, or the atmosphere of this wintery time of year.

Stay safe. Stay strong. And have an amazing holiday season.