Welcome to the third post of the Pagan Blog Project. I’m posting a tad late this week, as I’m currently acting in a wonderful play and spending all my free time in the theatre.
As promised, the first “B” post will be on a Norse topic: Balder’s death.*
The lore – in this case, the Prose Edda – tells us that Balder (Whose name is also written Baldr or Baldur), the fairest amongst the Gods, dreamed about His own death, which depressed Him greatly. As dreams were seen as prophetic, His mother Frigg proceeded to ask everything on earth not to do any harm to Her son – well, all things except the mistletoe (which, according to different accounts, She found either too unimportant or too young to swear the oath).
Odin, meanwhile, rode to Hel and questions a völva (a seeress), who told Him Hödur will kill Baldr but that Vali will avenge Him.
All Gods now made it a sport to throw all kinds of things at Balder, as nothing can hurt Him. Only the blind Hödur wasn’t allowed to join in (a children’s book I read claimed it was because the other Gods were afraid that He’d hurt Himself).
Loki, gaining knowledge of these events, then prepared a spear (alternatively an arrow) made of mistletoe, which He then gave to Hödur to throw at Balder.
The spear killed Balder, Who died and went to Helheim together with His wife. As the Aesir were inconsolable about the loss of Balder, Hel agreed to let Him return to Asgard if everything on earth wept for Him. All things, even stones, did, apart from one old woman named Thökk – this is Loki in disguise – so Balder remains in Helheim.
Modern Heathens now blame Loki for His role in Balder’s demise. A commenter on a Loki post on Heksebua summarizes the attitude towards Him as follows:
Us Heathens also have a certain resentment to him out of respect to our Aesir – He did a great wrong to the son of Odin, Baldur. As I’ve sworn an oath to the Allfather, out of mere kinship it makes sense not to deal with him. He was ONCE the blood brother of Odin, yes. They ONCE accepted offerings together, yes. Loki did ONCE travel with Thor and help the Nine Worlds, but he stepped over the line.
I don’t claim to have any definite answers on the matter. However, I’d like to raise some questions that came to me when I tried to wrap my head around the matter.
First of all, Loki is only culpable in one account of Balder’s death. In the Gesta Danorum, Balder and Hödur aren’t brothers, but rivals who both want to marry Nanna. In a battle between the two, Balder was killed with a magic sword named Mistletoe. Loki doesn’t enter the picture at all.
Also, for me the story as told in the Prose Edda has some implications that don’t seem to be addressed very often:
First, let’s consider Frigg’s role in the events. After all, She didn’t ask all things to protect Balder, but left out one, which – despite its potential weakness and/or youth – could be turned into a deadly weapon. However, this aspect of the tale is hardly ever talked about; instead, all attention (and blame, I might say) is focussed on the one crafting the mistletoe weapon. If this were a contemporary murder, wouldn’t you also wonder why somebody left weapons lying about for anyone to take? This does by no means imply that the one actually leading the weapon is not guilty of a crime. I’m just wondering that if you want to prevent an event such as Balder’s death, shouldn’t one make it extra sure that there is absolutely nothing that can endanger Him?
a twig of mistletoe
Second, I wonder if Balder’s death wasn’t part of a plan. After all, Balder doesn’t fall in Ragnarök, but survives in Helheim. Was he killed for safekeeping, so to speak? I don’t know whether you agree with this line of thought, but it’s an interesting thing to think about, as it at least puts Loki in quite a different light.
What is your opinion on the death of Balder? Were you familiar with the second account at all, and do you find it convincing?
*Note: This is a pro-Loki blog. I’m looking forward to polite discussions about your differing beliefs. However, hateful comments which don’t in any way contribute to a civilized discussion will be deleted.
The Prose Edda.