The story of Baldr

Lyndsey Hale

Lichfield, United Kingdom

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The beginning of this story is that Baldr the Good had some terrible dreams that threatened his life. When he told the Æsir these dreams, they took counsel together and it was decided to seek protection for Baldr from every kind of peril. Frigg exacted an oath from fire and water, iron and all kinds of metals, stones, earth, trees, ailments, beasts, birds, poison and serpents, that they would not harm Baldr. And when this had been done and put to the test, Baldr and the Æsir used to amuse themselves by making him stand up at their assemblies for some of them to throw darts at, others to strike and the rest to throw stones at. No matter what was done he was never hurt, and everyone thought that a fine thing. When Loki, Laufey’s son, saw that, however, he was annoyed that Baldr was not hurt and he went disguised as a woman to Fensalir to visit Frigg. Frigg asked this woman if she knew what the Æsir were doing at the assembly. She answered that they were all throwing things at Baldr, moreover that he was not being hurt. Frigg remarked: “Neither weapons nor trees will injure Baldr; I have taken an oath from them all.” The woman asked: “Has everything sworn you an oath to spare Baldr?” Frigg replied: “West of Valhalla grows a little bush called mistletoe, I did not exact an oath from it; I thought it too young.” Thereupon the woman disappeared.

‘Loki took hold of the mistletoe, pulled it up and went to the assembly. Now Höð was standing on the outer edge of the circle of men because he was blind. Loki asked him: "Why aren’t you throwing darts at Baldr?" He replied: “Because I can’t see where Baldr is, and, another thing, I have no weapon.” Then Loki said: “You go and do as the others are doing and show Baldr honour like other men. I will show you where he is standing: throw this twig at him.” Höð took the mistletoe and aimed at Baldr as directed by Loki. The dart went right through him and he fell dead to the ground. This was the greatest misfortune ever to befall gods and men.

‘When Baldr had fallen, the Æsir were struck dumb and not one of them could move a finger to lift him up; each looked at the other, and all were of one mind about the perpetrator of that deed, but no one could take vengeance; the sanctuary there was so holy. When the Æsir did try to speak, weeping came first, so that no one could tell the other his grief in words. Óðin, however, was the most affected by this disaster, since he understood best what a loss and bereavement the death of Baldr was for the Æsir. When the gods had recovered from the first shock Frigg spoke. She asked which of the Æsir wished to win her whole affection and favour. Would he ride the road to Hel to try if he could find Baldr, and offer Hel a ransom if she would allow Baldr to come home to Ásgarð? The one who undertook this journey was a son of Óðin called Hermóð the Bold. Then they caught Óðin’s horse, Sleipnir, and led him forward, and Hermóð mounted that steed and galloped away.

‘The Æsir, however, took Baldr’s body and carried it down to the sea. Baldr’s ship was called Ringhorn, it was a very large ship. The gods wanted to launch it and to build Baldr’s funeral pyre on it, but they could not move it at all. They sent to Giantland then for the ogress called Hyrrokkin. And when she came—she was riding a wolf with vipers for reins—she jumped off her steed and Óðin called to four berserks to guard it, but they were unable to hold it fast till they struck it down. Then Hyrrokkin went to the prow of the vessel and at the first shove launched it in such a way that the rollers burst into flame and the whole world trembled. Thór became angry then and seizing his hammer would have cracked her skull had not all the gods begged protection for her.

‘Then Baldr’s body was carried out on to the ship, and when his wife Nanna, daughter of Nep, saw that, her heart broke from grief and she died. She was carried on to the pyre and it was set alight. Thór was standing by and consecrating it with Mjöllnir, when a dwarf called Lit ran in front of his feet. Thór tripped him up and kicked him into the fire, and he was burned to death. All sorts of people came to this cremation. First and foremost, Óðin, accompanied by Frigg and his valkyries and ravens. Frey drove in a chariot drawn by the boar called Gold-bristle or Razor-tooth. Heimdall rode the horse called Gold-tuft and Freyja was driving her cats. A great crowd of frost ogres and cliff giants came too. Óðin laid on the pyre the gold ring which is called Draupnir; it had this characteristic afterwards, that every ninth night there dropped from it eight rings of equal value. Baldr’s horse with all its harness was led to the pyre.

‘Concerning Hermóð, however, there is this to tell. For nine nights he rode dales so deep and dark that he saw nothing, until he reached the river Gjöll and rode over its bridge; it is thatched with gleaming gold. The maiden who guards that bridge is called Móðguð. She asked him his name and family and said that the day before five troops of dead men had ridden over the bridge, "but the bridge resounds as much under you alone, and you don’t look like a man who has died. Why are you riding here on the road to Hel?" He replied: “I must ride to Hel to seek for Baldr. Have you seen anything of him on his way there?” She said that Baldr had ridden past over the bridge of the Gjöll, “but the road to Hel lies downwards and northwards”.

’Hermóð rode on then till he came to the gates of Hel. Then he alighted and tightened his stirrups, remounted, and dug in his spurs, and the horse jumped over the gate with such vigour that it came nowhere near it. Then Hermóð rode right up to the hall and dismounted. He went inside and saw his brother Baldr sitting on the high seat there. Hermóð stayed there that night. In the morning he asked Hel if Baldr might ride home with him, telling her how much the gods were weeping. Hel said, however, that this test should be made as to whether Baldr was loved as much as people said. “If everything in the world, both dead or alive, weeps for him, then he shall go back to the Æsir, but he shall remain with Hel if anyone objects or will not weep.” Then Hermóð stood up and Baldr led him out of the hall and taking [off] the ring Draupnir sent it to Óðin in remembrance, but Nanna sent Frigg, along with other gifts, linen [for a head-dress], and Fulla a gold ring. Hermóð rode back again to Ásgarð and [when] he arrived [there] related all he had seen and heard.

’Thereupon the Æsir sent messengers throughout the whole world to ask for Baldr to be wept out of Hel; and everything did that—men and beasts, and the earth, and the stones and trees and all metals—just as you will have seen these things weeping when they come out of frost and into the warmth. When the messengers were coming home, having made a good job of their errand, they met with a giantess sitting in a cave; she gave her name as Thökk. They asked her to weep Baldr out of Hel. She answered:

Thökk will weep
dry tears
at Baldr’s embarkation;
the old fellow’s son
was no use to me
alive or dead,
let Hel hold what she has.

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