1902 Encyclopedia > Baldur

Deity in Norse mythology

BALDUR, one of the most interesting figures of the Scandinavian mythology, was the son of Odin and Frigg. His name (from baldr, the foremost or pre-eminent one) denoted his supreme excellence and beauty. In the Gylfeginning we read that he was so amiable that all loved him, so beautiful that a light seemed to shine about him, and his face and hair were for ever refulgent. He was the mildest, wisest, and most eloquent of the Aesir ; and when he pronounced a judgment, it was infallible. His dwelling was in Brejdablfk (far-sight), where nothing impure could come, and where the most obscure question could be explained. The wonderful legend of his death is first dimly recorded in the Voluspa, the grandest and most ancient of Eddaic poems, and more fully in the younger Edda. Baldur was visited by evil dreams, and felt his life to be in danger. His mother, Frigg, took oath of all things in the world, animal, vegetable, and mineral, that they should not slay her son. The gods being then secure, found pastime in setting the good Baldur in their midst, and in shooting or hurling stones at his invulnerable body. Then Loki, the evil god, took on him the form of a woman and went to Frigg in Fensal. From Frigg he learned that of all things in the earth but one could injure Baldur, and that was a little tree westward from Valhal, that was too young to take the oath. Thither went Loki and found the plant ; it was the mistletoe. He plucked it up, fashioned it into an arrow, and went back to the Msa. They were still in a circle, shooting at Baldur ; and outside the ring stood the blind god Hoder, of whom Loki asked wherefore he did not shoot. When Hoder had excused himself because of his blindness, Loki offered to aim for him, and Hoder, shooting the arrow of mistletoe, Baldur suddenly fell, pierced and dead. No such misfortune had ever yet befallen gods or men ; there was long silence in heaven, and then with one accord there broke out a loud noise of weeping. The iEsir dared not revenge the deed, because the place was holy, but Frigg, rushing into their midst, besought them to send one to Hel to fetch him back. Hel promised to let him go if all things in heaven and earth were unanimous in wishing it to be so ; but when inquiry was made, a creature called Thokt was found in the cleft of a rock that said, " Let Hel keep its booty." This was Loki, and so Baldur came not bacis to ValhaL His death was revenged by his son Vale, who, being only one night old, slew Hoder ; but Loki fled from the revenge of the gods. In Baldur was personified the light of the sun; in his death the quenching of that light in winter. In his invulnerable body is expressed the incorporeal quality of light; what alone can wound it is mistletoe, the symbol of the depth of winter. It is noticeable that the Druids, when they cut down this plant with a golden sickle, did so to prevent it from wounding Baldur again. According to the Voluspa, Baldur will return, after Bagna- rok, to the new heavens and the new earth; so the sun returns in spring to the renovated world. In the later versions it was no ordinary season, but the Fimbul winter, which no summer follows, which Baldur's death prefigured. It must not be overlooked that the story of Baldur is not merely a sun-myth, but a personification of that glory, purity, and innocence of the gods which was believed to have been lost at his death, thus made the central point of the whole drama of the great Scandinavian mythology. Baldur has been also considered, in relation to some state- ments of Saxo Grammaticus, to have been a god of peace, —peace attained through warfare; this theory has been advanced by Weinhold with much ingenuity. Several myths have been cited as paralleling the story of the death of Baldur; those of Adonis and of Persephone may be considered as the most plausible. (E. W. G.)

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