Baldur the Beautiful
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
His name can also be spelled as Baldr or Balder. In old English it is spelled as Bældæg. Baldur’s name can be translated to mean ‘brave’ or ‘bold’. This suggests he was as daring and as fierce as the other gods. However, there is little written about his adventures in the poems. His parents were Odin and Frigga, making his brothers (or half brothers depending on which poem) Thor and Tyr; the bravest fighters the gods had. Baldur was the god of beauty, light and peace. He was described as being very handsome, and he was well loved by all. Even the giants and other enemies of the gods respected Baldur. Of course, despite his good looks and love for beautiful things, Baldur was still a Norse deity. Which meant he was a killer, a warrior, skilled in combat.
Baldur was married to the goddess Nanna, little is known about her, making her a minor goddess. Some historians speculate that she was the goddess of joy, peace, and\or the keeper of the moon. But, there is so little written about her, that it is unclear if that was what she was worshipped for. What they do know is that the couple loved each other greatly. They were a perfect pair of beautiful lovers. Nanna was a truly fortunate bride to have Baldur as her husband, because many goddesses, giantesses and human women wished to be Baldur’s wife. Women pined after him, performing great and tragic deeds in hopes that the god of light would take notice of them. Including the goddess of winter *Skadi, who partook in a gamble to win him. Nanna and Baldur had a son named Forseti. In later poems Forseti would become the god of justice.
(Sculpture of Nanna by Danish sculpture Herman Wilhelm Bissen)
Baldur was so popular that in Sweden and Norway they named a particularly beautiful flower Baldur’s brow. Another common name for it is Scentless False Mayweed. (The scientific name is Tripleurospermum inodorum). The flower, although beautiful, is considered a noxious weed in Canada. Particularly in Saskatchewan. It was brought over form Northern Europe in the early 1900’s. It grows all over European and Scandinavian countries. The weed can be found in damp earth, like freshwater beaches, marshes, ditches and even on farmland. Snorri, the author of the Prose Edda, explains that the white flower is named after Baldur, because the god of beauty always had a light radiating from him, sort of like the way the flower pedals splay outwards, around the face of the flower.
Most Norse myths, stories, rituals and religious ceremonies are lost to history, because of the lack of literature found amongst the Norse countries during the time when Vikings ruled. With Bulder there is no exception. Carvings and paintings have been found of the god of light, but next to no written information has been found at this time. Snorri and his poems, have been accused of romanticizing Baldur, by modern historians. They believe that Snorri depicted Baldur as an innocent and loving being, while the Norse people really worshipped him as bloodthirsty war god. There is a possibility that Baldur was more warlike than was described in the poems. That he was ruthless, and spilled much blood in battle. Even if that was the case, he was still a well-loved god by the Norse worshipers, and his epic is a well-known narrative in Norse mythology.
There are several versions of Baldur’s story. The brief telling below is the commonly known version of the story.
It started with dreams. Baldur had troubling nightmares, and told his parents Odin and Frigga about them. They did not take the news lightly, and investigated the cause of such foreboding visions. Odin consulted a seer, and was told a horrible prophesy. That Baldur was to die. A god and goddess could not die of old age. However, they could be mortally wounded. Though it was near impossible to strike a blow against a god, the gods and goddesses were not invincible. When Frigga found out the dream was a prophecy, she set to work. The mother of all creation conversed with every living thing, and inanimate object. She collected vows from everyone and everything, that none would hurt Baldur in any way. Because everyone and everything loved the beautiful god, they all swore a vow of peace for him. Never to lift a finger against him. During this time Loki was in a bad way. After all his tricks, and the punishments that had been given him. He wanted to hurt anyone that was an easy target. When he heard of what Frigga was up to, Loki went snooping around. With sly speeches and disguises, he searched for a flaw in Frigga’s plan, and he found one. Frigga did not bother to obtain a sworn vow from the mistletoe. The plant was so small and harmless that she thought it could not cause any damage to her son. After this discovery, Loki wasted no time in hatching a plan. He picked some mistletoe and ran back to Asgard.
After Frigga’s work was done and she was at peace, the gods discovered a fun game. Because nothing would harm Baldur, the gods began throwing things at him. Absolutely everything would bounce off Baldur without leaving so much as a scratch on his skin. Every weapon, every object, everything refused to harm the god of light. It was like having an invisible shield. Now Hod, another son of Odin, was blind. Baldur and Hod were opposites, Hob was the god of darkness, while Baldur was the god of light, but they had a deep brotherly bond. Hod did not throw anything at Baldur, because he would need help doing so. Instead, he sat nearby and listened, until the excitement died down, and the gods were lounging around. Loki approached Hod quietly, concealing himself from the others. He slyly inquired why Hod had not joined in the fun. Hod answered honestly, and Loki said he would help guide Hod’s aim. Loki placed a spear in the blind man’s hands. Hod had no idea that the spear was tipped with mistletoe. Hod lifted the spear eager to have some fun. With Loki guiding his aim, Hod threw the spear with as much skill as one who could see. He hit his mark, and to everyone’s horror, Baldur was struck in the breast, and fell over dead! The shock of the moment gave Loki time to slip away and flee from Asgard, putting on many disguises to stay hidden. As soon as the shock was over, the gods grabbed at Hob, demanding to know why he had done it. It took much time for the truth to come out, for Hob wept for his brother, guilt consuming him. As soon as the truth was discovered, the gods tried to find Loki, but his trail was lost. The gods and goddesses mourned over Baldur. Odin sent Hermod to Hell’s realm. Lending his fastest stead **Sleipnir for Hermod’s message must be swift. When a god died, he was no longer able to stay in Asgard where Valhalla was located, but was sent to Hel in her depressing kingdom. Hel was a fair ruler of the dead, despite the place being gloomy and filled with those who died in disgrace. Odin begged of lady Hel to let Baldur return to Asgard, and restore his life. The lady was reluctant to let Baldur go. Like all the others she loved him greatly. After some persuasion she struck a deal. If absolutely every living thing wept for Baldur, praying for his resurrection, Hel would give him back to them. The gods and goddesses wasted no time, and encouraged all to mourn, weep and cry out for Baldur’s return to them. Everyone obeyed, and there was a great mourning in all the nine realms. Every eye was filled with tears, all except one. A giantess named Tokk refused to weep, even when all those around her begged. “Let Hel keep what is hers.” She declared. So Baldur remained with Hel. When it was too late, it was discovered that the giantess Tokk was actually Loki in disguise. He disappeared once again, and evaded the gods search for some time. He was eventually caught and a great ***punishment awaited him when he returned. As for Baldur. His body was given a grand funeral and set upon a pyre to be burned. All his magnificent possessions, and his favourite horse were set on it with him to be consumed by the flames. Just before the fire was lit, Nanna was overcome with grief. She flung herself onto Baldur’s body, her broken heart burst and she died upon his breast. She joined her husband in Hel’s domain, where the two would remain until the end of days. The death of Baldur was the event that triggered the end of all things. The battle of Ragnarök would soon begin.
*Skadi the goddesss of winter. You can read in our previous article here. https://www.thedanishcanadianmuseum.shop/post/skadi-goddess-of-winter
**Sleipnir the eight-legged horse. You can read in our previous article here. https://www.thedanishcanadianmuseum.shop/post/loki-the-trickster
***Loki’s punishment. You can read in our previous article here.https://www.thedanishcanadianmuseum.shop/post/loki-s-complicated-family
By Billie Richard
Sources used Books: Norse myths and Tales, Epic Tales. By Flame Tree Publishing Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman The Viking Spirit, by Daniel McCoy Websites: