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Baldr

Baldr is a god in Norse Mythology associated with light and beauty.

In the 12th century, Danish accounts by Saxo Grammaticus and other Danish Latin chroniclers recorded a euhemerized account of his story. Compiled in Iceland in the 13th century, but based on much older Old Norse poetry, the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda contain numerous references to the death of Baldr as both a great tragedy to the Æsir and a harbinger of Ragnarök.

According to Gylfaginning, a book of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, Baldr's wife is Nanna and their son is Forseti. In Gylfaginning, Snorri relates that Baldr had the greatest ship ever built, named Hringhorni, and that there is no place more beautiful than his hall, Breidablik.

Attestations

Merseburg Incantation

One of the two Merseburg Incantations names Balder, and it also mentions a figure named Phol. It has been theorized that Phol may therefore be another name for Baldr.

Poetic Edda

In the Poetic Edda the tale of Baldr's death is referred to rather than recounted at length. Among the visions which the Völva sees and describes in the prophecy known as the Völuspá is one of the fatal mistletoe. Yet looking far into the future the Völva sees a brighter vision of a new world.

Prose Edda

In Gylfaginning, Baldr is described as follows:

Annarr sonr Óðins er Baldr, ok er frá honum gott at segja. Hann er svá fagr álitum ok bjartr svá at lýsir af honum, ok eitt gras er svá hvítt at jafnat er til Baldrs brár. Þat er allra grasa hvítast, ok þar eptir máttu marka fegrð hans bæði á hár ok á líki. Hann er vitrastr ása ok fegrst talaðr ok líknsamastr. En sú náttúra fylgir honum at engi má haldask dómr hans. Hann býr þar sem heita Breiðablik, þat er á himni. Í þeim stað má ekki vera óhreint[.]
The second son of Odin is Baldr, and good things are to be said of him. He is best, and all praise him; he is so fair of feature, and so bright, that light shines from him. A certain herb is so white that it is likened to Baldr's brow; of all grasses it is whitest, and by it thou mayest judge his fairness, both in hair and in body. He is the wisest of the Æsir, and the fairest-spoken and most gracious; and that quality attends him, that none may gainsay his judgments. He dwells in the place called Breidablik, which is in heaven; in that place may nothing unclean be[.] — Brodeur's translation

Apart from this description Baldr is known primarily for the story of his death. His death is seen as the first in the chain of events which will ultimately lead to the destruction of the gods at Ragnarok. Baldr will be reborn in the new world, according to Völuspá.

He had a dream of his own death and his mother had the same dreams. Since dreams were usually prophetic, this depressed him, so his mother Frigg made every object on earth vow never to hurt Baldr. All objects made this vow except mistletoe. Frigg had thought it too unimportant and nonthreatening to bother asking it to make the vow (alternatively, it seemed too young to swear).

When Loki, the mischief-maker, heard of this, he made a magical spear from this plant (in some later versions, an arrow). He hurried to the place where the gods were indulging in their new pastime of hurling objects at Baldr, which would bounce off without harming him. Loki gave the spear to Baldr's brother, the blind god Höðr, who then inadvertently killed his brother with it (other versions suggest that Loki guided the arrow himself). For this act, Odin and the giantess Rindr gave birth to Váli who grew to adulthood within a day and slew Höðr.

Baldr was ceremonially burnt upon his ship, Hringhorni, the largest of all ships. As he was carried to the ship, Odin whispered in his ear. This was to be a key riddle asked by Odin (in disguise) of the giant Vafthrudnir (and which was, of course, unanswerable) in the poem Vafthrudnismal. The riddle also appears in the riddles of Gestumblindi in Hervarar saga.

The dwarf Litr was kicked by Thor into the funeral fire and burnt alive. Nanna, Baldr's wife, also threw herself on the funeral fire to await Ragnarok when she would be reunited with her husband (alternatively, she died of grief). Baldr's horse with all its trappings was also burned on the pyre. The ship was set to sea by Hyrrokin, a giantess, who came riding on a wolf and gave the ship such a push that fire flashed from the rollers and all the earth shook.

Upon Frigg's entreaties, delivered through the messenger Hermod, Hel promised to release Baldr from the underworld if all objects alive and dead would weep for him. And all did, except a giantess, Þökk, who refused to mourn the slain god. And thus Baldr had to remain in the underworld, not to emerge until after Ragnarok, when he and his brother Höðr would be reconciled and rule the new earth together with Thor's sons.

When the gods discovered that the giantess had been Loki in disguise, they hunted him down and bound him to three rocks. Then they tied a serpent above him, the venom of which dripped onto his face. His wife Sigyn gathered the venom in a bowl, but from time to time she had to turn away to empty it, at which point the poison would drip onto Loki, who writhed in pain, thus causing earthquakes. He would free himself, however, in time to attack the gods at Ragnarok.

Gesta Danorum

Writing at about the end of the 12th century, the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus tells the story of Baldr (recorded as Balderus) in a form which professes to be historical. According to him, Balderus and Høtherus were rival suitors for the hand of Nanna, daughter of Gewar, King of Norway. Now Balderus was a demigod and common steel could not wound his sacred body. The two rivals encountered each other in a terrific battle. Though Odin and Thor and the rest of the gods fought for Balderus, he was defeated and fled away, and Høtherus married the princess.

Nevertheless Balderus took heart of grace and again met Høtherus in a stricken field. But he fared even worse than before. Høtherus dealt him a deadly wound with a magic sword, named Mistletoe, which he had received from Miming, the satyr of the woods; after lingering three days in pain Balderus died of his injury and was buried with royal honours in a barrow.

Chronicon Lethrense and Annales Lundenses

There are also two lesser known Danish Latin chronicles, the Chronicon Lethrense and the Annales Lundenses of which the latter is included in the former. These two sources provide a second euhemerized account of Höðr's slaying of Baldr.

It relates that Hother was the king of the Saxons and son of Hothbrod and the daughter of Hadding. Hother first slew Othen's (i.e. Odin) son Balder in battle and then chased Othen and Thor. Finally, Othen's son Both killed Hother. Hother, Balder, Othen and Thor were incorrectly considered to be gods.

Utrecht Inscription

A Latin votive inscription from Utrecht, from the 3rd or 4th century C.E., has been theorized as containing the dative form Baldruo,, pointing to a Latin nominative singular *Baldruus, which some have identified with the Norse/Germanic god, although both the reading and this interpretation have been questioned.

Eponyms

Plants

As referenced in Gylfaginning, in Sweden and Norway, the Scentless Mayweed (Matricaria perforata) and the similar Sea Mayweed (Matricaria maritima) are both called Balder's brow. In Iceland only the latter is found.

Toponyms

There are few old place names in Scandinavia that contain the name Baldr. The most certain and notable one is the (former) parish name Balleshol in Hedmark county, Norway: "a Balldrshole" 1356 (where the last element is hóll m "mound; small hill"). Others may be (in Norse forms) Baldrsberg in Vestfold county, Baldrsheimr in Hordaland county Baldrsnes in Sør-Trøndelag county — and (very uncertain) the fjord and municipality Balsfjord in Troms county.

In Belgium, the name Balder is also used in dialect for a village called Berlaar and in another village (Tielen), the Balderij is a street and a swampy area next to it.

Modern influence

The Balder Oil Field is a small field in the Norwegian North Sea discovered in 1967 which started production n 1999. It is operated by Exxon Mobil Ref The Balder Formation is a prominent marker within the North Sea Sedimentary Basin. It is a layer of volcanic tuff of Early Eocene Age, and is present throughout the Northern and Central North Sea. Ref

Baldr has, also, found mention in various media outlets, including a video game franchise, Too Human, where he is the main character and is accused by the other Norse Gods of being "too human." In the storyline of said video game, The other Aesir are cybernetic beings of godly worth. Baldr refuses to use such blasphemies, as he calls them, which lends itself to his air of purity and light. The Accuracy is very close to that of the actual myth, with some different interpretations as to the trickery of Hoad and other events. He is also paralleled as Balder the Brave in Marvel's "The Mighty Thor", where he serves as an ally to main character, Thor. He also has an honorable namesake in the Baldur's Gate series.

References

Further reading

  • Lindow, John (1997). Murder and Vengeance Among the Gods: Baldr in Scandinavian Mythology. Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia. ISBN 9514108094.

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