The Great Myths #38: Baldr’s Dreams, Baldr’s Death (Norse)

odin27s_last_words_to_baldrTwo bits of old Norse, first poetry & then prose, on the death of Odin’s son, Baldr:

All at once the gods were gathered,
and all the goddesses came to speak,
the mighty deities had a discussion,
why Baldr’s dreams were foreboding.

Odin rose up, the ancient sacrifice,
and on the Sleipnir placed a saddle;
he rode down from there to Niflhel,
and met a whelp that came from Hel.

It was bloody on the front of its chest,
and barked for long at the father of spells;
Odin rode on, the highway resounded,
he came up to the high hall of Hel.

Then Odin rode East of the door,
where he knew the seeress was buried;
the cunning one began to recite a corpse-spell,
until she rose reluctant, and spoke the words of the dead:

“What man is that, unknown to me,
who has made me take a troublesome trip?
I’ve been covered with snow, battered with rain,
drenched with dew: I’ve been long dead.”

“Way-tamer I’m called, Slain-tamer’s son;
tell me tidings from Hel – I know about the world –
for whom are the benches strewn with rings,
the platform fairly flooded with gold?”

“Here stands mead brewed for Baldr,
the shining liquor, a shield hangs above,
and the Aesir-folk are in despair.
Reluctant I told you, now I’ll be still.”

“Don’t shut up, seeress, I want to question you
until all is known, and I still wish to know:
who will turn out to be Baldr’s killer,
and snatch the life from Odin’s son?”

“Höd will send off the lofty glory-tree;
he will turn out to be Baldr’s killer
and snatch the life from Odin’s son.
Reluctant I told you, now I’ll be still.”

“Don’t be still, seeress, I wish to question you
until all is known, and I still wish to know:
who will bring vengeance on Höd for his wickedness,
and put Baldr’s killer to the funeral pyre?”

“Rind will bear Váli in the western halls,
that son of Odin will kill, one night old;
he won’t wash his hands or comb his head,
till he puts to the pyre Baldr’s opponent.
Reluctant I told you, now I’ll be still.”

“Don’t be still, seeress, I wish to question you
until all is known, and I still wish to know:
who are those maidens who weep as they will,
and fling their cloth-flaps up to the sky?”

“You are not Way-tamer, as I suspected,
rather you are Odin, the ancient sacrifice.”
“You are not a seeress or a wise woman,
rather you are the mother of three ogres.”

“Ride home, Odin, and be proud:
may no one else come back to visit me,
till Loki slips loose from his bonds,
and there comes the powers’ fate, destructive.”

Baldrs Draumar, tr. Andy Orchard
in The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore


There are events to be related that would have been thought more significant by the Aesir. And the beginning of this story is that Baldr the Good dreamed great dreams boding peril to his life. And when he told the Aesir the dreams they took counsel together and it was decided to request immunity for Baldr from all kinds of danger, and Frigg received solemn promises to that Baldr should not be harmed by fire and water, iron and all kinds of metal, stones, the earth, trees, diseases, the animals, the birds, poison, snakes. And when this was done and confirmed, then it became an entertainment for Baldr and the Aesir that he should stand up at assemblies and all the others should either shoot at him or strike him or throw stones at him. But whatever they did he was unharmed, and they all thought this a great glory. But when Loki Laufeyiarson saw this he was not pleased that Baldr was unharmed. He went to Fensalir to Frigg and changed his appearance to that of a woman. Then Frigg asked this woman if she knew what the Aesir were doing at the assembly. She said that everyone was shooting at Baldr, and moreover that he was unharmed. Then said Frigg:

“Weapons and wood will not hurt Baldr. I received oaths from them all.”

Then the woman asked, “Have all things sworn oaths not to harm Baldr?”

Then Frigg replied, “There grows a shoot of a tree to the west of Val-hall. It is called mistletoe. It seemed young to me to demand the oath from.”

Straight away the woman disappeared. And Loki took mistletoe and plucked it and went to the assembly. Höd was standing at the edge of the circle of people, for he was blind. Then Loki said to him:

“Why are you not shooting at Baldr?”

He replied: “Because I cannot see where Baldr is, and secondly because I have no weapon.”

Then Loki said: “Follow other people’s example and do Baldr honour like other people. I will direct you to where he is standing. Shoot at him this stick.”

Höd took the mistletoe and shot at Baldr at Loki’s direction. The missile flew through him and he fell dead to the ground, and this was the unluckiest deed ever done among gods and men. When Baldr had fallen, then all the Aesir’s tongues failed them, as did their hands for lifting him up, and they all looked at each other and were all of one mind towards the one who had done the deed. But no one could take vengeance, it was a place of sanctuary. When the Aesir tried to speak then what happened first was that weeping came out, so that none could tell another in words of his grief. But it was Odin who took this injury the hardest in that he had the best what great deprivation and loss the death of Baldr would cause the Aesir. And when the gods came to themselves then Frigg spoke, and asked who there was among the Aesir who wished to earn all her love and favour and was willing to ride the road to Hel and try if he could find Baldr, and offer Hel a ransom if she would let Baldr go back to Asgard. Hermod the Bold, Odin’s boy, is the name of the one who undertook this journey. Then Odin’s horse Sleipnir was fetched and led forward and Hermod mounted this horse and galloped away. So the Aesir took Baldr’s body and carried it to the sea. Hringhorni was the name of Baldr’s ship. It was the biggest of all ship. This the Aesir planned to launch and perform on it Baldr’s funeral. But the ship refused to move. So they sent to Giantland for a giantess called Hyrrokkin. And when she arrived, riding a wolf and using vipers and reins, she dismounted from her steed, and Odin summoned four berserks to look after the mount, and they were unable to hold it without knocking it down. Then Hyrrokkin went to the prow of the boat and pushed it out with the first touch so that flame flew from the rollers and all lands quaked. Then Thor became angry and grasped his hammer and was about to smash her head until all the gods begged grace for her. Then Baldr’s body was carried out on to the ship, and when his wife Nanna Nep’s daughter saw this she collapsed with grief and died. She was carried on to the pyre and it was set fire to. Then Thor stood by and consecrated the pyre with Miollnir. But a certain dwarf ran in front of his feet. His name was Lit. Thor kicked at him with his foot and thrust him into the fire and he was burned.
This burning was attended by being of many different kinds: firstly to tell of Odin, that with him went Frigg and valkyries and his ravens, while Freyr drove in a chariot with a boar called Gullinbursti or Slidrugtanni. But Heimdall rode a horse called Gulltopp, and Freyia her cats. There came also a great company of frost-giants and mountain-giants. Odin laid on the pyre a gold arm-ring called Draupnir. It afterwards had the property that every ninth night there dripped from it eight gold rings of the same weight. Baldr’s horse was led on to the pyre with all its harness. But there is to tell of Hermod that he rode for nine nights through valleys dark and deep so that he saw nothing until he came to the river Gioll and rode on to the Gioll bridge. It is covered with glowing gold. There is a maiden guarding the bridge called Mogdud. She asked him his name and lineage and said that the other day there had ridden over the bridge five battalions of dead men.

“But the bridge resounds no less under just you, and you do not have the colour of dead men. Why are you riding here on the road to Hel?”

He replied: “I am to ride to Hel to seek Baldr. But have you seen anything of Baldr on the road to Hel?”

And she said that Baldr had ridden there over Gioll bridge, “but downwards and northwards lies the road to Hel.”

Then Hermod road until he came to Hel’s gates. Then he dismounted from the horse and tightened its girth, mounted and spurred it on. The horse jumped so hard and over the gate that it came nowhere near. Then Hermod rode up to the hall and dismounted from his horse, went into the hall, saw sitting there in the seat of honour his brother Baldr; and Hermod stayed there the night. In the morning Hermod begged from Hel that Baldr might ride home with him and said what great weeping there was among the Aesir. But Hel said that it must be tested whether Baldr was as beloved as people said in the following way,

“And if all things in the world, alive and dead, weep for him, then he shall go back to the Aesir, but be kept with Hel if any objects refuse to weep.”

Then Hermod got up and Baldr went with him out of the hall and took the ring Draupnir and sent it to Odin as a keepsake, and Nanna sent Frigg a linen robe and other gifts too; to Fulla a finger-ring. Then Hermod rode back on his way and came to Asgard and told them all the tidings he had seen and heard.

After this the Aesir sent over all the world messengers to request that Baldr be wept out of Hel. And all did this, the people and animals and the earth and the stones and trees and every metal, just as you will have seen that these things weep when they come out of frost and into heat. When the envoys were travelling back having well fulfilled their errand, they found in a certain cave a giantess sitting. She said her name was Thanks. They bade her weep Baldr out of Hel. She said:

“Thanks will weep dry tears for Baldr’s burial. No good got I from the old one’s son either dead or alive. Let Hel hold what she has.”

It is presumed that this was Loki Laufeyiarson, who has done most evil among the Aesir.

– from the “Gylfaginning” in the Prose Edda,
translated by Anthony Faulkes, Edda, 48-51