Let us continue our series of articles about the most powerful Gods in Norse mythology with a story about Baldur, the God of Light and Purity.
Even though Baldur is not amongst the most famous Norse Gods nowadays, he surely deserves his spot on our list. After all, the story of his death is one of the most important stories in Norse mythology. Baldur's death will set in motion a series of events that will eventually lead to Ragnarök, the end of days.
But we will come to that a bit later.
Baldur is a member of the Aesir tribe. It is said that all the beings in the nine realms adored him, including the Norse Gods as well. As a result of his unbelievable charm and beauty, Baldur was literally shining.
Baldur, the God of Light and Purity, is thought to be the wisest of all Norse Gods. Because of his sense for justice, Baldur was the one settling the feuds between men and Gods alike.
Just like Thor or Odin, Baldur also had possession of immense value. OK, maybe not as powerful as Mjöllnir or Gungnir, but Baldur's ship was something to behold. It is called Hringhorn, and is often mentioned as the "greatest of all ships in the nine realms".
Now, let us start from the very beginning and take a more in-depth look at the life of Baldur, the Norse God of Light and Purity.
The etymology of Baldur's name is not entirely clear and is the topic of everlasting debate between scholars and historians.
There are many theories related to the origins of Baldur's name, and let us mention a few. One possibility is that his name derived from the Proto-Indo-European word *bhel, meaning "white". Another theory is that the name originated from Old Norse word bál, meaning "fire".
Although, the most straightforward and most likely correct opinion is that his name comes from the Old Norse word baldr, meaning "bold". However, Baldur is most usually portrayed as a kind and passive character, so many scholars don't accept this theory.
Now you can plainly see why we said that the origins of Baldur's name are the topic of an everlasting debate.
Baldur's Home and Family
Baldur's father is Odin, the ruler of Asgard and the Aeris tribe. Odin's wife, Frigg, the Goddes of Wisdom with the power to see into the future, is Baldur's mother. Hodr, the God of Winter and Darkness, is his twin brother. As a son of Odin, Baldur has a few half-brothers as well. Those are Thor, Tyr, Hermod, Vidarr, and Bragi.
Baldur is married to Nanna, the Goddes of Moon, joy, and peace. Their son, Forseti, is the God of Justice in Norse mythology. When he grew up, Forseti built a hall called Glitnir. It was a place where Forseti settled feuds, just like his father.
Baldur and his wife Nanna live in Asgard in a family house called Breidablik. It is one of the most beautiful houses in the whole Asgard due to its silver roof placed on the eye-catching pillars. Additionally, only those with a pure heart can enter Breidablik.
Baldur's Personality and Possessions
Baldur's main attributes are beauty, charm, fairness, and wisdom. As we have already mentioned, he owns the most magnificent ship ever built, Hringhorni. Following Baldur's demise, Hringhorni was used as a giant pyre for his body and set to flow free.
Another of Baldur's valuable possessions was his horse, Léttfeti. Léttfeti dwelled in his home, Breidablik, and was sacrificed on Baldur's funeral pyre.
Prophecy of Baldur's Death
Just like with most of Norse Gods and creatures, Snorri's Poetic Edda and Prose Edda are the primary sources of information about Baldur. Needless to say, Snorri's work allowed us to learn about Baldur's death and everything that led to it.
Brace yourselves, as here comes one of the most important and exciting stories in Norse mythology.
In a certain period of his life, Baldur started having nightmares of his own death. He was loved by everyone, including the Gods, so the Gods began to worry about Baldur. They feared that his dreams might turn to be a prophecy, so they started looking for a way to alter the future and help Baldur cheat death.
Odin, the All-Father, took the responsibility to help his son. On the backs of his eight-legged steed Sleipnir, Odin rode to the dark and cold underworld where a female seer ruled. Upon entering the land of the dead in one of his various disguises, Odin noticed that the whole place was decorated and preparing for some kind of feast. He confronted the seeress and learned that she has foreseen the death of his son and the entire realm was preparing to welcome the mighty Baldur.
And, unfortunately, all she has foreseen will turn out to be true.
When all hope was lost, Odin went back to Asgard to tell his family about his failure. However, Frigg, like all mothers, didn't want to give up on her son so easily. In an attempt to save the life of her favorite son, she went to every entity in the nine realms demanding them to swear oaths not to harm Baldur.
After all things have placed their oaths, the other Gods started teasing Baldur. They would laugh while throwing rocks or anything else they would come by at Baldur, as now nothing was able to harm the God of Light.
But, there was one God who realized that this might be a good chance for a little mischief. Of course, this God was Loki.
In one of his disguises, he approached Frigg and asked her if all things swore oaths not to harm Baldur. Unaware of who is she talking with, Frigg answered that all the things swore not to harm her son, except for the mistletoe. She believed that mistletoe is too innocent and small to be able to hurt her son, so she didn't ask it to swear the oath. After getting what he came for, Loki found the mistletoe and carved a spear out of it.
Finally, he took the spear and went to a place where Gods were having fun while throwing things at Baldur. Loki approached Baldur's blind twin-brother Hodr (Old Norse Höðr) telling him that he understands how awful he must feel for not being able to show his brother the honor of proving that nothing can harm him. Hodr agreed to Loki's statement. In a matter of seconds, Loki gave him a spear of mistletoe and told him that he will assist him to aim in Baldur's direction, and all he needs to do is to throw "that branch" at his brother. Not realizing that he has been tricked, Hodr threw the mistletoe spear. The spear pierced Baldur, and just like that, the invincible God of Light was dead.
The Gods were speechless, trembling with fear and despair. They knew that this was the event that precedes Ragnarök, the destruction of the universe and everything in it, including the Gods themselves.
Once more, Frigg didn't want to give up. She asked if there was any God loyal, compassionate, and above all, brave enough to travel to Helheim, the realm of the dead, to offer the death Goddess Hel a ransom for Baldur's life. Baldur's half-brother Hermod volunteered to complete this task. Odin sent his steed Sleipnir to take Hermod to the realm of the dead, and so the journey has started.
Hermod traveled nine nights through utter cold and darkness before finally reaching a bridge that was the entrance to Helheim. The bridge across the river Gjoll was guarded by the giantess Modgud (Old Norse Móðguðr). She asked him about his intentions and his name. Hermod's answer pleased her, and he was allowed to enter the realm of the dead.
Once he got into Helheim, Hermod quickly located Hel's throne. And there he saw him. Completely pale and looking downwards, Baldur was sitting right next to Hel, in the seat of honor. Hermod waited for the morning and approached Hel trying to explain to her how sad all beings are, including Gods, because of Baldur's death. Hel gave him an offer that seemed achievable. If all things in the nine realms would cry for Baldur, she will release him and send him back to Asgard. However, if a single one refuses to weep, he will remain in Helheim forever.
Without wasting any time, Hermod went back to Asgard, telling other Gods of Hel's demands. Frigg and Odin dispatched messengers throughout the nine realms to spread the news to all living things. And in no time, everything did indeed cry for Baldur. Everything, except for the giantess Tokk. The giantess told the messenger that Hel should keep Baldur. And the giantess was no other than Loki himself, in disguise.
And just like that, after getting Baldur killed, Loki condemned him to roam the realm of the dead until the end of times. Never again would Baldur grace the realms of the living with his beauty and shining light.
The Gods arranged the greatest funeral Asgard has ever seen for their beloved friend. They decided to use Hringhorni, Baldur's ship, and turn it into a pyre fitting for the most beloved God. However, when the time came to send the ship downriver, the Gods were unable to move it.
They summoned giantess Hyrrokkin, the strongest being in the universe. The giantess arrived at the funeral on a wolf, using venomous snakes as reins. She approached Hringhorni and gave it such a powerful push that the land quaked.
Now, the ship was ready for its final journey. Almost.
Nanna, Baldur's wife, couldn't bear to watch her husband's body being placed on the pyre, and she fell dead on the spot. She died of grief and was placed on Hringhorni, alongside her husband. The fire was lit, and the God of Thunder used his mighty hammer Mjölnir to consecrate the flames. To honor his fallen son, Odin placed his powerful ring Draupnir into the pyre. Baldur's horse Léttfeti was sent into the fire as well.
Gods, dwarves, elves, Valkyries and many other beings from the whole universe attended Baldur's funeral. All of them stood together and wept as the burning ship was disappearing over the horizon.
Of course, Odin wanted to avenge his son's death. The giantess Rindr gave him a son Váli who came of age in a single day. Killing Baldur's twin brother Hodr was the first thing Váli did. Then, he wasted no time and went searching for the God responsible for Baldur's death, Loki.
On his pursuit, Váli killed Loki's son Nari. He used Nari's entrails to bind Loki to a rock. The Gods agreed that this was not enough to punish Loki for what he did. They placed a poisonous snake atop of Loki's head so its venom will drip onto his face for all eternity causing him to live in agony till the end of days.
Even though you might think that Baldur is not as popular as Thor or Odin, he is not really that far behind.
Baldur's name, or its derivations, was used to name towns, villages, streets and other places throughout Europe. There is even a village in the Canadian province of Manitoba named after him.
Besides, gamers are undoubtedly aware of Baldur's influence nowadays. God of War, Max Payne (a character named Balder appears), and of course one of the best RPG's ever made, Baldur's Gate (1998) and its sequel, Baldur's Gate - Shadows of Amn, are all influenced by Baldur.
Perhaps Baldur was not the most popular Norse God, but he was surely the most loved one. Son to Odin and Frigg, the Norse God of Light was something to behold.
Baldur's role in Norse mythology is so essential that his demise is considered to be a harbinger of Ragnarök. His death will mark the beginning of the end for all Norse Gods.
Whether you are in love with Norse mythology, or you are a passionate gamer or both, feel free to let us know what do you love about Baldur the most in the comments area below.