B is for Baldr

Baldur (pronounced “BALD-er;” Old Norse Baldr, Old English and Old High German Balder) is one of the Aesir gods. He’s the son of Odin and Frigg [Freya], the husband of the obscure goddess Nanna, and the father of the god Forseti.

He’s loved by all the gods, goddesses, and beings of a more physical nature. So handsome, gracious, and cheerful is he that he actually gives off light.[1]

–from Norse Mythology for Smart People by Daniel McCoy

Everyone loved Baldur. In a myth, that’s a clear sign that something bad is going to happen. Son of Odin, half-brother of Thor, it’s little wonder that Baldur’s mother (not Thor’s) loved him best. She took every step she could think of to protect him, just as Achilles’s mother Thetis, who dipped her son into the River Styx, believing it would protect him.

But she held onto Achilles by his heel, leaving this small portion of his body unprotected. And you know what happened to him.

Baldur’s mother Freya took a different approach to protecting him when he began dreaming of his death. She went to every thing in the world and asked them to promise not to harm her son. And they all promised. Whew!

When Freya reassured the gods–they all loved Baldur, remember–that she had extracted an oath from every thing in the world not to harm Baldur, they entertained themselves by throwing things at Baldur and watching them bounce off him.

What a way to show how much you love the guy. But it’s clear Freya solved the problem, right?

Well, not if there is a trickster in the midst. And Loki, the trickster, can be so charming when he wants to be. He pulled Freya to one side, probably implying he was only trying to help, and asked her if there was any chance she had overlooked something. That guy. So charming.

Freya admitted she hadn’t asked the mistletoe to protect her son, but what harm could mistletoe do?

Loki set out immediately to carve a spear from mistletoe. But he couldn’t take action himself because that would give him away to Freya. Instead, he gave the spear to the blind god Hodr, and convinced him to throw the spear at Baldur. Just like the other gods had been doing with other items.

Bad Loki.

Hodr threw the spear, it pierced Baldur, and Baldur died.

Sounds like the story of Oedipus, doesn’t it? Baldur dreams he will die soon. Just like Oedipus receives a prediction that he will kill his father and marry his mother and thereby bring catastrophe to his people. What’s a fellow supposed to do?

Oedipus leaves town. But what he doesn’t know is that the man he thinks is his father and the woman he considers his mother aren’t really his parents. His real father, King Laius, had similarly received a prophesy that his son would murder him, so he had abandoned Oedipus on the side of the road, expecting him to die.

But he didn’t. A shepherd found the baby and brought him to King Polybus and Queen Merope who raised him as their own.

When Oedipus leaves to avoid the prophesy, he heads for Thebes. He encounters a man on the road, quarrels with him, and kills him. That man is, of course, his real father, King Laius. When he arrives in Thebes, he discovers the king is dead, and the city is at the mercy of the Sphinx. When Oedipus answers the Sphinx’s riddle (What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?) he becomes king and marries the previous king’s widow, his mother Queen Jocasta.

What can we learn from all these tales of prophesies and precautions against them? I don’t like the fatalism of these stories, the sense that the future is pre-ordained, and nothing I can do will prevent it. Just another reason not to waste any time or money on fortune-tellers.

After giving it more thought, I decided the message in all of these tales is that it doesn’t matter whether you are a ruler or even a god, life throws curveballs that may interrupt the plans you have carefully made. Get over it. What’s important is how to react to the negatives. No one can guarantee nothing bad will ever happen. It isn’t necessarily fatalism. It’s just life.

If Thetis and Freya and King Laius and Oedipus had simply lived the best life possible instead of trying to take steps to foil the future, life might have turned out better.

For more information about Baldr’s death, see The Poetic Edda, the entire poem, Baldr’s Draumar, Baldr’s Dream.

[1] Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Gylfaginning 22.

Image credit: Public Domain, Link

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3 thoughts on “B is for Baldr

  1. Pingback: D is for Draupnir – Sandra Yeaman

  2. Pingback: R is for Ragnarøk – Sandra Yeaman

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