Myth Monday: The Death of Baldr

*This is Snorri’s version of Baldr’s death from the Prose Edda. As mentioned before, earlier versions left Loki out of the equation, and even this version does have some wording we will look at later.  Also, this is one of the long tales and is quite lengthy. So, here we go

Baldr had visions and dreams of his demise. So it was agreed among the Aesir that they would keep him safe by getting “solemn promises” from everything in the world that they would not bring harm to Baldr. This included animals, plants, wood, metal, stones, snakes, poisons, and everything and everyone there is. After this, they made it like a game to stand around and throw things at Baldr and watching as they would move themselves away from hitting him. But then (according to Snorri’s version) “When Loki saw this he was not pleased that Baldr was unharmed” so he went to Frigg in the disguise of a woman and asked if she knew of the game they were playing throwing things at Baldr and if it was safe for him. Frigg then said that she had received oaths from all “weapons and wood” that they would not hurt Baldr. And when Loki asked if she was sure all things had sworn the oath, she told him that the only thing she didn’t ask was the shoot of a tree called mistletoe because “it seemed too young to demand the oath from”. So, Loki left and fetched the mistletoe and found the blind god Hod and encouraged him to have a throw despite being blind because it brings honor to Baldr, and that he would direct where to throw. Then he gave him the stick of mistletoe. The mistletoe “flew through him and he fell dead”. At his funeral, they sat Baldr upon his boat, but they could not make it move because it was so big and strong. So they called a giantess called Hyrrokkin to push the boat out. She pushed it out with the first touch so strongly “that flame flew from the rollers and all lands quacked. Then Thor became angry and grasped his hammer and was about to smash her head until all the gods begged grace for her”. Then Thor consecrated the pyre with Mjolnr. But a dwarf ran in front of his feet and Thor kicked him and “thrust him into the fire and he was burned”. After the funerary burning, Hemrod rode out to Hel to ask if there were a way to bring Baldr back. She said that “if all things in the world, alive and dead, weep for him, then he shall go back to the Aesir”, but if anyone refused to weep for him, he would have to stay there. After this, the Aesir had messengers sent over all the world to tell Baldr’s story and ask everyone to weep for him. They had almost completed their mission when they finally came to a certain cave where a giantess was sitting. “She said her name was Thanks”. When they asked her to 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”. The tale then says “It is presumed” that this was Loki in disguise again. And, in this version at least, this is why the Aesir set out after Loki to punish him and bound him. 

Discussion Points: Whether or not Loki was involved as this version suggests, I can’t help but think about the part that says he was not pleased that Baldr was unharmed. Even if this were the case, could there be a non-evil reason that he was upset by this? How many times have we gotten knocked down because we were too cocky? Isn’t a game of proving you can’t die a bit of the “pride comes before the fall” idea? And what of the mistletoe being too young to ask for an oath? Weren’t their other young things even younger that did take the oath? In other versions, (the ones absent of Loki) Frigg didn’t ask the mistletoe because it was so far up the tree and so small she thought it could do no harm and not worth asking, so it was her dismissal of it that caused the death. Also a bit of too much pride here in this scenario as well. Now, skip ahead to the funeral. Here we have yet again, Thor getting angry enough to kill giants and dwarfs at the slightest annoyance. Nearly every mention of Thor includes at least one instance of him killing out of anger or seeking out giants to kill. He, the “defender of Midgard”, even nearly killed a family of humans because of his rage. And yet, this side of him is rarely, if ever, mentioned while people constantly see Loki as “evil”. But, an interesting thing in the funeral itself, (for those who may not know)  is how Thor consecrated the pyre with Mjolnr. He also brought back the goats after eating them in previous myth to bring them back to life. So, this is at least part of where we get the idea of the Hammer blessing in blots. And, finally, the end of the tale and the giantess who would not weep. This is yet another account where, according Snorri,  the Aesir just assumed it was Loki. But, there’s a few problems with this. One, if this was the only one left who hadn’t wept, that would mean they had already gotten weeping from everyone else alive, including Loki. And if this was just him dressed up, wouldn’t his first weeping have made this one unnecessary since it was not a separate person? Also, she says her name is “Thanks”. And she says she never got anything good from Baldr. Could this be showing that he and the Aesir had a lack of Thankfulness? Or, could it be a sign of the future and Ragnarok where “Thanks to” Baldr being in Hel during the battle, he won’t die in Ragnarok like everyone else will, and is able to come and restart afterward. He could not do that if they had let him come out of Hel when they first asked. There’s much more we could explore but, these are the things that have stood out to me most. So, thanks for following. And see you again soon.

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