Baldr is attested in the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, a Merseburg Incantation, the Gesta Danorum, the Utrecht Inscription, and the Danish Chronicon Lethrense and Annales Lundenses. He is the favoured, heroic son Óðin and Frigga and is famous for the events surrounding his death, funeral and resurrection. We hear of his death through the prophecy of a völva (witch), who is raised from her grave by Óðin. The All-Father asked her what Baldr’s ominous nightmares – of his death and of the end of the world – mean. While Óðin interviewed the sorceress’ ghost, Frigga struck out, flying all over creation, to extract oaths from every single being and object to never harm the shining prince of Ásgard. She skipped past mistletoe however, considering it so nonthreatening (or too young to take an oath). Through the treachery of Loki, who finds this loophole in Frigga’s assay, Baldr is slain by his twin brother Höðr with a dart Loki made out of mistletoe, to the horror of the attending gods.
Baldr’s death had to be avenged with another life in exchange – most appropriately Höðr’s, who appeared the villain, as Loki had fled the scene of the crime, pinning the blame on Baldr’s twin. In a strange twist of events, Óðin seduces the lesbian goddess Rindr (by taking on female form), who gives birth to Váli, hereafter known as the god of vengeance. In a single day, this strangely begotten god grows to adulthood and and avenges his half-brother Baldr.
A funeral pyre is prepared aboard Baldr’s wondrous ship, Hringhorni, and all the gods are in attendance. Óðin climbs atop the pyre to give Baldr his magic ring, Draupnir. He whispers something into his dead son’s ears – the words of which are a secret for all the ages, a riddle which features in later sagas. Once the pyre is lit, Nanna throws herself onto the fire to join her husband (or alternatively, dies of grief and is placed in the blaze). Baldr’s horse is also burned. The ship is set to sea by the giantess Hyrrokin, who gives the ship such a push that fire flashes from the rollers and all of Miðgarðr shakes in the world below.
After the funeral, Frigga and Óðin send their son Hermóðr to ask the goddess Hel to release Baldr. She agrees, under the condition that all things weep for him. Frigga once again sweeps through the Nine Realms and all mourn the loss of the god of light … except for one: Þökk, Loki disguised as a miserable old lady. Thus Baldr remains in Hel. Strangely enough, the realm is a sort of bunker in which Baldr, Nanna and Höðr are protected from Ragnarök. The three deities are fated to join Thor’s sons, Móði and Magni, along with Víðarr and Váli, in establishing a new and better world to come.
Saxo Grammaticus writes another version of Baldr in his Gesta Danorum, not as a deity, but an euhmerised hero. Saxo names him Balderus, and has him war with his nemesis, Hotherus, over the hand of the princess Nanna. While Saxo’s treatment of Norse myth sometimes reads more like an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, his Balderus provides details into Baldr’s character which are taken seriously by modern Norse pagans and scholars. The most striking difference is how active Balderus is when compared with Snorri’s Baldr, who gives us the impression of a passive, resigned figure. At a cursory glance there appears to be two Baldrs. Thankfully, the Poetic Edda provides us a clue that fills in this gap. In the Edda, Baldr’s more active character is alluded to by Frigga, when she retorts to Loki’s roast of her and the other gods in Lokasenna, that were Baldr still alive he’d kick the crap out of Loki for his insults.
Baldr and his star-crossed foe Höðr appear again in Beowulf, as the figures Herebeald and Haethcyn, the tale of whom bears many similarities to Saxo’s.
Thoughts on Baldr
Baldr’s name means “Brave”. In kennings, he is often associated with words meaning “warrior,” “prince,” “light” and “white.” He is popularly honoured as the god of beauty, light and peace.
Baldr’s name is also the kenning for white blossoms, particularly chamomile, lily-of-the-valley, and daisies. These flowers are often associated with memorials. Goddesses vie for his affections, as in the story of Skaði trying to score him as a husband; and some gods are jealous of him, as is Loki. In Anglo-Saxon lore, he is revered as Bealdor, the god of day and light.
There seems to be some back and forth as to the martial aspect of Baldr’s character. The pinnacle of masculine beauty in an ancient Germanic culture most certainly entailed a valiant warrior. Along with his brother Höðr, he seems to descend from the Indo-European twin gods, two brother deities, one who is more peaceful (Baldr) and the other more war-like (Höðr) who vie for the hand of the goddess of the sun. Further, Baldr bears some similarities with Apollo – they are both hunky, valiant gods of light paired with dark twins.
The Summer Solstice commemorates and symbolizes his death and he is born to Frigga on the Winter Solstice. He is accompanied by his wife, Nanna and his twin brother Höðr and it is a modern tradition that in working with Baldr, his wife and dark twin receive honourable mention.
Signs and Symbols
The sun, sunrise, sunset and light. Summer and winter solstice. Mistletoe. Funerary pyres, funerals, and bonfires. Handsome, hunky, golden-boy men. The colours gold, white and sky-blue. Chamomile, daisies and white-blossoms. The rune Dæg.
Balder, Balderus, Baldur, Baldere, Palter, Bealdor, Balþaz, Balþs, Baltas, Baldag, Bældæg, Beldeg, Belobog, Berhta, Phol, Herebeald.