Baldr is attested in the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, the Merseburg Incantation, the Gesta Danorum, the Utrecht Inscription, and Danish Chronicon Lethrense and Annales Lundenses. He is the favoured, heroic son Óðin and Frigg and is famous for the his death, funeral and resurrection.
We hear of his death through the prophecy of a völva who is raised from her grave by Óðin. The All-Father asked her what Baldr’s ominous nightmares meant. While Óðin interviewed the sorceress, Frigg struck out to extract oaths from every being and object to never harm the shining prince. She skipped mistletoe however, considering it to be nonthreatening, or “too young” to take an oath. Through treachery, Loki has Baldr slain by his brother Höðr with a dart of mistletoe – to the horror of the gods.
Baldr’s death had to be avenged, and Höðr appeared the villain, as Loki fled the scene of the crime and pinned the blame on Baldr’s brother. In a strange twist of events, Óðin seduces the jötunn goddess Rindr, who gives birth to Váli, who would henceforth be known as a god of vengeance. In a single day, Váli grows to adulthood and and avenges Baldr’s death.
A funeral pyre is prepared aboard Baldr’s wondrous ship, Hringhorni, and all the gods attend. Óðin climbs atop the pyre to give Baldr his magic ring, Draupnir. He whispers something into his dead son’s ears – the words are a secret for the ages, a riddle which features in later sagas. Once the pyre is lit, Baldr’s widow Nanna in her grief throws herself on top, 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.
After the funeral, Frigg and Óðin send their son Hermóðr to ask Hel to release Baldr from the realm of the dead. Hel agrees, under the condition that all things weep for him. Frigga once again sweeps through the Nine Realms, and all agree to mourn the loss of the god … except for one: Þökk, who is Loki disguised as an old lady. Thus Baldr remains in Hel.
Strangely enough, the realm of Hel 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 after the old one is destroyed.
Saxo Grammaticus writes of another version of Baldr in his Gesta Danorum, not 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. Saxo is famous for Christianizing Norse myth and stripping away any suggestion of divinity, thus his contextual spin on things (like Snorri’s) must be taken into consideration.
His Balderus, however provides details into Baldr’s character which are taken seriously by modern Norse pagans and scholars. At a cursory glance there appears to be two Baldrs. The most striking difference is how active Balderus is compared with Snorri’s Baldr, who gives us the impression of a passive prince of peace. The Poetic Edda provides us with a clue that fills in this gap. In the Edda, Baldr’s more active character is alluded to by Frigg, when she chides Loki in Lokasenna that were Baldr still alive he’d kick the crap out of Loki for his insults.
Baldr and his star-crossed brother Höðr seem to appear in a further diluted form 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 a god of beauty, light, peace, and valour.
Baldr’s name is also the kenning for white blossoms, particularly chamomile, lily-of-the-valley, and daisies and 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, a god of daylight.
There seems to be some back and forth as to his martial aspects. The pinnacle of masculine beauty in an ancient Germanic culture almost certainly entailed being a valiant warrior. Baldr is sometimes compared with Greco-Roman Apollo – both hunky, valiant gods of light and perfection.
The Summer Solstice symbolizes his death and he is born to Frigg on the Winter Solstice. In modern Heathen practice, it is tradition to honour both Höðr and Nanna when honouring him.
Signs and Symbols
The sun, sunrise, sunset and light. Summer and winter solstice. Mistletoe. Funerary pyres, funerals, and bonfires. Handsome, hunky, golden-boys/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.