Baldur, the son of Frigga and Odin, was the most handsome and noble of all the Gods.  Forever appearing in the form of a beautiful young man, he was the God of Light and Spring, of all things Right and Good, the best loved among all Aesir.

One morning, his mother wakened from a horrible nightmare.  She had seen Hel, the Goddess who rules the underworld, take Baldur into her realm.  Baldur too had been plagued by troubling dreams foretelling doom.  So Odin invoked the ancient prophetess, Wala, from her grave to find out what was behind the dreams.  He asked her who was next expected to enter the realm of Hel, and her answer was "It is Baldur, the noble one, who is next for Hel, and Hödur, his blind brother, will be the instrument of his demise."  (Baldur was not a warrior, he would not be killed in battle.  This meant his body was for Hel, not for Valhalla.)

So the Aesir held a meeting to make plans to forestall Baldur's death.  They decided that every creature in heaven and on earth must swear a holy oath to never do harm to Baldur.  Frigga herself undertook the administration of the oath, from fire and water, giants, dwarfs and elves, human beings, animals and plants.

From this time on, every weapon directed at Baldur missed its mark, it even became a favourite pastime among the Gods to throw weapons at Baldur.  None could touch him.

Even Loki, the meanspirited one, had taken part in the meeting of the Gods.  As the Aesir amused themselves throwing weapons at the God they could not hit, Loki took the form of an old beggar woman, knowing that he would be welcomed by Frigga.  He managed to get her to tell him a secret:  On an oak tree, outside the gates to Valhalla, grew a bush of mistletoe.  The little plant had seemed so meek and harmless to Frigga that it had not been included in the oath.

Back in his real shape, Loki hurried to the oak tree.  There he cut a twig from the mistletoe, then he returned to the circle of the Gods.  They were still at their game with Baldur.  The only one standing aside was the blind Hödur.  "How can I play when I can't see what I'm doing?" he complained to Loki.  "Take your bow and get ready to shoot," replied Loki, "and here is your arrow."  He handed Hödur the twig and told him he'd guide his hand.

Not suspecting anything, Hödur went along with Loki.  Mortally wounded, Baldur sank to the ground.  The horrible prophecy of Wala had come true.  Only Odin's word, that Baldur's death had been prophesied, protected Hödur from the immediate revenge of the Gods.  He would be killed later, though, by Odin's son Valli.

So the Gods set about to bury the body of their beloved Baldur.  Never before had Asgard or Midgard been in such deep mourning.  They erected a funeral pyre on Baldur's own ship, Ringhorn.  At the sight of her beloved husband, dead upon the pyre, Nanna, his widow, died of a broken heart.  Her body was laid at the side of her husband's.  The Aesir sent off Baldur with words of hope and encouragement, but no-one knows the words that Odin whispered to his son.

As Thor put the torch to the pyre, he accidentally kicked a tiny dwarf into the flames.  The dwarf perished, leading to later friction betwen Gods and Dwarfs.

Then the Giants pushed to ship out into the open waters and wild flames accompanied the God on his last journey.  When the ship finally sank into the depth of the ocean, it seemed as if the whole world went into a twilight.

No-one was grieving more than Frigga, his mother.  Was Baldur, the God of Light and Springtime, lost forever?  Was there a way she could persuade Hel, the Goddess who ruled in the land of the dead, to let Baldur return to the daylight?  Touched deeply by Frigga's grief, Hermodur, the divine messenger, decided to try and free his brother.  Odin lent him Sleipneir, his steed, who knew the way to Hel.  For nine nights, Hermodur rode the eight-legged horse which was swift as the wind.  Finally, they reached Bifröst, the bridge that separates the world of the dead from the world of the living.

Once he reached the realm of Hel, he saw Baldur, pale and dazed, Nanna at his side.  He wispered words to comfort to his brother.  But Hel, the cold, dark Goddess of the Dead, was not to be swayed: "The dead are for my realm alone, Baldur belongs to me."  However, she finally agreed that Baldur may return if any and all creatures, alive or dead, would cry for Baldur.  If even one creature refused to cry, Baldur would be hers for all time to come.

Hermodur returned to Asgard as fast as he could, carrying presents from Baldur and Nanna for Odin and Freya.  The Asgards had been anxiously awaiting his return.  When they heard what Hel had decreed, Freya immediately send out the Elves, her special messengers.  They were to find every creature so that they would cry for Baldur.  And every creature went along, even the rocks and stones cried over the loss.  But then, in a cave, they encountered a Giantess, Thoegg, who coldly refused to shed even one tear for Baldur.  No amount of begging and pleading could soften her mean spirit.  Some even say that the Giantess was no other then Loki himself, in one of his many guises.

And thus Baldur remained in the realm of Hel.  The Aesir were naturally very upset about the behavior of the Giantess, but they recognised the doings of Loki.

Where was this underhanded God, this murderer?  In the confusion over Baldur's death, he had quietly stolen away.  He was finally tracked to a house that had four windows, one in every direction.  Thus Loki saw them coming.  He turned himself into a salmon, one of his favourite tricks, and disappeared into the ocean.  But he had left something behind:  In order to find out how he might be captured in his fish form, he had invented and fashioned a net, which he then threw into the fire before fleeing.  This was his downfall:  The shape of the net was still discernible in the ashes, and now the Aesir had a way of catching him.

And catch him they did.  Their revenge was as horrible as the crime he had committed:  He was taken to an island in the realm of Hel and bound to a sharp-edged rock in such a manner that he could barely move.  Above his head they hung an adder who continuouly dripped her acrid poison upon his face.  Sigyn, his faithful wife, stayed by his side, catching the dripping acid in a bowl.  Horrible were the screams of Loki when Sigyn had to rise to empty the bowl, and his desperate writhing was felt through all Midgard.  This shaking of the world the humans came to call earthquake.  During those gruesome nights, the Midgard Snake stirs in the depth of the ocean so that huge waves hit the lands, and mighty floods slam into the wall that separates Midgard against the sea, accompanied by the frightening howl of the Fenris Wolf.

And thus it will remain until Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods, the end of all things.
Next:

 
THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS

(to come)
Norse Mythology
~ Baldur's Death ~
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