A Book of Myths

Page: 113

“A twig of mistletoe, tender and fair, grew high above the field,” and such a little thing it was, with its dainty green leaves and waxen white berries, nestling for protection under the strong arm of a great oak, that the goddess passed it by. Assuredly no scathe could come to Baldur the Beautiful from a creature so insignificant, and Freya returned to Asgard well pleased with her quest.

Then indeed was there joy and laughter amongst the gods, for each one tried how he might slay Baldur, but neither sword nor stone, hammer nor battle-axe could work him any ill.

Odin alone remained unsatisfied. Mounted on his [Pg 236] eight-footed grey steed, Sleipnir, he galloped off in haste to consult the giant prophetess Angrbotha, who was dead and had to be followed to Niflheim, the chilly underworld that lies far north from the world of men, and where the sun never comes. Hel, the daughter of Loki and of Angrbotha, was queen of this dark domain.

“There, in a bitterly cold place, she received the souls of all who died of sickness or old age; care was her bed, hunger her dish, starvation her knife. Her walls were high and strong, and her bolts and bars huge; ‘Half blue was her skin, and half the colour of human flesh. A goddess easy to know, and in all things very stern and grim.’”


In her kingdom no soul that passed away in glorious battle was received, nor any that fought out the last of life in a fierce combat with the angry waves of the sea. Only those who died ingloriously were her guests.

When he had reached the realm of Hel, Odin found that a feast was being prepared, and the couches were spread, as for an honoured guest, with rich tapestry and with gold. For many a year had Angrbotha rested there in peace, and it was only by chanting a magic spell and tracing those runes which have power to raise the dead that Odin awoke her. When she raised herself, terrible and angry from her tomb, he did not tell her that he was the mighty father of gods and men. He only asked her for whom the great feast was prepared, and why Hel was spreading her couches so gorgeously. And to the father of Baldur she revealed the secret of the future, that Baldur was the expected guest, and that by his blind brother Hodur his soul was to be hastened to the Shades.

[Pg 237] “Who, then, would avenge him?” asked the father, great wrath in his heart. And the prophetess replied that his death should be avenged by Vali, his youngest brother, who should not wash his hands nor comb his hair until he had brought the slayer of Baldur to the funeral pyre. But yet another question Odin would fain have answered.

Who,” he asked, “would refuse to weep at Baldur’s death?