The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies

Page: 47

On hearing the result of Hermod’s mission, the gods made proclamation throughout the world, beseeching all created things to weep for Baldur’s deliverance. All complied with this request; both men and animals, all, even to the savage beasts of the forest, shed tears for the hero. The trees and plants shed crystal drops like rain, and even the rocks and stones were covered with a [251] glittering dew. One old hag only, sat in a cavern, and refused to weep, saying,

“Thankt will wail
With dry tears
Baldur’s bale-fire.
Let Hela keep her own.”

It was strongly suspected that this hag was no other than Loki himself, who never ceased to work evil among gods and men. Thus Baldur was prevented from coming back to Asgard.

Funeral of Baldur.

Ques. How was the hero buried?

Ans. Baldur’s body was borne to the sea-shore, and placed upon a funeral pile which was built of his own ship, the largest in the world. All the gods were present, and even the Frost and Mountain Giants were touched with kindness and came to do him honor. When the wife of Baldur saw the funeral pile prepared, she died of grief, and her body was consumed with that of her husband.

Loki’s Punishment.

Ques. How did the gods revenge the death of Baldur?

Ans. They pursued Loki, who made use of his magical power to escape their wrath. He changed [252] himself at one time into a salmon, and hid among the stones of a brook. He was taken, however, by Thor, who caught him by the tail, and compressed it so, that all salmons ever since have had that part remarkably thin. Being restored to his natural form, Loki was bound with chains in a gloomy cavern. A serpent was suspended over his head, whose venom falls upon his face drop by drop. One comfort is allowed him; his wife Siguna sits by his side, and catches the drops as they fall, in a cup; but when she carries it away to empty it, the venom falls upon Loki, which makes him howl with horror, and twist his body so violently that the whole earth shakes.

The Elves.

Ques. Who were the Elves?

Ans. They were beautiful spirits, clothed in transparent and delicate garments. They loved the light, and were kindly disposed to mankind. The country of the Elves was called Alfheim, and was the domain of Freyr, the god of the sun, in whose light they were always sporting.

Ques. Were all the fairies equally beneficent?

Ans. No; the Night Elves, also called Gnomes, and sometimes Brownies, were at times exceedingly malicious. They were ugly, long-nosed dwarfs of a dark brown complexion, and were never seen except at night, because the sun’s rays had the power of changing them into stones.

Ques. Where did these dwell?

[253] Ans. The Gnomes dwelt in mountain caverns and the clefts of rocks. They were particularly distinguished for their knowledge of the mysterious powers of nature. They were also skillful workers in wood and metal, and were acquainted with the secret stores of gold and silver which the gods had hidden in the earth. Many stories are related of their malicious pranks; but they sometimes favored the poor and friendless in an unexpected manner.

The principal works of the Gnomes were Thor’s hammer, and the ship Skidbladnir. This vessel was so wonderfully wrought, that while it was large enough to carry all the deities with their war and household implements, it could be folded together so small as to be carried in the hand.

Runic Letters.

Ques. What are Runic letters?

Ans. One may occasionally meet in Norway, Denmark, or Sweden with great stones of different forms, engraven with characters called Runic, which appear, at first sight, very different from any letters we know. They consist almost invariably of straight lines in the shape of little sticks, either single or in groups. Divination was anciently practiced among the northern nations by means of sticks of different lengths. These were shaken up, and from the chance figures they formed, the priests predicted future events. [254] When alphabetic writing was introduced, the letters naturally took the form of the ancient runes. The magic verses were of various kinds. The noxious, or, as they were called, the bitter runes were recited to bring evils on their enemies; the favorable averted misfortune; some were medicinal, others employed to win love, etc. In later times, the runes were used for inscriptions, of which more than a thousand have been found.

The language is a dialect of the Gothic, called Norse, still in use in Iceland. The inscriptions may, therefore, be read with certainty; but they throw very little light on history, being principally epitaphs on tombstones.

Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods.

It was a firm belief of the northern nations, that a time would come when all the visible creation, the gods of Valhalla, the inhabitants of earth, men, giants and elves, would be destroyed, together with their habitations.

This fearful day will not be without its forerunners. First will come a triple winter, during which clouds of snow, driven by piercing winds from the four quarters of the heavens, will fall unceasingly on the earth; tempests will sweep the sea, and the sun will impart neither heat nor gladness. Three such winters will pass away without being tempered by a single summer. [255] Three other winters will then follow, during which war and discord will convulse the universe. The solid earth will tremble, the sea will leave its bed, and the heavens will be rent asunder.