Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 100

“Of all the twelve round Odin’s throne,

Balder, the Beautiful, alone,

The Sun-god, good, and pure, and bright,

Was loved by all, as all love light.”

Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The youthful Balder attained his full growth with marvellous rapidity, and was early admitted to the council of the gods. He took up his abode in the palace of Breidablik, whose silver roof rested upon golden pillars, and whose purity was such that nothing common or unclean was ever allowed within its precincts, and here he lived in perfect unity with his young wife Nanna (blossom), the daughter of Nip (bud), a beautiful and charming goddess.

The god of light was well versed in the science of runes, which were carved on his tongue; he knew the various virtues of simples, one of which, the camomile, was called “Balder’s brow,” because its flower was as immaculately pure as his forehead. The only thing hidden from Balder’s radiant eyes was the perception of his own ultimate fate. [198]

“His own house

Breidablik, on whose columns Balder graved

The enchantments that recall the dead to life.

For wise he was, and many curious arts,

Postures of runes, and healing herbs he knew;

Unhappy! but that art he did not know,

To keep his own life safe, and see the sun.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Balder’s Dream

As it was so natural for Balder the beautiful to be smiling and happy, the gods were greatly troubled when on a day they began to notice a change in his bearing. Gradually the light died out of his blue eyes, a careworn look came into his face, and his step grew heavy and slow. Odin and Frigga, seeing their beloved son’s evident depression, tenderly implored him to reveal the cause of his silent grief. Balder, yielding at last to their anxious entreaties, confessed that his slumbers, instead of being peaceful and restful as of yore, had been strangely troubled of late by dark and oppressive dreams, which, although he could not clearly remember them when he awoke, constantly haunted him with a vague feeling of fear.

“To that god his slumber

Was most afflicting;

His auspicious dreams

Seemed departed.”

Lay of Vegtam (Thorpe’s tr.).

When Odin and Frigga heard this, they were very uneasy, but declared that nothing would harm their universally beloved son. Nevertheless, when the anxious parents further talked the matter over, they confessed that they also were oppressed by strange forebodings, and, coming at last to believe that Balder’s life was really threatened, they proceeded to take measures to avert the danger. [199]

Frigga sent her servants in every direction, with strict charge to prevail upon all living creatures, all plants, metals, stones—in fact, every animate and inanimate thing—to register a solemn vow not to harm Balder. All creation readily took the oath, for there was nothing on earth which did not love the radiant god. So the servants returned to Frigga, telling her that all had been duly sworn save the mistletoe, growing upon the oak stem at the gate of Valhalla, and this, they added, was such a puny, inoffensive thing that no harm could be feared from it.

“On a course they resolved:

That they would send

To every being,

Assurance to solicit,

Balder not to harm.

All species swore

Oaths to spare him;

Frigg received all

Their vows and compacts.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

Frigga now resumed her spinning in great content, for she felt assured that no harm could come to the child she loved above all.

The Vala’s Prophecy

Odin, in the meantime, had resolved to consult one of the dead Vala or prophetesses. Mounted upon his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, he rode over the tremulous bridge Bifröst and over the weary road which leads to Giallar and the entrance of Nifl-heim, where, passing through the Helgate and by the dog Garm, he penetrated into Hel’s dark abode.

“Uprose the king of men with speed,

And saddled straight his coal-black steed; [200]

Down the yawning steep he rode,

That leads to Hela’s drear abode.”

Descent of Odin (Gray).

Odin saw to his surprise that a feast was being spread in this dark realm, and that the couches had been covered with tapestry and rings of gold, as if some highly honoured guest were expected. But he hurried on without pausing, until he reached the spot where the Vala had rested undisturbed for many a year, when he began solemnly to chant a magic spell and to trace the runes which had the power of raising the dead.

“Thrice pronounc’d, in accents dread,

The thrilling verse that wakes the dead:

Till from out the hollow ground

Slowly breath’d a sullen sound.”

Descent of Odin (Gray).

Suddenly the tomb opened, and the prophetess slowly rose, inquiring who had dared thus to trouble her long rest. Odin, not wishing her to know that he was the mighty father of gods and men, replied that he was Vegtam, son of Valtam, and that he had awakened her to inquire for whom Hel was spreading her couches and preparing a festive meal. In hollow tones, the prophetess confirmed all his fears by telling him that the expected guest was Balder, who was destined to be slain by Hodur, his brother, the blind god of darkness.

“Hodur will hither

His glorious brother send;

He of Balder will

The slayer be,

And Odin’s son

Of life bereave.

By compulsion I have spoken;

Now I will be silent.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

Despite the Vala’s evident reluctance to speak further, [201]Odin was not yet satisfied, and he prevailed upon her to tell him who would avenge the murdered god and call his slayer to account. For revenge and retaliation were considered as a sacred duty by the races of the North.

Then the prophetess told him, as Rossthiof had already predicted, that Rinda, the earth-goddess, would bear a son to Odin, and that Vali, as this child would be named, would neither wash his face nor comb his hair until he had avenged upon Hodur the death of Balder.

“In the caverns of the west,