Balder the Beautiful


In Asgard there was one god in particular whom everyone loved. This was Odin's own son, Balder.
He was loved by all because he was so good and kind to everyone, always cheerful and always ready to help those who might be in trouble. His goodness showed itself in his lovely face, and he was so very handsome and cheery that he was actually known as "Balder the Beautiful."
Balder was also very brave, among the bravest of the gods, and he often rode out to battle against the enemies of Asgard. With him would ride his brave wife, Nanna the Moon-maid.

Odin loved Balder more than all his other sons, and they often went out hunting together. one fine day as Balder rode through the forest with Odin, a very strange thing happened. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, Balder's horse went lame. Odin knew that this was some sort of warning of a coming disaster, and he was very worried. Balder's horse was a very valuable one to the gods of Asgard for where the horse would place its foot there would spring up a lovely stream of fresh, clear water if the gods were in need of this.
Odin and Balder returned to Asgard, leading the lamed horse with them, Odin pondering all the time what the threatened danger could possibly be. When the news went round Asgard, all the gods made up their minds that they would do all in their power to keep evil away from their beloved Balder. Nanna, his wife, Frigg and Nanna's sister Sunna, sang magic songs over him. Odin recited magical poems, or runes as they are called. But neither songs nor runes seemed to do any good. Balder began to have dreadful dreams, foretelling that something terrible was going to happen to him. He became ill and he always looked sad as he wandered through the halls and palaces  of Asgard. He had changed completely from his former happy self.
Frigg, who was Balder's mother, was naturally most worried by this, and she was determined to do anything in her power to save her son. So she gathered together all her Maids and told them to go out into the world and get everything and everyone to promise that they would never harm Balder in any way. So the Maids went out over all the world and every living thing, all metals and stones  trees and plants, metals and all creatures except for one, promise that no harm should come to Balder through them. One by one the Maids returned to Asgard, delighted with the promises of protection for Balder. Only one living thing had they failed to question. This was the mistletoe, which they thought was too weak and gentle to even think of hurting anyone. Why even in its own land it had to cling to some great tree for food and strength! All Asgard now rejoiced, for all now felt that Balder the Beautiful was safe, safe from any hurt that could possibly come to him.
Odin, however, was still thoughtful and worried, and he made up his mind that he would also make sure that balder was safe. Odin had a most wonderful horse names Sleipner(Slipe-ner) which had eight legs and could move more swiftly than any other living creature. One day, Odin mounted on Sleipner, set off on a long and dangerous journey to the land where dwelled the spirits of those who had died. Odin did not fear the journey for he was brave and wise, and he did not mind any hardship if only he could make himself content that Balder was really safe.
At last Odin arrived at the grave of Vala, once a famous prophetess, and here he chanted many magic runes, asking Vala to help him. When Vala heard the voice of Odin, she knew that she must answer. Although Din did not tell him who he was, ALA knew the voice of the great gods of Assuaged. What, demanded Din, was being prepared in the great halls where the spirits lived.

"Mead is here prepared for the coming of Balder," answered ALA. "Everyone waits  impatiently to welcome the great son of Din. But now I am tired and must sleep again."
"No!" thundered Din. "You must tell me one more thing before you sleep. who shall slay Balder and send his spirit to your world?"
Then Din had a sad message indeed, for ALA said that it was to be Hour (Hoofer) the blind brother of Balder who should slay him. Din, with this dismal news, returned sadly to Assuaged, feeling that inspire of all the promises the Maids had brought to Assuaged, there was really nothing that could be done to save Balder. But Din thought it wise to say nothing in Assuaged when he returned; he remembered the warning given him by ALA, and watched and waited.
the shadow had been lifted from Assuaged, or so thought all the gods except Din, and there was much happiness. In the large fields of Assuaged the gods were having a fine time, laughing and playing a new game, for they believed that nothing could hurt their much loved Balder. The game gave them great amusement, and Balder too. Balder stood in the middle of one of the fields and other gods threw everything they could think of at him, even spears and swords, believing that Balder was quite safe from harm. It was a wonderful game, and caused much merriment.

Now Look, the wicked and jealous god, hated the popular Balder, and he now hated him more than ever when he saw how all the other gods rejoiced that Balder was safe. So Look disguised himself as an old woman, and went to Fridge asking why all the gods were throwing things at her fair son. He was told that it was only a joke for nothing could really hurt Balder as all things had promised to safeguard his life.
"All things?" questioned the disguised Look, "All things?"
"Yes, all things," was the answer, "except for the mistletoe which you must know is too weak to hurt anyone."
Then Look saw how he could do harm to Balder. Away he went and told the dwarf craftsmen to make him an arrow of the wood of the mistletoe. Hastily, with this cunning and evil weapon, he returned to the fields of Assuaged where he found the game of throwing things at Balder was still going on.
Standing on the edge of the field was the blind Hour, listening to the fun, but unable to see what was happening. How he wanted to join in the laughter and jesting! Then up came Look who cunningly asked him why he was not joining in with the others.
"How can I?" replied Hour. "I cannot even see where Balder is standing."
"Let me help you," said Look. "You must join with the others. Here is an arrow, and I will direct your aim at Balder so that you can have your share of the fun."
Hodur aims the fatal arrow Look then led Hour to the crowd around Balder and gave him the arrow which fitted into a bow. and pointed straight at Balder. The arrow flew swiftly through the air, struck Balder and immediately killed him. The evil had come; a terrible silence after all the laughter and talking that had been going on, he wondered and feared that something terrible had happened. Then he heard a great shout, a shout of dismay heard throughout the whole of Assuaged, "Balder is dead!" Poor, blind Hodur was most distressed when he knew what had happened, for he, as did all the gods except Look, loved his brother.
The spirit of Balder left Assuaged and passed over the Golden Bridge to the Lower World. There the spirits of those who had died before him, welcomed him with great rejoicing and wanted to make him ruler of their spirit world.
Meanwhile sorrow and gloom filled the halls of Asgardd. Frigg wept silently in her room, and Din, father of Balder, was grim and sad for the prophetess of the spirit world had been right. Then Fridge, arousing herself from her sorrow, said that she was going to try to get her son back again from the land of the dead. A great assembly was held in Asgard and all were asked who would offer themselves for the dreadful journey to try to save Balder, if that still were possible.

Then stepped forward one of the younger gods, the messenger called Harmed. He said that he would willingly do his best to try to save Balder and bring him back to Asgard. So Din lent the brave young god his own special horse, Sleepier, and Harmed rode off on his long and dangerous journey in search of the beloved Balder.
Now, when any of the great warriors of the Northland were killed in battle, they were always given a spectacular funeral. They were dressed in their best armor, with their weapons around them, resting on the deck of a Viking ship. Piled on the deck was much treasure. Then the ship was set on fire, and pushed out into the open sea, with the sail fullest. So to their last home went all the Vikings, honoured and mourned by those who loved them. In this way things were prepared for the final journey of the body of the loved Balder. Balder looked magnificent as he rested there on the deck of his own ship, for all honoured and loved him, except Loke, and his wicked wife, Hag, who had got into Asgard to do what harm she could.
Sorrowfully the gods tried to launch the ship which was carrying the body of Balder, but with all their strength they could not launch the vessel and send her out to sea. When Hag saw this, she could not resist the temptation, and she changed herself once more into a giantess, one of the wicked frost enemies who hated all good things in Asgard.
With her great strength, the boat was set free for its journey. Thor looked in amazement for in place of the lovely wife of Loke was the evil giantess. His anger was terrible for he knew at once that Loke had caused the death of Balder. Thor would have killed Loke there and then with his mighty hammer, but the other gods stopped him, saying that there must be no fighting at Balder's funeral.
Odin, father of the gods, went on the vessel where the body of Balder was resting in state, and he gave to Balder the magical ring made for Odin by the dwarf-craftsmen of whom you have already read. Then Odin leaned down and whispered to Balder, words which could not be heard by the assembled gods, and words which have never been known to any mortal. Then Odin stepped back to the shore and the Viking ship was set on fire, and, with its great sail set, was pushed out to sea. A very awe-inspiring sight it was as the orange-red flames leapt high into the sky, and the ship sailed steadily away out on the quiet blue waves. Soon the ship was out of sight and everyone returned sadly from the shore, for the much-loved Balder was gone. Nanna, Balder's wife, missed her husband terribly, so much so that she too died, and her spirit went with Balder to be always with him.
Meanwhile, Hermod was still journeying onwards. He rode for nine days and nine nights, on through the mist and darkness, on through the bitter cold, over high mountains and along deep, gloomy valleys. Finally he came to the river Gjoll (G-yel) and the Golden Bridge that lead to the abode of the spirits of the dead. There at the bridge was Modgud (Med-gud), the elf girl who always watches the bridge across the river Gjoll. She wanted to know who it was who wished, while still alive, to cross into the land of the spirits. Hermod told her that he was searching for Balder, Balder the Beautiful, the loved one of the gods. Modgud told the messenger that he must travel still northwards, and on went Hermod on his mission of help and goodwill.
Finally, Hermod came to a great stone wall, the wall which guarded the way to Hela, the home of those who had died. Her, was a gate but no living being was allowed to pass through that gateway, and the walls towered high overhead. But Hermod bent low in his saddle, and whispered to Sleipner. He tightened the girths, and then rode straight for the wall around Hela. With one tremendous bound, Sleipner carried his rider safely over the high wall, and there was Hermod at last, within the land of the spirits.
Hermod rode onwards and soon he saw Balder in one of the palaces of Hela, sitting in a magnificent golden hall on a great throne of gold. But Balder was no loger beautiful; he looked very sad, although by his side sat his brave wife , Nanna. Balder still had the ring which Odin had given him, and he seemed to be still listening to Odin's voice.
The messenger told Balder that he had been sent to help him back to Asgard, but Balder said that this was impossible, though he pleaded with Nanna to go back with Hermod. Nanna, however, would not leave her husband. Hermod stayed all night talking and pleading with them, but to no avail. Neither Balder nor Nanna felt that they could return to Asgard, having once crossed the river Gjoll. Then Hermod pleaded with Urd, the Queen of Hela, that Balder and Nanna should be allowed to go back with him to Asgard, but, grim and cold-hearted, Urd would only give one promise. She said that if everyone wept for Balder, everyone without exception, then Balder and his wife could leave Hela and return to Asgard. But if even one person did not weep for Balder, then he must remain for ever in Hela.
Sadly Hermod, said farewell to Balder and Nanna, and set off on the return journey to far-distant Asgard, taking with him Odin's magic ring, and as a present for Frigg from Nanna, a finely-woven veil. When the messenger arrived back in Asgard, he gave the presents to Odin and his wife, but he also had to give them the grim message of Urd that all things must weep for Balder if ever he was to reurn to the home of the gods in Asgard.
Frigg at once sent messages all over the world saying that all people, all living things must weep to show their sorrow that Balder had been taken from them. Not only animals, but even trees and flowers, even stones must weep. And the sound of the weeping was heard throughout all the world. Only one person still had hadened her heart, and that was Hag, whom the messenger saw hiding in a dark caveamidst the forests. Hermod pleaded with her to relent and show her sorrow that Balder was gone from them. Hag, however when she had shown herself in her true form, had been driven from the pleasant places and meadows of Asgard.
"Why should I weep for Balder?" she demanded. "I am glad that he has gone from Asgard. Let him stay wiyh Urd in Hela"
Nothing could make Hag change her mind, and so because of all living things one person, and one person only, would not weep for him, Balder the Beautiful had to remain in the spirit-world of Hela. There was great sorrow everywhere and the gods decided that the wicked Loke must be very severely punished and be sent away from Asgard, before he could cause any further mischief.

The final chapter- Chapter 5 Boreas, the Northern Wind


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Copyright © K.& T. Midgley . Links revised July 2023.