In Norse mythology, Balder was the son of Odin and his wife Frigg. He was the god of light and was depicted as being beautiful, fair and much-loved by all the other gods. Most myths about Balder focus on his tragic death at a young age.
In Norse mythology, Balder (also known as Baldur or Baldr) was the Viking god of purity, light, joy and summer. He was one of the most beloved deities of Norse mythology. Balder’s name was derived from the Norse term ‘baldr’ meaning ‘bold’. However, some say it was derived from the Proto-Indo-European word ‘bhel’ meaning ‘white’ or the Old Norse word ‘bal’ meaning fire.
Balder was the son of Odin the Allfather, and Frigg, the goddess of marriage, motherhood and fertility. As Frigg wasn’t the mother of all Odin’s children, Balder had several half-siblings including Thor, Vali, Bragi, Hermod, Heimdall, Vidarr and Tyre.
Balder married Nanna, the goddess of peace, joy and the moon, and together they had a son named Forseti who later became known as the god of reconciliation and justice.
The Death of Balder
The legend of Balder’s death is one of the most well-known and important stories of Norse mythology. It was also one of the very few myths that featured Balder as a prominent character.
There are various versions of the story but the most best known version goes something like this.
One night, Balder had a dream about his own death. He ignored it, thinking it was just a dream. However, his mother Frigg had the same dream as well. This was a bad omen among the Norse, since they believed that dreams gave them a glimpse of what was to come in the future and so the gods decided that it was time to act.
Odin mounted his eight-legged horse Sleipnir and ride to Hel (the realm of the dead), to search for an oracle that could tell him what the dreams meant. There, he found a deceased seeress (or volvo) and using his magic, Odin brought her back to the land of the living. However, things didn’t go as he had anticipated because the Volvo had been in a death slumber and didn’t appreciate being roused from it. She refused to give Odin any answers.
Odin continued to question the vulva, until she finally told him that Balder would indeed die but she didn’t explain how it would happen. Odin returned home with a heavy heart and broke the news to his wife, Frigg, who was devastated. She decided to do everything in her power to forestall the death of her son and approached every living thing and object on Earth, asking them to promise never to hurt her son. However, she neglected to approach the mistletoe plant because she thought it was too small and insignificant to cause any harm to Balder. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a big mistake.
When Loki, the Norse god of mischief, heard about all this, he was jealous and took up the form of a woman so that he could approach Frigg. He asked Frigg whether all the objects and creatures swore the oath to protect Balder. Frigg, not knowing who she was talking to, told him that she hadn’t demanded the oath from the mistletoe plant.
Joyfully, Loki hurried to find the mistletoe and fashioned it into a spear. He then went back to the gods, looking for Balder. The other gods would throw various objects at Balder marvelling at his invincibility as nothing could now hurt Balder. Loki handed the spear with mistletoe to Balder’s brother Hodr who was blind. Hodr hurled it at Balder, not knowing it contained the mistletoe, and he was mortally wounded. Balder fell dying.
The gods all surrounded Balder in grief and Odin whispered some words in his son’s ear before he died but what he said was never revealed and remains a great mystery in Norse mythology.
Odin and the asynja Rindr then gave birth to Váli, the god of vengeance, so that he could avenge Balder’s death. Váli grew to adulthood within a day so that he could take his revenge. He slew the blind Hodr, who had been tricked into killing Balder, and he also bound Loki with the entrails of his son, Narfi. Váli is said to survive Ragnarok, the end of days event in Norse mythology, where almost all the other deities perish.
Hermod and Hel
After Balder’s death, Frigg asked for someone to journey to the realm of the dead and beg to have Balder released. Balder’s brother Hermod volunteered and rode Odin’s horse Sleipnir, he rode for nine days and nights before he finally came to the halls of Hel, the goddess of the dead.
Hermod asked Help to release Balder, saying that he was the most loved being in all of creation. Hel agreed to release Balder on one condition – that all living things and objects weep for him first. Hermod, together with the other gods, approached all humans, trees, plants, animals and inanimate objects and told them what Hel had said. All of them wept for Baldur except one – Thokk the old giantess (who, it’s believed, was actually Loki in disguise).
Thokk refused to weep for Balder and because of this, he was doomed to stay in the realm of the dead forever. The gods placed Balder’s body on his vessel, the Hringhorni, along with his wife Nanna, who’d died of grief. They set the ship on fire and watched it drift away until it was out of sight.
The Norse god Balder didn’t have a prominent place in the modern representations of Norse mythology, unlike some of his counterparts. His name has mostly been used in video games including the Max Payne video game series and the God of War.
However, he remains one of the purest characters of Norse mythology. Known for his invulnerability and later for his death, Balder was well-loved among the Germanic people and held a position of respect, esteem and renown.