Baldr

Velkomnir, gestirnir mínir!
(Welcome, my guests!) 🍃

Come by the fire, my good friends, for I’d like to share a Lore Tome with you all! This one is about Baldr, and here you shall find links to useful texts, as well as information regarding relative chapters and passages.

You may seek out the texts yourselves, but I have also decided to provide my own summaries of what these (often dense) texts have to say about the old gods. Still, I encourage you all to delve into the them for yourselves, for my summaries inevitably reflect my own interpretations and reflections! I will admit that I tend to favor Snorri’s Prose Edda when writing my summaries, for I am an Icelander at heart (and thus Icelandic sources attract me the most strongly). Nevertheless, this Tome should prove useful for many folk, whether they be academic types like myself or causal wanderers like many others.

There is one thing that I must stress before we continue, though! Norse paganism was never regarded as a systematic belief by its followers; there was no overarching dogma of ‘correct’ interpretation. In other words, there were a variety of ways that it was practiced. Different regions worshipped different gods and followed their own rituals. As such, Norse paganism was a heavily localized affair, and thus a decentralized body of conflicting traditions there were never reduced to any sort of orthodoxy. This is very important to keep in mind when reading the Lore. The picture that we have is only a snapshot of reality, and even then it is the interpretation provided to us by a very limited selection.


Fjorn’s Summary of Baldr

Baldr is the Old Norse god of goodness, mercy, light, and rebirth (at least according to how Snorri presents him). He is the son of Odin and Frigg, and he is considered the ‘best’ of all the gods (perhaps in terms of goodness?). Nevertheless, all the other gods praise him, for he is “the wisest,” the “most beautifully spoken,” and the “most merciful” of the Æsir.[1] Such is his reputation that he is sometimes referred to as “Baldr the Good.”[2]

As for his appearance, he is described like light itself: “He is so fair in appearance and so bright that light shines from him.”[3] Now, I should stress that such a description is made to emphasize his associations with light, not his apparent ‘whiteness’. This is further emphasized by him being associated with a particular flower. As the cover-picture for this Lore Tome reflects, he is likened to the plant called Baldr’s Brow (Tripleurospermum inodorum). Snorri considers this flower to be “the whitest of all plants,”[4] but he means it in terms of spiritual purity, not skin color. Baldr is a god of goodness, and his appearance is meant to reflect that, not skin color.

He lives in a place called Breiðablik, which translates to “Broad-gleam.” This place is also a place of brilliant light and spiritual purity, for “no unclean thing is permitted to be there.”[5] His wife is Nanna, who is the daughter of Nep. Not much is known about either of them, unfortunately. Their son together is named Forseti, and I will have more to say about him in his Lore Tomb.

The most important story associated with Baldr is his death and later ‘rebirth’. Since he was being haunted by dreams foreboding his death, the Æsir took council and decided to request immunity for him from all dangers. The mistletoe, which Frigg considered too young to demand an oath from, was not included in this deal. Loki learns of this and has Hod, the Blind God, shot mistletoe at Baldr, which kills him. The Æsir deeply lamented his death, and it traditionally marks the beginning of their end: Ragnarök. After those devastating events, however, Baldr returns to the world, along with Vidar, Vali, Modi, Magni, and Hod.[6] As it is said in Völuspá:

Völuspá 59, 1-2
[7]

Lore Reference Section

🍃 Entries listed in leaf green are Fjorn’s Recommendations! 🍃

The Prose Edda

This source was compiled in Iceland by a man named Snorri Sturluson, who lived between 1179 and 1241; but the oldest manuscript that we have for it dates to around the year 1300. He was not a cleric, but rather a political figure from an aristocratic Icelandic family. He treats this ‘pagan’ lore as though it was “a rational but misguided groping towards the truth.” (Faulkes, xviii) But his motivation for preserving this material was for the sake of skaldic poetry, which still made use of much old lore, even during his time. Therefore, while this source was produced by a Christian author several hundred years after the ‘fall of paganism’, this source is still generally considered a “detached and scholarly treatment both of religion and poetry.” (Faulkes, xix) While it may not be a ‘pure’ source for understanding the lore of pre-Christain Norse religion, it is indeed a much-needed place to find useful insights into that worldview. [Source: Snorri Sturluson, Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes (London: Everyman, 1995) xii-xix.]

The following references are in accordance with Anthony Faulkes’ translation:

  • Prologue:
    • 4 [equated to the Anglo-Saxon Beldegg]
  • Gylfaginning:
    • 18 [a brief reference to Baldr’s horse]
    • 23 [a summary of Baldr]
    • 26 [concerning Baldr’s son with Nanna, Forseti]
    • 48-51 [the story of Baldr’s death]
    • 56 [regarding Baldr’s return]
  • Skáldskaparmál:
    • 61 [a brief comment regarding Baldr’s looks]
    • (66) [in a kenning for ‘man’]
    • (68) [in a verse pertaining to Baldr’s funeral]
    • 74-7 [kennings for Baldr, as well as kennings for others through Baldr]
    • 80 [in a kenning for Thor]
    • 86 [in a kenning for Frigg]
    • 113 [in an excerpt from the Lay of Bjarki]
    • (134) [as Host-Baldr]
    • 156-7 [listed among the Æsir]
  • Háttatal:
    • 193 [in a kenning for warrior]

The Poetic Edda

This source is a collection of poems that most scholars agree preserve verses that pre-date the conversion of the North to Christianity. That said, however, they were still written down by Christian scribes. Nevertheless, this work was the primary source for Snorri’s Prose Edda. The earliest surviving manuscript containing these poems, however, is known as the Codex Regis (GKS 2365 4to), which was written by an anonymous Icelandic scribe sometime during the 1270s. [Source: Carolyne Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), ix-xi.]

The following references are in accordance with Carolyne Larrington’s translation:

  • Vǫluspá (The Prophecy of the Seeress):
    • 32.1 [Baldr’s fate]
    • 33.3 [Baldr’s death]
    • 34.2 [Baldr’s funeral]
    • 59.2,3 [Baldr’s return]
  • Grímnismál (The Lay of Grimnir):
    • 12.1 [Baldr’s abode]
  • Lokasenna (The Flyting of Loki):
    • 27.2 [Frigg refers to Baldr’s strength]
    • 28.4 [Loki refers to Baldr’s death]
  • Baldrs draumar (Baldr’s Dreams):
    • 1.4 [the gods gather to discuss Baldr’s dreams]
    • 7.1 [the seeress tells Odin that mead awaits Baldr in Hel]
    • 8.3 [Odin asks who Baldr’s killer will be]
    • 9.2 [Odin is told who that will be (Hod)]
    • 10.4 [Odin asks who will take vengeance]
    • 11.4 [Odin is told who that will be (Vali)]
  • Hyndluljóð (The Lay of Hyndla):
    • 29.2 [concerns Bladr’s death and vengeance for him]
    • 30.1 [referring to Odin]
  • Vǫluspá (from Hauksbók):
    • 56.2,3 [Baldr’s return]

Fornaldarsögur (Sagas of Ancient Times)

This type of literature combines international folktale motifs combined with the preserved memory of ancient historical events and people. Yet, this should not fool the reader into believing the ‘truth’ of every word, for these sagas were written long after the events they write about, and combine many aspects of legendary and medieval Romance in their narratives. Nevertheless, these sagas, although produced in a later age, contain the remnants of old lore and stories about historical events that were passed down for hundreds of years.

The following references are in accordance with The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok, as translated by Ben Waggoner:

  • Sǫgubrot:
    • Chapter 3 [obscurely in relation to a dream]
  • Krákumál:
    • 25.3 [in a kenning for Odin]

Heimskringla (Snorri’s Sagas of Norwegian Kings)

This source is traditionally attributed to Snorri Sturluson, who lived in Iceland between 1179 and 1241. It is a collection of sixteen sagas about Norwegian kings from their legendary foundations up to the year 1177. It is the product of both a long traditional of Icelandic historical writing and of skaldic poetry. The earliest manuscript for this source is known as Kringla, and it was produced sometime around 1270. [Source: Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, vol. I, translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes (Viking Society for Northern Research: University College London, 2011), vii-xiii.]

The following references are in accordance with Heimskringla, vol. I, as translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes:

  • Ynglinga saga (The Saga of the Ynglings):
    • Chapter 5 [as a temple priest]
  • Hákonar saga góða (The Saga of Hakon the Good):
    • Chapter 19 [in a kenning for warrior]

 


Summary Endnotes

[1] Snorri Sturluson, Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes (London: Everyman, 1995), 22. [return]

[2] Ibid., 26. [return]

[3] Ibid., 22. [return]

[4] Ibid. [return]

[5] Ibid. [return]

[6] Summarized from Snorri, Edda, 48-56. [return]

[7] Carolyne Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 11. (Stanza 59, lines 1 and 2). [return]


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