Baldr (also Balder, Baldur) is a god in Norse mythology, who is given a central role in the mythology. Despite this his precise function is rather disputed. He is often interpreted as the god of love, peace, forgiveness, justice, light or purity, but was not directly attested as a god of such.
Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology (ch. 11) identifies Old Norse Baldr with the Old High German Baldere (2nd Merseburg Charm, Thuringia), Palter (theonym, Bavaria), Paltar (personal name) and with Old English bealdor, baldor "lord, prince, king" (used always with a genitive plural, as in gumena baldor "lord of men", wigena baldor "lord of warriors", et cetera). Old Norse shows this usage of the word as an honorific in a few cases, as in baldur î brynju (Sæm. 272b) and herbaldr (Sæm. 218b), both epithets of heroes in general.
Grimm traces the etymology of the name to *balþaz, whence Gothic balþs, Old English bald, Old High German pald, all meaning "white, good".
But the interpretation of Baldr as "the brave god" may be secondary. Baltic (cf. Lithuanian baltas, Latvian balts) has a word meaning "the white, the good", and Grimm speculates that the name may originate as a Baltic loan into Proto-Germanic. In continental Saxon and Anglo-Saxon tradition, the son of Woden is called not Bealdor but Baldag (Saxon) and Bældæg, Beldeg (Anglo-Saxon), which shows association with "day", possibly with Day personified as a deity. This, as Grimm points out, would agree with the meaning "shining one, white one, a god" derived from the meaning of Baltic baltas, further adducing Slavic Belobog and German Berhta.
Grimm's etymology is endorsed by modern research. According to Rudolf Simek, the original name for Baldr must be understood as 'shining day'.
One of the two Merseburg Incantations names Baldere, but also mentions a figure named Phol, considered to be a byname for Baldr (as in Scandinavian Falr, Fjalarr; (in Saxo) Balderus : Fjallerus). This interpretation is linked to the presupposition that the figure in question is a companion of Wodan, the upper god.
In a different interpretation, phol is just another form of folon (foal) mentioned in the next line.
In the Poetic Edda the tale of Baldr's death is referred to rather than recounted at length. Among the visions which the Völva sees and describes in the prophecy known as the Völuspá is one of the fatal mistletoe, the birth of Váli and the weeping of Frigg (stanzas 31-33). Yet looking far into the future the Völva sees a brighter vision of a new world, when both Höðr and Baldr will come back (stanza 62). The Eddic poem Baldr's Dreams mentions that Baldr has bad dreams which the gods then discuss. Odin rides to Hel and awakens a seeress, who tells him Höðr will kill Baldr but Vali will avenge him (stanzas 9, 11).
In Gylfaginning, Baldur is described as follows:
Apart from this description Baldr is known primarily for the story of his death. His death is seen as the first in the chain of events which will ultimately lead to the destruction of the gods at Ragnarök. Baldr will be reborn in the new world, according to Völuspá.
He had a dream of his own death and his mother had the same dreams. Since dreams were usually prophetic, this depressed him, so his mother Frigg made every object in every realm vow never to hurt Baldr. All objects made this vow except mistletoe. Frigg had thought it too young to swear—a detail which has traditionally been explained with the idea that it was too unimportant and unthreatening to bother asking it to make the vow, but which Merrill Kaplan has instead argued echoes the fact that young people were not eligible to swear legal oaths, which could make them a threat later in life.
When Loki, the mischief-maker, heard of this, he made a magical spear from this plant (in some later versions, an arrow). He hurried to the place where the gods were indulging in their new pastime of hurling objects at Baldr, which would bounce off without harming him. Loki gave the spear to Baldr's brother, the blind god Höðr, who then inadvertently killed his brother with it (other versions suggest that Loki guided the arrow himself). For this act, Odin and the giantess Rindr gave birth to Váli who grew to adulthood within a day and slew Höðr.
Baldr was ceremonially burnt upon his ship, Hringhorni, the largest of all ships. As he was carried to the ship, Odin whispered in his ear. The question of what he said was to be a key riddle asked by Odin (in disguise) of the giant Vafthrudnir (and which was, of course, unanswerable) in the poem Vafthrudnismal. The riddle also appears in the riddles of Gestumblindi in Hervarar saga.
The dwarf Litr was kicked by Thor into the funeral fire and burnt alive. Nanna, Baldr's wife, also threw herself on the funeral fire to await Ragnarök when she would be reunited with her husband (alternatively, she died of grief). Baldr's horse with all its trappings was also burned on the pyre. The ship was set to sea by Hyrrokin, a giantess, who came riding on a wolf and gave the ship such a push that fire flashed from the rollers and all the earth shook.
Upon Frigg's entreaties, delivered through the messenger Hermod, Hel promised to release Baldr from the underworld if all objects alive and dead would weep for him. All did, except a giantess, Þökk often presumed to be the god Loki in disguise, who refused to mourn the slain god. Thus Baldr had to remain in the underworld, not to emerge until after Ragnarök, when he and his brother Höðr would be reconciled and rule the new earth together with Thor's sons. Alternately, Loki cast a spell upon the Willow tree, which was once tall and proud. This spell prevented the tree from weeping for Baldr the Beautiful. Since the tree was unable to weep for the fallen son of Odin, he remained in the underworld. Released from the spell of Loki, the willow tree bowed in its grief and was bound to weep eternally.
Writing at about the end of the 12th century, the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus tells the story of Baldr (recorded as Balderus) in a form which professes to be historical. According to him, Balderus and Høtherus were rival suitors for the hand of Nanna, daughter of Gewar, King of Norway. Balderus was a demigod and common steel could not wound his sacred body. The two rivals encountered each other in a terrific battle. Though Odin and Thor and the rest of the gods fought for Balderus, he was defeated and fled away, and Høtherus married the princess.
Nevertheless, Balderus took heart of grace and again met Høtherus in a stricken field. But he fared even worse than before. Høtherus dealt him a deadly wound with a magic sword, named Mistletoe, which he had received from Miming, the satyr of the woods; after lingering three days in pain Balderus died of his injury and was buried with royal honours in a barrow.
Chronicon Lethrense and Annales Lundenses
There are also two lesser known Danish Latin chronicles, the Chronicon Lethrense and the Annales Lundenses of which the latter is included in the former. These two sources provide a second euhemerized account of Höðr's slaying of Baldr.
It relates that Hother was the king of the Saxons and son of Hothbrod and the daughter of Hadding. Hother first slew Othen's (i.e. Odin) son Balder in battle and then chased Othen and Thor. Finally, Othen's son Both killed Hother. Hother, Balder, Othen and Thor were incorrectly considered to be gods.
A Latin votive inscription from Utrecht, from the 3rd or 4th century C.E., has been theorized as containing the dative form Baldruo, pointing to a Latin nominative singular *Baldruus, which some have identified with the Norse/Germanic god, although both the reading and this interpretation have been questioned.
As referenced in Gylfaginning, in Sweden and Norway, the scentless mayweed (Matricaria perforata) and the similar sea mayweed (Matricaria maritima) are both called baldursbrá "Balder's brow" and regionally in northern England (baldeyebrow). In Iceland only the former is found. In Germany lily-of-the-valley is known as weisser Baldrian; variations using or influenced by reflexes of Phol include Faltrian (upper Austria), Villumfallum (Salzburg), and Fildron or Faldron (Tyrol).
There are a few old place names in Scandinavia that contain the name Baldr. The most certain and notable one is the (former) parish name Balleshol in Hedmark county, Norway: "a Balldrshole" 1356 (where the last element is hóll m "mound; small hill"). Others may be (in Norse forms) Baldrsberg in Vestfold county, Baldrsheimr in Hordaland county Baldrsnes in Sør-Trøndelag county — and (very uncertain) the Balsfjorden fjord and Balsfjord municipality in Troms county.
Baldur, Manitoba is a village in southern Manitoba, Canada. About 1890, Sigurdur Christopherson could not find a suitable flower in the district to name the town after, so he suggested the name of a beautiful Nordic God, namely Baldur, son of Odin.
The Bowder Stone is said to have derived its name from Baldr and carries a representation of his face.
In popular culture
- Balder is a prominent member of the supporting cast in Marvel's Thor, appearing in the comics and animated adaptations as one of Thor's closest friends and Asgard's bravest warriors. Following Ragnarok taking place and Thor resurrecting Asgard and the Asgardians in Broxton, Oklahoma, Balder was revealed to be Thor's half-brother as in the myth, with his identity kept secret to protect him. This meant that following Loki's machinations which had Thor exiled from Asgard and Odin remaining dead, Balder reigned as King of Asgard until Odin returned.
- Baldr is one of the incarnated gods in the New Zealand comedy/drama The Almighty Johnsons. The part of "Olaf Johnson/Baldr" is played by Ben Barrington.
- Baldr appears in the Supernatural episode "Hammer of the Gods" played by Adam Croasdell.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Tegnér's Drapa" dealt with Baldr's death.
- Shadow Moon, the main character in American Gods by Neil Gaiman, is eventually revealed in a related short story, "Monarch of the Glen" to be the god Baldr.
- Dauði Baldrs (English: "Baldr's Death" or "The Death of Baldr") is the fifth album by the Norwegian band Burzum.
- Baldur is the debut album of Icelandic Viking metal band Skálmöld.
- In the Japanese PSP game, Kamigami no Asobi: Ludere Deorum (translated as Mischief of the Gods), Balder Hringhorni is one of the 8 main characters in the game where the player will take on the role of the heroine and choose one of the male characters as her love interest. An anime television series adaption of the game was aired on April 2014.
- Baldr is a major character in Libba Bray's novel Going Bovine.
- In Sir Walter Scott's historical novel Ivanhoe, Cedric the Saxon, the protagonist's father, has a dog named Balder.
- In the Xbox 360 game Too Human, Baldr is the playable protagonist.
- In the Nintendo DS game Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor; he makes an appearance under the name Beldr as a competitor in the War of Bel.
- In the Super Famicom game Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu, Baldur is one of the Twelve Crusaders who overthrew the Lopto Empire. He is known for founding the dukedom of Chalphy, and for wielding the holy weapon Tyrfing, which is passed down to his descendant Sigurd, and later to his own son, Seliph.
- Baldr is disguised as Santa Claus in Brom's (Gerald Brom) 2012 modern fantasy novel, Krampus the Yule Lord.
- Baldr is the name of one the god warriors in anime "Saint Seiya Soul of Gold", who apparently is unvulnerable.
- In the game Bayonetta, the main antagonist is called Balder.
- Baldr appears in the title of the role-playing video game series Baldur's Gate.
- "Baldrs would in strictness appear to have no connexion with the Goth. balþs (bold, audax), nor Paltar with the OHG. pald, nor Baldr with the ON. ballr 'dangerous, dire'. As a rule, the Gothic ld is represented by ON. ld and OHG. lt: the Gothic lþ by ON. ll and OHG. ld. But the OS. and AS. have ld in both cases, and even in Gothic, ON. and OHG. a root will sometimes appear in both forms in the same language; so that a close connexion between balþs and Baldrs, pald and Paltar, is possible after all."
- "Bæl-dæg itself is white-god, light-god, he that shines as sky and light and day, the kindly Bièlbôgh, Bèlbôgh of the Slav system. It is in perfect accord with this explanation of Bæl-dæg, that the Anglo-Saxon tale of ancestry assigns to him a son Brond, of whom the Edda is silent, brond, brand, ON. brandr (fire brand or blade of a sword), signifying jubar, fax, titio. Bældæg therefore, as regards his name, would agree with Berhta, the bright goddess.
- Simek. Dictionary of Northern Mythology, 2007, 26.
- Calvin, Thomas. An Anthology of German Literature, D. C. Heath & Co. ASIN: B0008BTK3E,B00089RS3K. P5-6.
- "GYLFAGINNING [U]: 17-21". hi.is.
- Gylfaginning, XXII
- Colum, Padraic (1920). The Children of Odin. Aladdin Paperbacks. ISBN 0-689-86885-5.
- Merrill Kaplan, 'Once More on the Mistletoe', in News from Other Worlds/Tíðendi ór ǫðrum heimum: Studies in Nordic Folklore, Mythology and Culture in Honor of John F. Lindow, ed. by Merrill Kaplan and Timothy R. Tangherlini, Wildcat Canyon Advanced Seminars Occasional Monographs, 1 (Berkeley, CA: North Pinehurst Press, 2012), pp. 36-60; ISBN 0578101742.
- Gylfaginning, XLIX
- According to Carolyne Larrington in her translation of the Poetic Edda it is assumed that what Odin whispered in Baldr's ear was a promise of resurrection.
- Davidson, H.R. Ellis (1964). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Pelican Books. ISBN 0-14-013627-4
- Gutenbrunner, Siegfried (1936). Die germanischen Götternamen der antiken Inschriften. Max Niemeyer Verlag., p. 210 & pp. 218-20.
- North, Richard (1997). Heathen Gods in Old English Literature. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55183-8., p. 126.
- Vermeyden, Pamela & Quak, Arend (2000). Van Ægir tot Ymir: personages en thema's uit de Germaanse en Noordse mythologie. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 90-6168-661-X., p. 43.
- Helm, Karl (1976). Balder, in Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG., p. 2.
- Anna-Lena Anderberg. "Den virtuella floran: Tripleurospermum perforatum (Mérat) Laínz - Baldersbrå". nrm.se.
- Legends of the Northmen, n.4: <>.
- "The Almighty Johnsons". thealmightyjohnsons.co.nz.
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