Sunday, 29 January 2012

B is for Baldr the Beautiful

Baldr the Beautiful is an interesting god to me as he seems to hark to an older shamanic tradition, as do many of the Germanic myths and deities.

Baldr is the second son of Odin. He is the most beautiful and wisest of all the gods.the Prose Edda states:
"There is nothing but good to be told of him. He is the best of him. He is the best of them (the gods)and everyone sings his praises. He is so fair of face and bright that a splendour radiates from him, and there is one flower so white that it is likened to Baldr's brow; it is the whitest of flowers from that you can tell how beautiful his body is and how bright his hair. He is the wisest of the gods and the sweetest spoken, and the most merciful, but it is a characteristic of his that once he has pronounced a judgement it can never be altered. He lives in a place in heaven called Breithablik; nothing impure can be there..."

The story of Baldr contains some interesting elements.

Baldr had been having some terrible dreams about his death. As he was so precious to the gods, the Aesir decided to seek protection for him. Odin journeyed to the other world to discover the reason for Baldr's dreams. There, he awakens a Volva (prophetess, seeress) from the dead who told him about his death. To prevent this, Frigga
made sure he was protected against fire, water, metals, iron, stones, earth, trees, ailments, beasts, birds, poison, serpents... everything except mistletoe as they didn't think it important enough because there was only one small young bush. Loki, as ever the mischief-maker, took a piece of the mistletoe and went to the assembly where, bizarrely the other gods had taken to playing the game of trying to kill Baldr by a variety of means, knowing they couldn't. Only one god, the blind Hodur, wasn't joining in. Like gave him the mistletoe and directed him to throw it, which he did. The dart went through him and Baldr fell down dead. The Aesir were grief-stricken. As Baldr hadn't died in battle he was taken to Hel's realm.

Baldr's body was cremated on a funeral ship which was launched to sea. Many gods, goddesses, giants and nature spirits attended the ceremony to honour the much-loved god. As Baldr lay on the funeral pyre Odin whispered a secret in his son's ear and gave him Draupnir, his ring of power. It was said that Baldr's wife, Nanna, accompanied him into death.

At the request of the gods, Hermod, volunteered to go to Helheim to get him back. Hel said that if everyone in the world wept for Baldr he could return. However, a giantess, Thokk, thought to have been Loki (once again)in disguise, refused to weep, so Baldr was condemned to stay in Helheim. Later, Loki was punished for eternity for this. The Voluspa, another ancient Heathen text, states that after Ragnarok ( the story of the end of the world) Baldr will return to the earth and reign in a new, green fertile land. "A new world will rise, fruitful and green and Hodur and Baldr will dwell again in Valhalla's sacred Walls."

This story contains aspects of shamanic journeying and necromancy. So it hearkens back to earlier pagan beliefs. Baldr travelled to live in Hel's realm. Hermod underwent a journey to the otherworld to ask for his return. Odin woke a prophetess from the dead. Loki changed into a variety of animals and beasts when he was trying to escape the wrath of the gods. There is no reference to a cult of Baldr (though that's not to say there isn't one as only this week evidence of a cult of Ullr has been discovered by archaeologists)though there is evidence of Baldr in songs and sagas. Baldr's death contains elements of the death and resurrection theme and provides reminders of shamanic initiation journeys to the land of the dead that many ancient cultures believed in. The presence of mistletoe provides reminders of vegetation cults. Some (eg Rudolph Steiner) see Baldr's death by Hodur's blindness signifies the loss of spiritual seers ip among Nordic-Germanic peoples.

No matter what is believed, to me it shows that the sagas and myths of the Germanic-Nordic people are not just medieval constructs. They contain much earlier pre-christian beliefs that couldn't be wiped out by the incoming Christian converters and even when written down by Christians like Snorri, the memories of the reality of the shamanic tradition and beliefs are still there. Those memories can't be eradicated. It also shows that there are some people, like Baldr, who are so precious that those who love them want to hold onto them beyond death and that this beauty even survives death. Even the gods feel the deep love for special beings.

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