The references to Balder (ON Baldr) in the Poetic Edda are comparatively few and occur in six of the poems. From these we learn the following facts about him. He is son of Odin and Frigg.1 According to Grimnismal his heavenly dwelling is Breidablik, “Wide-shining,” which he built for himself, a place free from all crimes.2 He was troubled by evil dreams: the gods took counsel over this, and Odin rode down to Hel to consult the dead seeress, raised up by his spells, and, calling himself Vegtam, forced her to reply to his questions. She answered first that a place is prepared in Hel for Balder and that hope is gone from the gods. Hod will be Balder’s bane, bringing to Hel the hero whom he will deprive of life. But Balder will be avenged: Rind bears Vali in Vestrsalir, “Western Hall,” to Odin. When one night old, he will fight, and bring Balder’s slayer to the pyre. “What maidens are those who weep for this and toss to the sky the tops of the sails?” asked Odin.3 This enigmatic question revealed to the seeress who her questioner really was. Odin says that she is no Volva nor prophetess: rather is she the mother of three giants (Thursar). She bids Odin ride home. None will see her again till Loki is free of his bonds and the Doom of the gods arrives. This story is the subject of Baldrs Draumar.

Voluspa also refers to the death of Balder. The seeress says:

“I saw for Balder, Odin’s son,
The soft-hearted god, destiny set;
Full grown on the fields,
Slender and fair,
The mistletoe stood.


From this tree was made,
Which seemed so slender,
A deadly shaft, which Hod shot.”
Then follow the lines from Baldrs Draumar about Vali, and the seeress resumes:

“In Fensalir Frigg weeps sore,
For Valhall’s woe,
Would ye know yet more?”

The Short Voluspa in Hyndluljod refers to Balder’s death, and says that the gods were eleven in number when he bowed his head on the hill of death. Vali was swift to avenge this, slaying quickly his brother’s slayer.5

Skirnismal speaks of the ring Draupnir as that which was laid on Balder’s pyre. In Vafthrudnismal Odin asks the giant what words Odin spoke in the ear of Balder on his pyre. In Lokasenna Loki tells Frigg that he is the cause of Balder’s death.6

In these notices we learn that Hod was Balder’s slayer. Only in Lokasenna is it hinted that Loki was to blame for his death. The long prose narrative compiled by Snorri from these and other sources shows that Hod was the unwitting cause of the slaying, because of Loki’s action. The original myth may thus have had no place for Loki, who was later introduced into the story.

Finally, in Voluspa Balder is said to come back to the renewed world after the Doom of the gods, and with Hod he lives in Hropt’s (Odin’s) battle-hall.7

The Husdrapa of Ulf Uggason (tenth century) describes pictures painted on the wainscot and roof of a hall in Iceland. Among these were scenes from Balder’s funeral. Frey rides his boar, Heimdall his horse; Odin follows, then the Valkyries and the ravens. Another scene depicted the giantess Hyrokkin launching the ship on which the pyre is set, while Odin’s champions follow the wolf on which she rode.8 The tenth


century skalds, Kormak and Vetrlidhi, also refer to the Balder myth.

We now turn to Snorri’s later prose narrative. Balder the good is Odin’s second son, and good things are to be said of him. He is the best god, praised by all. So beautiful and fair is he that light shines forth from him. A certain herb is so white that it is called “Balder’s eyelash,” Baldersbraa. This shows how fair his hair and body are. He is wisest of the Æsir, most fair of speech and gracious, yet none may gainsay his judgments. He dwells in Breidablik, where nothing impure can be found. Nanna, daughter of Nep, is his wife: their son is Forseti.9

In several chapters Snorri describes Balder’s death and funeral. He dreamed evil dreams, and the Æsir resolved to ask safety for him from all kinds of dangers. Frigg took oaths from fire, water, metals, stones, trees, animals, etc., that none of these should hurt him. Now it became a sport of the gods to shoot or hew or beat Balder; nothing could do him harm. When Loki saw this, he was displeased and went to Fensalir in woman’s form to ask Frigg why this was done. Then he learned that she had taken oaths of all things save a tree-sprout called mistletoe, growing to the west of Valhall, which had seemed to her too young to take an oath of. Loki went and pulled up the mistletoe by the root, and, going to the Thing, spoke to Hod who was standing outside the ring, because he was blind. He asked him why he did not shoot at Balder and was told that he could not see where Balder was and, besides, he was weaponless. Loki then put the mistletoe in his hand and bade him be guided by him and throw the rod at Balder. This he did and Balder fell dead.

The Æsir looked at each other in silence: none could there take vengeance, so great a sanctuary was that place. They wept, but Odin was of all most grieved, knowing the harm that would befall the Æsir. Frigg then asked who would go down to Hel and offer her a ransom to release Balder. Hermod, the son of


Odin, undertook this, and mounting Sleipnir, rode away. He went for nine nights through dark valleys to the river Gjoll and on to the Gjoll-bridge, thatched with gold, and guarded by the maiden Módgud. She asked his name and race and said that on the previous day Balder and five hundred dead men (his servants?) had crossed, but the bridge thundered less with their tread than with his alone. Why did he ride on Hel-way? To seek out Balder: had she seen him? “Yes: Balder rode over the bridge, and Hel-way lies down and to the north.”

Hermod rode on to Hel-gate, over which his horse leaped. Now he entered the hall, where Balder sat in the high seat. Next morning he besought Hel to let him go; she would only release him if all things, quick or dead, wept for him. Balder now let Hermod out of the hall. Nanna sent to Frigg a kerchief and to Fulla a gold ring. Hermod rode back to Asgard and told his tidings.

Meanwhile Balder’s funeral had been celebrated. The Æsir brought his corpse to the sea and set it on Hringhorni, greatest of all ships. They would have launched it and set his pyre upon it, but it would not stir. A message was sent to Jötunheim to the giantess Hyrrokin. She came, riding a wolf bridled by a snake. Leaping off her steed, which Odin bade four berserkers tend, though they could not hold it till they had felled it, she pushed the boat so that fire burst from its rollers as it was thrust into the sea, and earth trembled. Thor, in his rage, would have broken her head with his hammer, had not the gods calmed him.10

The corpse was now laid on the ship. Nanna straightway died of grief, and was laid with Balder on the pyre, which was now kindled. Thor hallowed it with his hammer, when before his feet ran the dwarf Litr, whom Thor kicked into the fire. Odin was there, with Frigg, the Valkyries, and his ravens; Frey drove in his chariot with his boar Gullinbursti or Slidrugtanni. Heimdall rode Golltop; Freyja drove her cats. Many of the Frost-giants and Hill-giants were also present. On the



The custom of interring a dead chief or king in a funeral chamber within a ship, which was then enclosed in a tumulus, was common in Norway. Such burial sites were always near the sea, and nine royal tumuli of this type exist at Borre on the western coast of the Oslo fjord. At some distance from these, at Oseberg, another tumulus was opened and was found to contain a ship, eighty feet long, richly carved, with a funeral chamber full of all kinds of objects for the use of the dead. Within the chamber were two beds and two bodies of women. One of these is believed to be that of queen Aasa, grandmother of Harald the Fair-haired, the other that of her chief attendant. The date of the tumulus is about the middle of the ninth century. At some period unknown the tumulus had been opened and all the objects made of gold and silver abstracted, and many of the funerary objects smashed. The ship reconstructed is now preserved at Oslo. The illustration shows the elaborate carving of the wood. The funeral of Balder points to a different method of ship-interment, viz., not burial within a tumulus but cremation (p. 130). From a photograph, by permission of the Director of the Universitetets Oldsaksamling, Oslo.


pyre Odin laid the ring Draupnir, and Balder’s horse was led to the fire with all his trappings.

When Hermod told his tidings to the Æsir, they sent messengers all over the world to pray that Balder should be wept out of Hel. People, living things, earth, stones, trees, metals, wept — “as thou must have seen that all these things weep when they come out of the cold into the heat.” As the messengers went home, they found a giantess sitting in a cave, Thokk by name. They begged her to weep for Balder: she refused, and here Snorri quotes a verse of a lost Eddic poem.

“With waterless tears will Thokk weep
    That Balder ascends the pyre;
Neither in life nor death loved I the karl’s son,
    Let Hel hold what she has.”

Thokk was Loki. Snorri then relates the vengeance taken by the gods on him.11 He also tells of Balder and Hod in the renovated world.12 His narrative is based on poems now lost, the stanza about Thokk being one of these, on the Eddic poems, and on the Husdrapa, already cited.

The Eddas do not tell how Vali took vengeance on Hod, but this is assumed, and, in Hyndluljod, asserted. Thus Snorri gives as one of the kennings for Hod, “foe of Vali,” and for Vali himself “foe and slayer of Hod.”13 As we have seen, the poetic references to Balder’s death do not mention Loki as the agent who caused Hod’s action. If Hod had merely been the unwitting slayer, there would have been no reason for seeking an avenger to put him to death. In Snorri’s narrative, where he acts under Loki’s advice, vengeance is not taken on him, but on Loki. In the earlier form of the myth, before c. 1000 A.D., Hod alone was responsible for Balder’s death.

The story of Balder and Hod is also told by Saxo Grammaticus, Hod being called by him Hotherus, and he is a son of Hodbrodd, king of Sweden, and fosterling of Gewar, king of Norway. Hotherus was skilled in all accomplishments, and


these so pleased Nanna, daughter of Gewar, that she fell madly in love with him. Balder, Odin’s son, saw Nanna bathing, and he desired to have her (as Frey did on seeing Gerd), resolving to slay Hotherus. Hotherus, led astray by a mist when hunting, came to a lodge where certain virgines silvestres or Wood-maidens greeted him by name. They told him that by their guidance and auspices the fortunes of war were mainly determined. They took part invisibly in battles, and secretly assisted their favourites to victory, for they could win victory or inflict defeat as they willed. They told him of Balder’s love for Nanna, but counselled him not to attack him in war, for he was a demi-god (semi-deus), sprung secretly from celestial seed. Lodge and maidens now vanished, and Hotherus found himself in the open fields. Hotherus, much amazed, told Gewar of this, and asked him for Nanna. Gewar said that he would gladly favour him, but feared Balder’s wrath, as he also had asked for her. Balder’s body was proof against steel, but, said Gewar, there was a sword which would cause his death, as well as a bracelet which had the power of increasing its owner’s wealth. These were in the possession of Miming, a satyr of the woods. The way to his abode was full of obstacles, over frozen ground. Hotherus must harness a car with reindeer and, having reached the place, pitch his tent so that its shadow would not fall on Miming’s cave and, by the unusual darkness, prevent his coming out. Hotherus followed these instructions, and when Miming emerged from the cave, he aimed a spear at him and laid him low. Then he bound him and demanded the sword and bracelet, which Miming now gave to him. Incidents are told of war with Gelder, king of Saxony, who coveted these treasures, and of assistance given to Helgi, king of Halogaland, to gain Thora, daughter of the king of the Finns and Perms.

Meanwhile Balder had sued for Nanna and was bidden by Gewar to learn her own mind. She would not be moved, and said that a god could not wed a mortal. Gods were apt to break their pledges! Hotherus, with Helgi’s aid, joined battle with


Balder at sea. Odin, Thor, and all the gods fought for Balder. Thor with his club (clava) was carrying all before him, when Hotherus, clad in an invulnerable coat, cut the club in two, thus rendering it useless. The gods with Balder took to flight. Even Saxo is staggered by this, but he says that antiquity vouches for it.

Soon after, fortune turned and Balder defeated Hotherus, but was so tormented by dreams in which phantoms took the form of Nanna that he fell into sickness, and had to be driven about in a four-wheeled carriage. Hotherus took possession of Denmark, joining it with Sweden. Balder came to Denmark, the people there accepting him. Hotherus was again defeated, retiring to Sweden in despair. In a wild forest he once more met the Wood-maidens, who had formerly given him an invulnerable coat, as we now learn. He told them of his defeats and upbraided them with breach of faith. They said that though he had been defeated, he had inflicted as much loss on the enemy as they had on his forces. Victory would soon be his, if he could obtain a food of great deliciousness devised to increase Balder’s strength. Hotherus plucked up courage, and now Balder and the Danes opposed him in battle until night ended the fight. During the darkness Hotherus went to spy on the foe, and learned that three maidens had gone out, carrying Balder’s secret feast. Running after them, for their footsteps could be traced in the dew (an elfin trait), he entered their dwelling, saying that he was a musician, one of the company of Hotherus. He played to them, entrancing them with his music (another elfin trait), and at the same time he saw that the venom of three serpents was dropping from their mouths on Balder’s food, thus dowering it with magic strength. Out of kindness two of the maidens would have given him a share of the food, but the eldest forbade it, saying that Balder would be defrauded if the strength of his enemy were increased. But these nymphs (nymphae) gave him a belt and a girdle which ensured victory. On his return, he met Balder and plunged his sword into him,


leaving him half dead. On the night following, Proserpine (Hel) stood by Balder, and promised that on the morrow he would have her embraces. In three days he died, and was given a royal funeral by the Danes, his corpse being laid in a barrow made by them.14

Saxo then tells how, in his day, certain men, chief of whom was one Harald, sought to open the barrow to find treasure, but were stricken with panic. It split open; water poured from it and flooded the land; the guardian gods of the place (landvœtter or perhaps the haugbui) thus terrifying the seekers, but, as Saxo believes, with a magic and phantasmal flood, not an actual one. Saxo gives interesting information about places connected with Balder. A haven, the name of which he does not mention, recalls the story of Balder’s defeat at sea, perhaps Balderslee, the traditional name of a village in Schleswig, though it may be Balsnes, formerly Baldersnes, on the island of Hitteren in Norway. After conquering Hotherus, Balder pierced the earth and opened a spring at which his men quenched their thirst. The traces of this spring at Baldersbrond, a village near Roskilde, were thought to exist in Saxo’s time. Later tradition said that it was formed by a stroke of the hoof of Balder’s horse.15

Saxo next tells how Odin began to enquire regarding vengeance for Balder’s death, and gives the story of his affair with Rinda, which has already been related.16

Saxo’s narrative both resembles and differs from the Eddic account of Balder. The protagonists Balder and Hod (Hotherus) are the same, though Hotherus is not one of the Æsir, but son of a king. As in the earlier Eddic myth, Loki does not appear, nor is Hotherus blind. Balder is slain by Hod by means of the mistletoe which grows at Valhall and is sought there by Loki (Edda); by means of a magic sword sought by Hotherus in the far North (Saxo). Balder’s safety is secured by oaths taken of all things not to harm him (Edda); he is invulnerable, because of magic food and save for being wounded by Miming’s


sword (Saxo). In the Eddas he is troubled by dreams. So in Saxo’s account he is troubled by dreams of Nanna and has a vision of Hel. The vengeance motif appears in both: Rind has a son Vali or Bous to Odin, who overcame her by spells.

On the other hand, Hotherus seems to be Saxo’s hero, and Balder is not presented in a favourable light. Nanna becomes wife of Hotherus: in the Edda she is wife of Balder. The cause of the enmity between the two is not given in the Edda: in Saxo, it is rivalry for Nanna and, later, strife for the possession of Denmark. In Saxo, too, the gods fight against the hero Hotherus, and, years after, he is slain by Bous, who himself dies of his wounds. The oath taken from all things to weep Balder out of Hel and Hermod’s visit to Hel are lacking in Saxo. Balder is buried, not burned on a pyre — the pyre on a ship is transferred to Gelder, who was slain in the war, and set by Hotherus on the corpses of his men, laid on a pyre of ships. The Wood-maidens and the three nymphae who prepare Balder’s magic food are not in the Eddic story. Saxo’s narrative is mainly euhemeristic, save that Balder is a demi-god in the earlier part at least, and the gods fight for him: the action takes place on earth, and each protagonist has his army and fleet.

The problems here are: Is Saxo making use of a Norse or of a native Danish source or sources? Has he changed a myth of the gods into a saga about heroes? Was there a form of the Balder story which had no reference to the gods? Why should Balder be so well spoken of in the Eddas, but regarded unfavourably by Saxo?

Definite solutions of these problems are hardly possible. The native Balder saga is maintained by Kauffmann, who thinks that this saga told of heroes, one of whom, Balder, was a demigod, but that, on reaching Iceland, it became a myth of the gods, modified by Christian influences.”17 Others regard Saxo’s source as Icelandic, or partly Danish, partly Norse, and think that he or his source had euhemerized a myth of the gods. Saxo’s narrative seems to indicate two sources. In one of these, mainly


mythical, the quarrel between Balder and Hotherus is about Nanna. The gods intervene, yet Balder is put to flight, this narrative probably ending with his death and burning on a pyre — this being transferred to king Gelder. In the other, completely euhemerized, there are no gods: Balder and Hotherus are mortals, and the quarrel is about the possession of Denmark.18 Not impossibly Saxo’s narrative may be based on a form of the Balder myth of earlier date than the Eddic.19

The references in Voluspa and in Snorri (or his source) to the mistletoe by which Balder was slain, do not seem to have been written by men familiar with this plant, which is described as a tree, not a parasitic plant on a tree. In Saxo, Balder is slain with a magic sword. No name is given to it, as was usual with magic swords, but in other documents we hear of a sword called Mistelteinn. Thus in the Hromundar-saga Greipssonar Hromund possesses the sword Mistelteinn which he took from a berserker or his ghost out of a hill. Two magicians, Bildr and Voli (Balder and Vali), oppose him. Bildr is slain. Voli hurls Hromund’s sword out of his hand, wounds him, but is himself slain. Hromund loved Svanhit: Bildr and Voli would not permit him to be her bride. The story thus bears some resemblance to Saxo’s narrative of Hotherus, Balder, and Bous (Vali).20 In composite words teinn is “sword,” as in Lævateinn, the name of the sword by which alone Vithofnir could be killed, as Balder could be slain only by Miming’s sword.21 The swordname might easily be mistaken for that of the plant, which would then be supposed to be the instrument of Balder’s death.22

The meaning of the Balder myth has been sought in many directions, and German and Scandinavian scholars have suggested numerous interpretations of it, evolving many new myths in the process. The myth, like others existing in comparative isolation, must be more or less of a sealed book. Bugge’s hypothesis that an earlier Balder myth was reconstructed with stress laid on the fundamental moral elements of


life, as a result of the influence of English and Irish Christianity on the heathen Norsemen in the West, is worked out in great detail.23 Balder is identified with Christ; all the stress is laid on his death. While the hypothesis is ingenious, the elements of the new myth taken over from Christian sources — biblical, theological, legendary — are too numerous and too various for the theory to be convincing. One would also have thought that a Balder restored from Hel and death would have formed part of a myth due to Christian ideas, as our Lord’s Resurrection and conquest of death and Hades had such a large place in Christian thought. Miss Phillpotts, who sees in many of the Eddic poems the words of folk-drama, and considers that a lost poem in dialogue form about Balder’s death constituted a folk-play representing the slaying of a god, would like to believe that Balder rose again, or that the representation of his funeral and the general weeping would have effect in inducing him to return.24 But if one thing is clearer than another in the Eddic references to Balder, it is that he does not return and cannot return. Only after the Doom of the gods does he appear in the renewed world.

The name of Balder, whether god or hero, is thought to occur in the Merseburg charm which tells how

“Phol and Wodan rode to the wood,
Balder’s colt there wrenched its foot.”

If so, this would prove that Balder was known in Germany. The question is whether “Balder” is here a personal name or an appellative meaning “lord” and referring to Odin, whose horse would then be in question. Grimm found place-names in Germany constructed, as he thought, both from Phol and Balder, and he connected the name Phol with that of the Celtic Belenus, a god of light, Slavic Bèlbôgh, “white god,” and Lithuanian baltas, “white.” He considered that Phol and Balder were differing forms of one word.25 The enigmatic Phol has also been explained as Apollo, possibly an early interpretatio


Romana of a German Balder; or as S. Paul; or as a native German god; or as the name of Wodan’s horse.

The name Balder appears in Anglo-Saxon genealogies as Bxldxg, Baldag, and once as Balder, son of Woden. The AS bealdor, baldor, akin to these names, like ON baldr, meant “prince” or “lord,” though Balder means “the white or shining one,” and Bældæg means “bright day.”

The only indication of a cult of Balder occurs in the fourteenth century Fridthjofs-saga which speaks of a temple in Baldershog in Norway, enclosed by a fence. It contained many images, and Balder was most reverenced. Neither men nor oxen must do mischief there, nor sexual relations occur. On festivals the images were anointed by women. This notice is generally regarded as fictitious.

Place-names in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark show traces of Balder; and he is still named in Danish folk-lore.26 The name of the plant Baldrsbrá is widespread in Scandinavia, but is applied to different plants.



This stone, of the Viking period, from Tjängvide, Stenkyrka, Götland, shows ships and warriors.