Balder's Home Page

Assembled by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2000

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  1. The Death of Balder from The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson.

  2. Wodan cures Balder's injured horse, the second of the Merseburg Incantations.

  3. Link to the ballad by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Tegner's Drapa (on the death of Balder the Beautiful).

The Death of Balder
from The Prose Edda
of Snorri Sturluson

Balder's Dreams

Balder the Good had some terrible dreams that threatened his life. When he told the Æsir these dreams, they decided to seek protection for Balder from every kind of peril. Frigg exacted an oath from fire and water, iron and all kinds of metals, stones, earth, trees, ailments, beasts, birds, poison, and serpents, that they would not harm Balder.

And when this had been done and put to the test, Balder and the Æsir used to amuse themselves by making him stand up at their assemblies for some of them to throw darts at, others to strike and the rest to throw stones at.

Balder's Death

No matter what was done he was never hurt, and everyone thought that a fine thing. When Loki, Laufey's son, saw that, however, he was annoyed that Balder was not hurt, and he went disguised as a woman to Fensalir to visit Frigg. Frigg asked this woman if she knew what the Æsir were doing at the assembly. She answered that they were all throwing things at Balder, moreover that he was not being hurt.

Frigg remarked: "Neither weapons nor trees will injure Balder; I have taken an oath from them all."

The woman asked: "Has everything sworn you an oath to spare Balder?"

Frigg replied: "West of Valhalla grows a little bush called mistletoe, I did not exact an oath from it; I thought it too young." Thereupon the woman disappeared.

Loki took hold of the mistletoe, pulled it up and went to the assembly. Now Hod was standing on the outer edge of the circle of men because he was blind.

Loki asked him: "Why aren't you throwing darts at Balder?"

He replied: "Because I can't see where Balder is, and, another thing, I have no weapon."

Then Loki said: "You go and do as the others are doing and show Balder honor like the other men. I will show you where he is standing. Throw this twig at him."

Hod took the mistletoe and aimed at Balder as directed by Loki. The dart went right through him, and he fell dead to the ground. This was the greatest misfortune ever to befall gods and men.

Balder's Funeral

When Balder had fallen, the Æsir were struck dumb and not one of them could move a finger to lift him up; each looked at the other, and all were of one mind about the perpetrator of that deed, but no one could take vengeance; the sanctuary there was so holy. When the Æsir did try to speak, weeping came first, so that no one could tell the other his grief in words.

Odin, however, was most affected by this disaster, since he understood best what a loss and bereavement the death of Balder was for the Æsir.

When the gods had recovered from the first shock Frigg spoke. She asked which of the Æsir wished to win her whole affection and favor. Would he ride the road to Hel to try if he could find Balder, and offer Hel a ransom if she would allow Balder to come home to Asgard?

The one who undertook this journey was a son of Odin called Hermod the Bold. Then they caught Odin's horse, Sleipnir, and led him forward, and Hermod mounted that steed and galloped away.

The Æsir, however, took Balder's body and carried it down to the sea. Balder's ship was called Ringhorn, it was a very large ship. The gods wanted to launch it and to build Balder's funeral pyre on it, but they could not move it at all.

They sent to Giantland then for the ogress called Hyrrokkin. And when she came -- she was riding a wolf with vipers for reins -- she jumped off her steed, and Odin called to four berserks to guard it, but they were unable to hold fast till they struck it down. Then Hyrrokkin went to the prow of the vessel and at the first shove launched it in such a way that the rollers burst into flame and the whole world trembled. Thor became angry then, and seizing his hammer would have cracked her skull had not all the gods begged protection for her.

Then Balder's body was carried out onto the ship, and when his wife Nanna, daughter of Nep, saw that, her heart broke from grief and she died. She was carried on to the pyre and it was set alight.

Thor was standing by and consecrating it with Mjölnir, when a dwarf called Lit ran in front of his feet. Thor tripped him up and kicked him into the fire, and he was burned to death.

All sorts of people came to this cremation. First and foremost, Odin, accompanied by Frigg and his valkyries and ravens. Frey drove in a chariot drawn by the boar called Gold-bristle or Razor-tooth. Heimdall rode the horse called Gold-tuft, and Freyja was driving her cats. A great crowd of frost ogres and cliff giants came too. Odin laid on the pyre the gold ring which is called Draupnir; it had this characteristic afterwards, that every ninth night there dropped from it eight rings of equal value. Balder's horse with all its harness was led to the pyre.

Hermod goes to Hel

Concerning Hermod, however, there is this to tell. For nine nights he rode dales so deep and dark that he saw nothing, until he reached the river Gjöll and rode over its bridge. He rode on then till he came to the gates of Hel, and the horse jumped over the gate with such vigor that it came nowhere near it.

Then Hermod rode right up to the hall and dismounted. He went inside and saw his brother Balder sitting on the high seat there. He asked if Balder might ride home with him, telling her how much the gods were weeping.

Hel said, however, that this test should be made as to whether Balder was loved as much as people said: "If everything in the world, both dead or alive, weeps for him, then he shall go back to the Æsir, but he shall remain with Hel if anyone objects or will not weep."

Then Hermod stood up and Balder led him out of the hall, and taking off the ring Draupnir sent it to Odin in remembrance. Hermod rode back again to Asgard and related all he had seen and heard.

Loki's Refusal

Thereupon the Æsir sent messengers throughout the whole world to ask for Balder to be wept out of Hel; and everything did that -- men and beasts, and the earth, and the stones and trees and all metals -- just as one sees these things weeping when they come out of frost and into the warmth.

When the messengers were coming home, having made a good job of their errand, they met with a giantess sitting in a cave; she gave her name as Thökk. They asked her to weep Balder out of Hel. She answered:

Thökk will weep
dry tears
at Balder's embarkation;
the old fellow's son
was no use to me
alive or dead,
let Hel hold what she has.

It is thought that the giantess there was Loki, Laufey's son -- who has done most harm amongst the Æsir.

Loki's Punishment

Vengeance was taken on Loki in a manner he will long remember. When the gods had become as wrathful with him as might be expected, he ran away and hid himself on a mountain. There he built himself a house with four doors so that he could see out in all directions.

Often during the day, however, he changed himself into the shape of a salmon and hid in the place called waterfall of Franang. He tried to anticipate in his mind what contraption the Æsir would use to catch him in the waterfall so, once when he was sitting indoors over a fire, he took linen twine and twisted it into meshes in the way that nets have been made since. Then he saw that the Æsir were almost on him -- Odin had seen where he was from Hlidskjalf -- so throwing the net on the fire, he jumped up and out into the river.

When the Æsir arrived, the one who went into the house first was the wisest of them all -- his name was Kvasir. When he saw in the fire the white ash to which the net had burned, he understood that that was a contraption for catching fish and said so to the Æsir. Thereupon they made a net in imitation of the one they could see from the burned-out ashes Loki had made.

When the net was ready, the Æsir went to the river and cast it into the waterfall. Thor was holding on to one end of the net and the rest of the Æsir the other as they dragged it.

Loki, however, got ahead and lay down between two stones. They dragged the net over him and, realizing that there was something alive there, went up the waterfall a second time and flung the net out, weighting it so heavily that nothing could pass under it. Loki swam ahead of the net then but, when he saw the sea was close to, he jumped back over its edge-rope and hurried up into the waterfall.

This time the gods saw where he had gone; they went back again to the waterfall and dividing their forces into two groups, while Thor waded in mid-stream, they made for the open sea. Then Loki saw that he had only two means of escape, either to risk his life by jumping out to sea or to try once more to leap over the net. He chose the latter, jumping as quickly as possible over its edge-rope. Thor clutched at him and caught him, but he slipped through his hand until he had him fast by the tail, and it is for this reason that the salmon tapers towards the tail.

After that Loki was taken unconditionally and put into a cave. Taking three flat stones, the gods set them up on end and bored a hole through each. Then Loki's sons were captured, Vali and Nari or Narfi. The Æsir changed Vali into a wolf and he tore asunder his brother Narfi.

The Æsir took his entrails and with them bound Loki over the edges of three stones -- one under his shoulder, the second under his loins, and the third under his knee joints -- and these bonds became iron. Then Skadi took a poisonous snake and fastened it up over him so that the venom from it should drop onto his face. His wife Sigyn, however, sits by him holding a basin under the poisonous drops. When the basin becomes full she goes away to empty it, but in the meantime the venom drips onto his face and then he shudders so violently that the whole earth shakes -- you call that an earthquake. There he will lie in bonds until Ragnarok.

Wodan Cures Balder's Injured Horse

Merseburg Incantations, 2

Phol and Wodan rode into the woods,
There Balder's foal sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt, her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija, her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan, as he well knew how:
Bone-sprain, like blood-sprain,
Like limb-sprain:
Bone to bone; blood to blood;
Limb to limb -- like they were glued.

Revised July 2, 2000.