Table of Contents
Baldur, also called Balder or Baldr, is one of the many sons of Odin and his wife Frigg. Despite Thor being the most famous son of Odin, in the legends themselves Baldur is often cited as the most beloved and honored son of the All-Father.
The main reason Baldur is not as well-known today is that he meets a tragic and premature death, one that serves as a harbinger for Ragnarök. His death is even believed to have doomed the gods to lose in the great final battle.
Who is Baldur?
A son of Odin and Frigg, Baldur was worshipped as the god of the summer sun in Norse mythology. He’s often depicted with rays of light shooting out of him, symbolic of the sun. The name Baldr meant brave, defiant, lord and prince in Proto-Germanic. Baldur was said to be wise, fair, and just, as well as more beautiful than a flower.
There isn’t a bad word to be told about Baldur in any of the Norse myths – instead, everyone sang his praises whenever he was around. He was his mother’s favorite from all his other brothers, including his blind twin Höðr.
Baldur had several siblings, including Thor, Heimdall, Vidar, Tyr, Hermod and several others. His consort was Nanna and together they had one child, Forseti.
Frigg, the wise matriarch of the Asgardian gods, loved her young son very much. She tried to make sure that he would never be harmed by anything. She didn’t overprotect or shelter Baldur, seeing that he was as strong and capable as he was handsome. Instead, the wise goddess used her magic to make him impervious to any element or natural compound found in Asgard and Midgard (the Earth).
Frigg had the gift of foreknowledge and knew that some terrible fate would befall her son. In some versions, it’s said that Baldur began to have dreams of his death. Frigg, wanting to protect him, decided to ask everything to swear an oath that they would not harm Baldur. She took oaths from fire, metals, trees, animals and so on. However, she missed something crucial – she didn’t make Baldur impervious to mistletoe.
This weakness makes Baldur somewhat similar to the Greek Achilles. Like Achilles, who had a vulnerable heel, Baldur also had only one weaknesses – mistletoe.
Loki’s Fatal Prank and Baldur’s Death
Baldur is known best for the story of his death and what it symbolized. The trickster god Loki loved to pull pranks on his fellow Asgardians, some harmless, others not so much. Unfortunately for Baldur, the god of mischief was feeling especially mischievous when he set his eyes on Baldur one day.
Knowing that Baldur wasn’t immune to mistletoe, Loki gave a dart made from mistletoe to Baldur’s blind twin brother Höðr. The gods liked to fool around and toss darts at each other, so Loki nudged Höðr to toss the dart toward Baldur. The blind god didn’t realize what the dart was made from, so he threw it and accidentally killed his own brother.
In punishment for inadvertently killing his brother, Odin and the goddess Rindr gave birth to Váli, born simply to avenge Baldur’s death. Váli grew to adulthood in a day and killed Höðr.
Baldur was burnt on his ship, as per the custom. His mother threw herself on his funeral fire and burnt to death. Some versions say that she died of grief at losing Baldur. His horse was also burnt in the same fire and the ship was then pushed off towards Hel.
When Frigg pleaded for Hel to release Baldur from the underworld, she said that she would only if all things both alive and dead would weep for Baldur. Baldur was so beloved by all that everything obliged, crying genuine tears for him. However, a giantess, believed to be Loki in disguise, would not weep. Because of this, Baldur was condemned to remain in the underworld until after Ragnarok had ended.
Symbolism of Baldur
Baldur’s almost complete immunity and immortality appear very similar to those of Achilles. However, while the latter met a heroic death during the invasion of Troy, the former met an absurd end, not worthy of who he was. This does speak to the nihilism that’s often present in Norse myths and legends. However, it goes beyond this.
As Baldur was Odin’s best, most universally beloved, and near-impervious son, it’s believed that had he lived until Ragnarök, he would have helped the other gods prevail in the final battle. Instead, his death heralded the coming dark times for the Asgardian gods and doomed them all.
His symbolism as the god of the summer sun is also not accidental. The sun in northern Europe and Scandinavia often stays below the horizon for months during the winter but in summer, the sun comes up and doesn’t set. In this context, Baldur being the symbol of the summer sun is crucial and poignant. He acts as the symbolic sun for the Norse gods – when he’s alive or “up” everything is wonderful, but when he sets, the world gets very dark.
Importance of Baldur in Modern Culture
Baldur is one of those Norse gods who aren’t really represented in modern culture. There are plenty of streets and areas in Scandinavia named after him but he’s not nearly as popular as his brother Thor in modern art.
This is understandable given how anti-climactic his story is. It’s emblematic in the context of Nordic myths and culture as the Norse were quite the nihilistic realists but from today’s point of view his story can be seen as “uninspiring” and “comedic” by most people.
- What is Baldur the god of? Baldur is the god of light, joy, summer sun and purity.
- Who are Baldur’s parents? Baldur is the son of the god Odin and the goddess Frigg.
- Who is Baldur’s wife? Baldur’s wife is said to be Nanna.
- Does Baldur have children? Baldur’s son is Forseti.
- What was Baldur’s weakness? Baldur was not immune to mistletoe, which was the only thing that could hurt him.
While Baldur’s myths are few and his ending is unexpected and anti-climactic, he remains one of the most loved gods of Norse mythology. He comes across as a positive god, bringing life and joy to all, like the sun.