I told this story to someone last night, and felt it bore repeating. It came about the wife of a friend spied a bit of woodwork tucked away on the table I had yet to mount. She wanted to know what the Runes meant. Normally I don’t like to give that sort of thing away. But I did.
Let Hel keep what she has.
Of course, Hel is not some fiery pit. She is a Goddess, she has a Kingdom. A cave, my friend added. “Which sounds pretty bad,” his wife quipped. We forget that in the oldest ways, the Cave is the surrogate womb and is where one expected to be regenerated in someway and returned to us from the woman’s womb. Hel remembers this, I believe, and Baldur’s story is as much hers as his.
Some say Baldur was the God of Light. But I think he was the God of Mirth. Where he went, joy followed. It was said he could bring peace between parties, and like his father Forseti, settle any dispute. So when of came to pass that Baldur began to have troubling dreams, Frigga took note.
She took to the Nine Worlds in great haste, and secured oaths from every thing living that it should not harm a hair upon Baldur’s fair crown. Satisfied, she returned to Åsgard without taking stock of the little mistletoe growing in the nooks and crannies of Yggdrasil. As she passed a shrivelled old giantess crept in the shadows of her wake, picking that forgotten flower.
In Åsgard the Gods made a great game of Baldur’s seeming invulnerability. It started with a slap in the face, a punch in the gut. But a child could laugh these off. They pelted him with hammers whose heads bent against his head, they pummeled him with stones which fell harmlessly, limply aside. Nothing could harm him. It was true. All played into the game, all except for Baldur’s brother, Hodur.
Being blind, there was little Hodur could do. He contented himself to listen a few feet away. Loki, too, grew bored of the Gods’ laughter so he sat beside benighted Hodur and grinned. “Who’s there?” the blind God demanded.
“A friend,” Loki said, “why don’t you play?”
Hodur laughed, “how can I hit a mark I cannot see?”
“Let me help,” Loki said as he grabbed the blind God’s hand and led him to where Baldur stood. “Here, hold this bow, do you know how?” Hodur did. “Knock this arrow,” wicked Loki said, “I made it myself.” Hodur readied the arrow whose shaft bore in knotwork the likeness of the mistletoe whose essence was woven into the wood.
“Let her fly,” Loki said.
Silence followed, as Baldur fell dead. The stern and miserable silence gave way to bitter lamentations. Now as eyes fell upon Hodur, Loki had slinked away to leave him to his fate. His fate was swift. He was cut down by a vengeful bystander, and the lamentations of the women reached a peak.
A funeral pyre was arranged. Frigga put on her brave face and was a beacon for her people, and Odin knelt down and spoke words on his son’s fair brow. Words he would never utter again, and what was spoken can never be known. Then the pyre was lit. In short order the Gods held council. Odin took leave to seek for Baldur’s whereabouts, at Frigga’s behest who could not bear the grief.
When Odin returned they picked Hermod to quest for them. He sought Modgud, passed her on the Helgrind, and came before Hel. Baldur, for all to see, was seated in honour in her kingdom as a guest. The two spoke, and Baldur have to Hermod his father’s ring – bequeathed to him on the the pyre. Hel listened to Hermod and made her offer. As it had been that all in creation had to swear against harming him, if all in creation would weep than she would let him go.
When Frigga got the news, she herself went out once more as she had before. She raised such grief that the tears of the mournful might have drowned the world over. But for one who would not weep. A horrid old crone named Thokk had only one thing to say:
And so Baldur stayed in Helheim. There he would stay, as the world carried on without him. And as life without joy is not worth living, Ragnarøk was all that could come of Baldur’s absence. But a curious thing happened. Nothing of Surtr’s fire or Fimbul’s ice could touch those in the womb of the Earth, and neither could the flood nor Nifle’s mist betray them. When all was said and done, the Helgrind swung ajar and what Hel kept, she gave back to the world. Baldur and Hodur, like night and day, returned to a new Earth and new Heavens. Reborn from Jörd’s great Womb, they came again as they were before as those in the know have done for ages. They rejoined the children of the Gods and ushered in a new age among the children of men. An age where the memories and struggles of the old were confined to the golden tablets and games, songs and sagas.
So it is, I explained, that in life I like to think that those struggles we have are stones against which we sharpen ourselves. Had Frigga gotten her wish and Baldur been ripped from the Womb of the Earth, the Cauldron of Renaissance, he would have died again at Ragnarøk. But instead nature took her course and Baldur’s Weird was that light and mirth should come again. What pains we think we have, have often taken the place of greater pains. And we find often in passing that roadblocks in life give us time to prepare for challenges that arrive later. So it was for Odin who saw the End of All Things and made the way for his people, there was no prayer, no servility to faith or science, only Will There are no tender mercies as the Christian expects, but there are cheques and balances.
Nature balances herself out in the end, as Ørlög seeks homeostasis, a fine thing for Midgard where we live – the middleground, proving ground between God and Man, good and evil, light and dark, the crossroads of all things where Verdandi is torn between Urd and Skuld who between them will eat the world on the dollar of the eternal now.