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The myth of the Norse god Balder

“Once upon a time Balder dreamed heavy dreams which seemed to forbode his death. Thereupon the gods held a council and resolved to make Balder secure against every danger. So the goddess Frigg took an oath from fire and water, iron and all metals, stones and earth, from trees, sicknesses and poisons, and from all four-footed beasts, birds and creeping things, that they would not hurt Balder. When this was done Balder was deemed invulnerable; so the gods amused themselves by setting him in their midst, while some shot at him, others hewed at him, and others threw stones at him. But whatever they did, nothing could hurt him; and at this they were all glad.”

This print shows the evil god Loki guiding the blind god Hother to kill Balder with a branch of mistletoe. (from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript)

“Only Loki, the mischief maker, was displeased, and he went in the guise of an old women to Frigg, who told him that the weapons of the gods could not hurt Balder, since she had made them all swear not to hurt him. Then Loki asked, ‘have all things sworn to spare Balder?’ She answered, ‘East of Valhalla grows a plant called mistletoe; it seemed to me too young to swear’. So Loki went and pulled the mistletoe and took it to the assembly of the gods. There he found the blind god Hother standing at the outside of the circle. Loki asked him, ‘Why do you not shoot at Balder?’ Hother answered, ‘Because I do not see where he stands; besides I have no weapon.’ Then said Loki, ‘Do like the rest and show Balder honour, as they all do. I will show you where he stands, and do you shoot at him with this twig.’ Hother took the mistletoe and threw it at Balder, as Loki directed him. The mistletoe struck Balder and pierced him through and through, and he fell down dead. For a while the gods stood speechless, then they lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.”

The story goes on to describe the burning of Balder’s body in a funeral pyre on his ship. In another version, the goddess Frigg persuaded the other gods to restore Balder to life. She repayed their obliging wizardry with kisses. The gods also made the mistletoe promise that it would never again do an uncharitable deed but would forever be consecrated to acts of happiness and usefulness. Frigg was given the authority of making the mistletoe live up to this pledge. So perhaps the hanging of mistletoe and the kissing relate to the goodness the plant bestows, and the habits of Frigg, the goddess of love and beauty.


The story of Balder is set out in Frazer’s monumental work The Golden Bough.



Written by Bryan Barlow, updated 29 August, 2012 by webmaster, ANBG (