- Pronunciation: bawl-der
- Other names: Baldr, Baldur
- Powers: Love, peace, justice and light
- Parents: Odin and Frigg
- Children: Forseti
- Counterpart: Nanna
The Norse certainly loved their heroes, and in their pantheon of gods there were surely many, but even the mighty Thor, god of thunder, could not hope to be as adored and loved as Balder.
Who Is Balder?
Balder is the god of almost all that is good. He is associated with everything that is beautiful and joyous in the world. Like the much beloved Freyr, Balder was a friendly and kind spirit. Unlike Freyr, however, he was not particularly mighty, nor endowed with great power as Thor might have been.
Everyone loved to be around Balder. Wherever he went and whoever he spent his time with, the encounter was inevitably joyous.
As with the god Freyr, Balder is shown to us as a tall and handsome man with long hair and a thick beard. He is muscular and wears only a loincloth and a cape. Some paintings, perhaps from later interpretations, also show him with armor or a tunic, but the bare-chested version seems more popular.
Balder can be seen with a shield and a spear, but not often in a stance ready for battle, showing that he is not a warlike god. He appears with his spear pointing downwards, and his shield standing on the ground.
Baldr is one of the two sons of Odin and Frigg. He had a twin brother by the name of Hodr, who was blind. His wife was Nanna, who was a daughter of the god Nep. Together, they had a son, Forseti. Their son is the god of justice in the Norse tradition.
Origin and History
As with nearly all the gods and creatures from Norse mythology, the main source of information we have on Balder comes from the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda. His name’s meaning is the subject of much argumentation, but the most likely answer is that is simply comes from the Old Norse word for “bold,” which Balder certainly was not, so if this is the correct name, it’s a bit of a mystery as to why.
For a god that is beloved, it’s ironic that what he is mostly remembered for in tales is his tragic death. Of course, it’s likely that such a perfect and beloved character was created specifically with the purpose of sharpening the edge of the tragedy, but the fact is that Balder’s death is the god’s greatest and lasting legacy.
A Dark Prophecy
At some point, Balder began to have terrible dreams foretelling his death. Since everyone loved him so much, this was also worrying and disturbing to the other gods. Fearing that these dreams were prophetic, they sought a solution to prevent his death from coming to pass. The wise Odin took up the task of finding a final solution. Odin got on his horse, Sleipnir, and literally hoofed it to the underworld, where a deceased female seer resided. When Odin got there (in disguise) the underworld was decorated and set for a party. It would then turn out that the seeress had foreseen Balder’s death and they were preparing a suitable welcome for someone of this status.
When Odin told Frigg about what was prophesied to befall their son, she went to every single thing in the cosmos and got an oath from them that they would not harm Balder.
The Death of Balder
Thanks to these oaths, Balder essentially became invincible. The other gods thought that this was hilarious and took pleasure in throwing all sorts of things at Balder to watch them bounce harmlessly off him.
Loki, the god of mischief, saw this as a great opportunity. He went to Frigg in disguise and asked her if she really got an oath from EVERYTHING in the cosmos. Frigg let slip that the exception was the humble mistletoe, since she could see no way it would be dangerous.
Armed with this knowledge, Loki went to Balder’s blind brother, Hodr, and offered to let him join in the sport of throwing things at his now invulnerable brother. He handed Hodr a branch of mistletoe and pointed him in the right direction. The branch pierced Balder and struck him dead right there.
If you thought that the world was sad when Princess Diana passed away, that was nothing compared to the cosmic sorrow that was expressed by Balder’s death. Another son of Odin, Hermod, volunteered to ride Sleipner to the underworld and beg Hel, the goddess who ruled that domain, to return him.
Hel agreed to it on the condition that all in the cosmos must weep for Balder. Loki, once again frustrated this plan, since he (in disguise once more) refused to shed a tear and so Balder remained with Hel until Ragnarok, which is the name for the Norse apocalypse.
Balder’s name is well-travelled and can be found in many places in the modern world. Across Europe there are many streets, towns and other places that carry his name or a name derived from it. There is even a village in southern Manitoba named after this god of beauty.
Of course, since Thor has been made a household name again thanks to his incarnation in Marvel Comics, Balder has not been far behind. He is represented as a heroic character and ally of the comic book thunder god.
His name also features prominently on the Baldur’s Gate series of roleplaying video games, a series that is widely considered to be one of the best game series ever made.