Thor’s Day Alert #21: Balder’s Dreams
Happy Thor’s Day, everybody!
Of all the Norse gods, Balder is said to be the most beautiful. “Balder the Beautiful” is no cheap moniker when both the Vanir (vain gods) and the Aesir (warlike gods) refer to him so. The gods also agree Balder is the best among them, no doubt because he possesses many qualities they do not; he’s humble, merciful, and kind.
So while the gods love him, I don’t. He seems out of place somehow. And not in a misfit way, but like a ghost. Like something half-formed or not completely tangible. Perhaps Balder is symbolic of the humanity the Norse gods lack.
I could go on, but I won’t. Less of me and more myth is certainly better for this blog. Following, I hope you’ll enjoy a tale written by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Though I’m not a big fan of Balder-related stuff, I like this piece because it shows how a modern writer can mix elements from different mythic source material and bring us something new, without it feeling like a cheap imitation of the original.
Behold, then, Balder’s Dreams, a legitimate contribution to Norse mythology, as excerpted from The Norse Myths:
When the gods and goddesses heard about Balder’s [frightful] dreams they anxiously gathered to discuss their meaning. They said that he was the most merciful, the most gentle and loved of them all, the least deserving of such unwelcome night visitors; they said nothing tainted had ever crossed the threshold of Breidablik before. But all they said only disturbed them more. They could not unravel Balder’s dreams.
“I will go myself,” said Allfather, Balder’s father, “and return with a meaning.” The magician, old as time, stood up and hurried out of the council. He saddled Sleipnir, galloped over the quivering rainbow, and took the long, long track that led north from Midgard down into the gloom and the swirling mists of Niflheim.
Hel’s hound heard Odin coming. The hair on Garm’s throat and chest was caked with blood and he bayed from his cliff cave at the entrrance to the underworld. The Master of Runes took no notice. He galloped so hard that the frozen ground thrummed under Sleipnir’s eight hooves, and he did not let up until he had reached Hel’s forbidding hall.
Here Odin dismounted. He peered into the hall — it was packed out with the dead, and gleaming with gold rings and gold ornaments — and then led Sleipnir round to the east door near which a seeress was buried. Odin stood beside her mound and fixed his one glittering eye upon it. Then he began to use charms and, in the gloom, the pale spectre of the seeress rose out of the earth and loomed over him.
“Who,” she moaned, “who is the stranger who forces me up and unearths me to sorrows? Snow has settled on me, rain has lashed me, dew has seeped through me; I have long been dead.”
“My name is Vegtam the Wanderer,” Odin said, “and I am Valtam’s son. Give me news of Hel; I have travelled already through the other worlds. Why are the gold rings strewn along the benches in Hel’s hall and why is the whole place decorated with gold? Who are you expecting?”
“The shining mead,” said the seeress, “is brewed for Balder; a shield covers the cauldron. For all their glory, the gods will be filled with despair. I was unwilling to speak and I will say no more now.”
“Seeress, you must stay,” Odin said. “You must answer all that I ask. Who will slay Balder and drain the life-blood of Odin’s son?”
“Blind Hod will carry a fatal branch. He will slay Balder and drain the life-blood of Odin’s son. I was unwilling to speak and I will say no more now.”
“Seeress, you must stay,” Odin said. “You must answer all that I ask. Who will take vengeance on Hod? Who will carry Balder’s slayer to the pyre?”
“Rind will lie with Odin,” said the seeress, “and their son will be Vali, born in Vestrsalir, the Western Hall. He will take vengeance when he is only one night old. He will not wash his hands nor comb his hair before he has carried Balder’s slayer to the pyre. I was unwilling to speak and I will say no more now.”
“Seeress, you must stay,” Odin said. “You must answer all that I ask. Who are the maidens who will keen then, and toss their scarves up against the sky?”
“You are not Vegtam,” said the seeress, “as I believed you to be. You are Odin, the magician, old as time.”
“And you are no seeress,” Odin said, “nor are you wise. You are the mother of three monsters.”
“Ride home, Odin, and boast about your skills,” said the seeress. Her voice was rising and gloating. “No one will raise me again until Loki breaks free from his fetters and all the forces of darkness gather before Ragnarok.”
The spectre, pale and gleaming,began to ooze and to sink back into her grave.
Then Odin turned away. He mounted Sleipnir with a heavy heart.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back Tuesday for a special St. Patrick’s Day Althing. (Yes, there’ll be music and beer!)