THE STORY OF BALDER
 THERE was mirth in King Gunther's dwelling, for the time of
the Yule-feast had come. The broad banquet hall was gayly
decked with cedar and spruce and sprigs of the mistletoe;
and the fires roared in the great chimneys, throwing warmth
and a ruddy glow of light into every corner of the room. The
long table fairly groaned under its weight of good cheer. At
its head sat the kings and the earl-folk; and before them,
on a silver platter of rare workmanship, was the head of a
huge wild boar,—the festal offering to the good Frey, in
honor of whom the Yule-feast was held. For now the sun,
which had been driven by the Frost-giants far away towards
the Southland, had begun to return, and Frey was on his way
once more to scatter peace and plenty over the land.
The harp and the wassail-bowl went round; and each one of
the company sang a song, or told a story, or in some way did
his part to add to the evening's enjoyment. And a young
sea-king who sat at Siegfried's side told most bewitching
tales of other lands which
 lie beyond Old Ægir's kingdom.
Then, when the harp came to him, he sang the wondrous song
of the shaping of the earth. And all who heard were charmed
with the sweet sound and with the pleasant words. He sang of
the sunlight and the south winds and the summer time, of the
storms and the snow and the sombre shadows of the
Northland. And he sang of the dead Ymir, the giant whose
flesh had made the solid earth, and whose blood the sea, and
whose bones the mountains, whose teeth the cliffs and crags,
and whose skull the heavens. And he sang of Odin, the
earth's preserver, the Giver of life, the Father of all; and
of the Asa-folk who dwell in Asgard; and of the ghostly
heroes in Valhal. Then he sang of the heaven-tower of the
thunder-god, and of the shimmering Asa-bridge, or rainbow,
all afire; and, lastly, of the four dwarfs who hold the blue
sky-dome above them, and of the elves of the mountains, and
of the wood-sprites and the fairies. Then he laid aside his
harp, and told the old but ever-beautiful story of the death
of Balder the Good.
Balder, as you know, was Odin's son; and he was the
brightest and best of all the Asa-folk. Wherever he went,
there were gladness and light-hearted mirth, and blooming
flowers, and singing birds, and murmuring waterfalls.
Balder, too, was a hero, but not one of the blustering kind,
like Thor. He slew no giants; he never
 went into battle; he
never tried to make for himself a name among the dwellers of
the mid-world; and yet he was a hero of the noblest type. He
dared to do right, and to stand up for the good, the true,
and the beautiful. There are still some such heroes, but the
world does not always hear of them.
Hoder, the blind king of the winter months, was Balder's
brother, and as unlike him as darkness is unlike daylight.
While one rejoiced, and was merry and cheerful, the other
was low-spirited and sad. While one scattered sunshine and
blessings everywhere, the other carried with him a sense of
cheerlessness and gloom. Yet the brothers loved each other
One night Balder dreamed a strange dream, and when he awoke
he could not forget it. All day long he was thoughtful and
sad, and he was not his own bright, happy self. His mother,
the Asa-queen, saw that something troubled him; and she
"Whence comes that cloud upon your brow? Will you suffer it
to chase away all your sunshine? and will you become, like
your brother Hoder, all frowns and sighs and tears?"
Then Balder told her what he had dreamed; and she, too, was
sorely troubled, for it was a frightful dream, and foreboded
dire disasters. Then both she and Balder went to Odin, and
to him they told the cause of their uneasiness. And the
All-Father also was distressed; for he knew that such
dreams, dreamed by Asa-folk, were the forewarnings of evil.
So he saddled his
eight-  footed steed Sleipner; and, without
telling any one where he was going, he rode with the speed
of the winds down into the Valley of Death. The dog that
guards the gateway to that dark and doleful land came out to
meet him. Blood was on the fierce beast's breast, and he
barked loudly and angrily at the All-Father and his wondrous
horse. But Odin sang sweet magic songs as he drew near; and
the dog was charmed with the sound, and Sleipner and his
rider went onward in safety. And they passed the dark halls
of the pale-faced queen, and came to the east gate of the
valley. There stood the low hut of a witch who lived in
darkness, and, like the Norns, spun the thread of fate for
gods and men.
Odin stood before the hut, and sang a wondrous song of
witchery and enchantment; and he laid a spell upon the weird
woman, and forced her to come out of her dark dwelling, and
to answer his questions.
"Who is this stranger?" asked the witch. "Who is this
unknown who calls me from my narrow home, and sets an
irksome task for me? Long have I been left alone in my quiet
house; nor recked I that the snow sometimes covered with its
cold white mantle both me and my resting place, or that the
pattering rain and the gently falling dew often moistened
the roof of my dwelling. Long have I rested quietly, and I
do not wish now to be aroused."
"I am Valtam's son," said Odin; "and I come to learn of
thee. Tell me, I pray, for whom are the soft couches
prepared that I saw in the broad halls of
 Death? For whom
are the jewels, and the rings, and the rich clothing, and
the shining shield?"
"All are for Balder, Odin's son," she answered. "And the
mead which has been brewed for him is hidden beneath the
Then Odin asked who would be the slayer of Balder, and she
answered that Hoder was the one who would send the shining
Asa to the halls of Death.
"Who will avenge Balder, and bring distress upon his
slayer?" asked Odin.
"A son of Earth but one day old shall be Balder's avenger.
Go thou now home, Odin; for I know thou art not Valtam's
son. Go home; and none shall again awaken me, or disturb me
at my task, until the new day shall dawn, and Balder shall
rule over the young world in its purity, and there shall be
no more Death."
Then Odin rode sorrowfully homeward; but he told no one of
his journey to the Dark Valley, nor of what the weird witch
had said to him.
Balder's mother, the Asa-queen, could not rest because of
the ill-omened dream that her son had had; and in her
distress she called all the Asa-folk together to consider
what should be done. But they were speechless with sorrow
and alarm; and none could offer advice, nor set her mind at
ease. Then she sought out every living creature, and every
lifeless thing upon the earth, and asked each one to swear
that it would not on any account hurt Balder, nor touch him
to do him harm. And this oath was willingly made by fire and
 water, earth and air, by all beasts and creeping things and
birds and fishes, by the rocks and by the trees and all
metals; for every thing loved Balder the Good.
Then the Asa-folk thought that great honor was shown to
Balder each time any thing refused to hurt him; and to show
their love for him, as well as to amuse themselves, they
often hewed at him with their battle-axes, or struck at him
with their sharp swords, or hurled toward him their heavy
lances. For every weapon turned aside from its course, and
would neither mark nor bruise the shining target at which it
was aimed; and Balder's princely beauty shone as bright and
as pure as ever.
When Loki the Mischief-maker saw how all things loved and
honored Balder, his heart was filled with jealous hate, and
he sought all over the earth for some beast or bird or tree
or lifeless thing, that had not taken the oath. But he could
find not one. Then, disguised as a fair maiden, he went to
Fensal Hall, where dwelt Balder's mother. The fair Asa-queen
was busy at her distaff, with her golden spindles, spinning
flax to be woven into fine linen for the gods. And her
maid-servant, Fulla of the flowing hair, sat on a stool
beside her. When the queen saw Loki, she asked,—
"Whence come you, fair stranger? and what favor would you
ask of Odin's wife?"
"I come," answered the disguised Loki, "from the plains of
Ida, where the gods meet for pleasant pastime,
 as well as to
talk of the weightier matters of their kingdom."
"And how do they while away their time to-day?" asked the
"They have a pleasant game which they call Balder's Honor,"
was the answer. "The shining hero stands before them as a
target, and each one tries his skill at hurling some weapon
toward him. First Odin throws at him the spear Gungner,
which never before was known to miss its mark; but it passes
harmlessly over Balder's head. Then Thor takes up a huge
rock, and hurls it full at Balder's breast; but it turns in
its course, and will not smite the sun-bright target. Then
Tyr seizes a battle-axe, and strikes at Balder as though he
would hew him down; but the keen edge refuses to touch him:
and in this way the Asa-folk show honor to the best of their
The Asa-queen smiled in the glad pride of her mother-heart,
and said, "Yes, every thing shows honor to the best of
Odin's sons; for neither metal nor wood nor stone nor fire
nor water will touch Balder to do him harm."
"Is it true, then," asked Loki, "that every thing has made
an oath to you, and promised not to hurt your son?"
And the queen, not thinking what harm an unguarded word
might do, answered, "Every thing has promised, save a little
feeble sprig that men call the mistletoe. So small and weak
it is, that I knew it
 could never harm any one; and so I
passed it by, and did not ask it to take the oath."
Then Loki went out of Fensal Hall, and left the Asa-queen at
her spinning. And he walked briskly away, and paused not
until he came to the eastern side of Valhal, where, on the
branches of an old oak, the mistletoe grew. Rudely he tore
the plant from its supporting branch, and hid it under his
cloak. Then he walked leisurely back to the place where the
Asa-folk were wont to meet in council.
The next day the Asas went out, as usual, to engage in
pleasant pastimes on the plains of Ida. When they had tired
of leaping and foot-racing and tilting, they placed Balder
before them as a target again; and, as each threw his weapon
toward the shining mark, they laughed to see the missile
turn aside from its course, and refuse to strike the honored
one. But blind Hoder stood sorrowfully away from the others,
and did not join in any of their sports. Loki, seeing this,
went to him and said,—
"Brother of the gloomy brow, why do you not take part with
us in our games?"
"I am blind," answered Hoder. "I can neither leap, nor run,
nor throw the lance."
"But you can shoot arrows from your bow," said Loki.
"Alas!" said Hoder, "that I can do only as some one shall
direct my aim, for I can see no target."
"Do you hear that laughter?" asked Loki. "Thor
 has hurled
the straight trunk of a pine tree at your brother; and,
rather than touch such a glorious mark; it has turned aside,
and been shivered to pieces upon the rocks over there. It is
thus that the Asa-folk, and all things living and lifeless,
honor Balder. Hoder is the only one who hangs his head, and
fears to do his part. Come, now, let me fit this little
arrow in your bow, and then, as I point it, do you shoot.
When you hear the gods laugh, you will know that your arrow
has shown honor to the hero by refusing to hit him."
And Hoder, thinking no harm, did as Loki wished. And the
deadly arrow sped from the bow, and pierced the heart of
shining Balder, and he sank lifeless upon the ground. Then
the Asa-folk who saw it were struck speechless with sorrow
and dismay; and, had it not been that the Ida plains where
they then stood were sacred to peace, they would have seized
upon Loki, and put him to death.
Forthwith the world was draped in mourning for Balder the
Good; the birds stopped singing, and flew with drooping
wings to the far Southland; the beasts sought to hide
themselves in their lairs and in the holes of the ground;
the trees shivered and sighed until their leaves fell
withered to the earth; the flowers closed their eyes, and
died; the rivers stopped flowing, and dark and threatening
billows veiled the sea; even the sun shrouded his face, and
withdrew silently towards the south.
When Balder's good mother heard the sad news, she
 left her
golden spindle in Fensal Hall, and with her maidens hastened
to the Ida plains, where the body of her son still lay.
Nanna, the faithful wife of Balder, was already there; and
wild was her grief at sight of the lifeless loved one. And
all the Asa-folk—save guilty Loki, who had fled for his
life—stood about them in dumb amazement. But Odin was the
most sorrowful of all; for he knew, that, with Balder, the
world had lost its most gladsome life.
They lifted the body, and carried it down to the sea, where
the great ship "Ringhorn," which Balder himself had built,
lay ready to be launched. And a noble company followed, and
stood upon the beach, and bewailed the untimely death of the
hero. First came Odin, with his grief-stricken queen, and
then his troop of handmaidens, the Valkyrien, followed by
his ravens Hugin and Munin. Then came Thor in his goat-drawn
car, and Heimdal on his horse Goldtop; then Frey, in his
wagon, behind the boar Gullinbruste of the golden bristles;
then Freyja, in her chariot drawn by cats, came weeping
tears of gold; lastly, poor blind Hoder, overcome with
grief, was carried thither on the back of one of the
Frost-giants. And Old Ægir, the Ocean-king, raised his
dripping head above the water, and gazed with dewy eyes upon
the scene; and the waves, as if affrighted, left off their
playing, and were still.
High on the deck they built the funeral pile; and they
placed the body upon it, and covered it with costly
garments, and with woods of the finest scent; and the
horse which had been Balder's they slew, and placed beside
him, that he might not have to walk to the halls of Death.
And Odin took from his finger the ring Draupner, the earth's
enricher, and laid it on the pile. Then Nanna, the faithful
wife, was overcome with grief, and her gentle heart was
broken, and she fell lifeless at the feet of the Asa-queen.
And they carried her upon the ship, and laid her by her
When all things were in readiness to set fire to the pile,
the gods tried to launch the ship; but it was so heavy that
they could not move it. So they sent in haste to Jotunheim
for the stout giantess Hyrroken; and she came with the speed
of the whirlwind, and riding on a wolf, which she guided
with a bridle of writhing snakes.
"What will you have me do?" she asked.
"We would have you launch the great ship 'Ringhorn,' "
"That I will do!" roared the grim giantess. And, giving the
vessel a single push, she sent it sliding with speed into
the deep waters of the bay. Then she gave the word to her
grisly steed, and she flew onwards and away, no one knew
The "Ringhorn" floated nobly upon the water,—a worthy bier
for the body which it bore. The fire was set to the
funeral pile, and the red flames shot upwards to the sky;
but their light was but a flickering beam when matched with
the sun-bright beauty of Balder, whose body they consumed.
 Then the sorrowing folk turned away, and went back to their
homes: a cheerless gloom rested heavily where light gladness
had ruled before. And, when they reached the high halls of
Asgard, the Asa-queen spoke, and said,—
"Who now, for the love of Balder and his stricken mother,
will undertake an errand? Who will go down into the Valley
of Death, and seek for Balder, and ransom him, and bring him
back to Asgard and the mid-world?"
Then Hermod the Nimble, the brother of Balder, answered, "I
will go. I will find him, and, with Hela's leave, will bring
And he mounted Sleipner, the eight-footed steed, and
galloped swiftly away. Nine days and nine nights he rode
through strange valleys and mountain gorges, where the sun's
light had never been, and through gloomy darkness and
fearful silence, until he came to the black river, and the
glittering, golden bridge which crosses it. Over the bridge
his strong horse carried him; although it shook and swayed
and threatened to throw him into the raging, inky flood
below. On the other side a maiden keeps the gate, and Hermod
stopped to pay the toll.
"What is thy name?" she asked.
"My name is Hermod, and I am called the Nimble," he
"What is thy father's name?"
"His name is Odin. Mayhap you have heard of him."
 "Why ridest thou with such thunderous speed? Five kingdoms
of dead men passed over this bridge yesterday, and it shook
not with their weight as it did with thee and thy strange
steed. Thou art not of the pale multitude that are wont to
pass this gate. What is thy errand? and why ridest thou to
the domains of the dead?"
"I go to find my brother Balder," answered Hermod. "It is
but a short time since he unwillingly came down into these
"Three days ago," said the maiden, "Balder passed this way,
and by his side rode the faithful Nanna. So bright was his
presence, even here, that the whole valley was lighted up as
it had never before been lighted. The black river glittered
like a gem; the frowning mountains smiled for once; and Hela
herself, the queen of these regions, slunk far away into her
most distant halls. But Balder went on his way, and even now
he sups with Nanna in the dark castle over yonder."
Then Hermod rode forward till he came to the castle walls.
These were built of black marble; and the iron gate was
barred and bolted, and none who went in had ever yet come
out. Hermod called loudly to the porter to open the gate and
let him in; but no one seemed to hear or heed him, for the
words of the living are unknown in that place. Then he drew
the saddle-girths more tightly around the horse Sleipner,
and urged him forward. High up, the great horse
 leaped; and
he sprang clear over the gates, and landed at the open door
of the great hall. Leaving his steed, Hermod went boldly in;
and there he found his brother Balder and the faithful Nanna
seated at the festal board, and honored as the most worthy
of all the guests. With Balder, Hermod staid until the night
had passed; and many were the pleasant words they spoke.
When morning came, Hermod went into the presence of Hela,
"O mighty queen! I come to ask a boon of thee. Balder the
Good, whom both gods and men loved, has been sent to dwell
with thee here in thy darksome house; and all the world
weeps for him, and has donned the garb of mourning, and
cannot be consoled until his bright light shall shine upon
them again. And the gods have sent me, his brother, to ask
thee to let Balder ride back with me to Asgard, to his
noble, sorrowing mother, the Asa-queen; for then will hope
live again in the hearts of men, and happiness will return
to the earth."
The Death-queen was silent for a moment; and then she said
in a sad voice, "Hardly can I believe that any being is so
greatly loved by things living and lifeless; for surely
Balder is not more the friend of earth than I am, and yet
men love me not. But go thou back to Asgard; and, if every
thing shall weep for Balder, then I will send him to you.
But, if any thing shall refuse to weep, then I will keep him
in my halls."
So Hermod made ready to return home; and Balder gave him the
ring Draupner to carry to his father as a
 keepsake; and
Nanna sent to the queen-mother a rich carpet of purest
green. Then the nimble messenger mounted his horse, and rode
swiftly back over the dark river, and through the frowning
valleys, until he at last reached Odin's halls.
When the Asa-folk learned upon what terms they might have
Balder again with them, they sent heralds all over the world
to beseech every thing to mourn for him. And men and beasts,
and creeping things, and birds and fishes, and trees and
stones, and air and water,—all things, living and lifeless,
joined in weeping for the lost Balder.
But, as the heralds were on their way back to Asgard, they
met a giantess named Thok, and they asked her to join in the
universal grief. And she answered, "What good thing did
Balder ever do for Thok? What gladness did he ever bring
her? If she should weep for him, it would be with dry tears.
Let Hela keep him in her halls."
"And yet the day shall come," added the story-teller, "when
the words of the weird woman to Odin shall prove true; and
Balder shall come again to rule over a newborn world in
which there shall be no wrong-doing and no more death."