Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
BALDER AND THE MISTLETOE
OKI had given up trying to revenge himself upon Thor. The
Thunder Lord seemed proof against his tricks. And indeed
nowadays Loki hated him no more than he did the other
gods. He hated some because they always frowned at him;
he hated others because they only laughed and jeered. Some
he hated for their distrust and some for their fear. But he
hated them all because they were happy and good and
mighty, while he was wretched, bad, and of little might. Yet
it was all his own fault that this was so. He might have been
an equal with the best of them, if he had not chosen to set
himself against everything that was good. He had made
them all his enemies, and the more he did to injure them, the
more he hated them,—which is always the way with evil-doers.
Loki longed to see them all unhappy. He slunk about
in Asgard with a glum face and wrinkled forehead. He dared
not meet the eyes of any one, lest they should read his
heart. For he was plotting evil, the
 greatest of evils, which
should bring sorrow to all his enemies at once and turn
Asgard into a land of mourning. The Æsir did not
guess the whole truth, yet they felt the bitterness of the
thoughts which Loki bore; and whenever in the dark he
passed unseen, the gods shuddered as if a breath of evil had
blown upon them, and even the flowers drooped before his
Now at this time Balder the beautiful had a strange dream.
He dreamed that a cloud came before the sun, and all Asgard
was dark. He waited for the cloud to drift away, and for the
sun to smile again. But no; the sun was gone forever, he
thought; and Balder awoke feeling very sad. The next night
Balder had another dream. This time he dreamed that it was
still dark as before; the flowers were withered and the gods
were growing old; even Idun's magic apples could not make
them young again. And all were weeping and wringing their
hands as though some dreadful thing had happened. Balder
awoke feeling strangely frightened, yet he said no word to
Nanna his wife, for he did not want to trouble her.
 When it came night again Balder slept and dreamed a third
dream, a still more terrible one than the other two had been.
He thought that in the dark, lonely world there was nothing
but a sad voice, which cried, "The sun is gone! The spring is
gone! Joy is gone! For Balder the beautiful is dead, dead,
This time Balder awoke with a cry, and Nanna asked him
what was the matter. So he had to tell her of his dream, and
he was sadly frightened; for in those days dreams were
often sent to folk as messages, and what the gods dreamed
usually came true. Nanna ran sobbing to Queen Frigg, who
was Balder's mother, and told her all the dreadful dream,
asking what could be done to prevent it from coming true.
Now Balder was Queen Frigg's dearest son. Thor was older
and stronger, and more famous for his great deeds; but Frigg
loved far better gold-haired Balder. And indeed he was the
best-beloved of all the Æsir; for he was gentle, fair,
and wise, and wherever he went folk grew happy and
light-hearted at the very sight of him, just as we do when
 we first
catch a glimpse of spring peeping over the hilltop into
Winterland. So when Frigg heard of Balder's woeful dream,
she was frightened almost out of her wits.
"He must not die! He shall not die!" she cried. "He is so
dear to all the world, how could there be anything which
would hurt him?"
And then a wonderful thought came to Frigg. "I will travel
over the world and make all things promise not to injure my
boy," she said. "Nothing shall pass my notice. I will get the
word of everything."
So first she went to the gods themselves, gathered on Ida
Plain for their morning exercise; and telling them of Balder's
dream, she begged them to give the promise. Oh, what a
shout arose when they heard her words!
"Hurt Balder!—our Balder! Not for the world, we promise!
The dream is wrong,—there is nothing so cruel as to wish
harm to Balder the beautiful!" they cried. But deep in their
hearts they felt a secret fear which would linger until they
should hear that all things had given their promise. What if
 harm were indeed to come to Balder! The thought was too
Then Frigg went to see all the beasts who live in field or
forest or rocky den. Willingly they gave their promise never
to harm hair of gentle Balder. "For he is ever kind to us,"
they said, "and we love him as if he were one of ourselves.
Not with claws or teeth or hoofs or horns will any beast
Next Frigg spoke to the birds and fishes, reptiles and
insects. And all—even the venomous serpents—cried that
Balder was their friend, and that they would never do aught
to hurt his dear body. "Not with beak or talon, bite or sting
or poison fang, will one of us hurt Balder," they promised.
After doing this, the anxious mother traveled over the whole
round world, step by step; and from all the things that are
she got the same ready promise never to harm Balder the
beautiful. All the trees and plants promised; all the stones
and metals; earth, air, fire, and water; sun, snow, wind, and
rain, and all diseases that men know,—each gave to Frigg the
word of promise which
 she wanted. So at last, footsore and
weary, she came back to Asgard with the joyful news that
Balder must be safe, for that there was nothing in the world
but had promised to be his harmless friend.
Then there was rejoicing in Asgard, as if the gods had won
one of their great victories over the giants. The noble
Æsir and the heroes who had died in battle upon the
earth, and who had come to Valhalla to live happily ever
after, gathered on Ida Plain to celebrate the love of all nature
There they invented a famous game, which was to prove
how safe he was from the bite of death. They stationed
Balder in the midst of them, his face glowing like the sun
with the bright light which ever shone from him. And as he
stood there all unarmed and smiling, by turns they tried all
sorts of weapons against him; they made as if to beat him
with sticks, they stoned him with stones, they shot at him
with arrows and hurled mighty spears straight at his heart.
It was a merry game, and a shout of laughter went up as
each stone fell harmless at Balder's feet, each stick broke
 it touched his shoulders, each arrow overshot his
head, and each spear turned aside. For neither stone nor
wood nor flinty arrow-point nor barb of iron would break
the promise which each had given. Balder was safe with
them, just as if he were bewitched. He remained unhurt
among the missiles which whizzed about his head, and
which piled up in a great heap around the charmed spot
whereon he stood.
Now among the crowd that watched these games with such
enthusiasm, there was one face that did not smile, one voice
that did not rasp itself hoarse with cheering. Loki saw how
every one and every thing loved Balder, and he was jealous.
He was the only creature in all the world that hated Balder
and wished for his death. Yet Balder had never done harm
to him. But the wicked plan that Loki had been cherishing
was almost ripe, and in this poison fruit was the seed of the
greatest sorrow that Asgard had ever known.
While the others were enjoying their game of love, Loki
stole away unperceived from Ida Plain, and with a wig of
gray hair, a long
 gown, and a staff, disguised himself as an
old woman. Then he hobbled down Asgard streets till he
came to the palace of Queen Frigg, the mother of Balder.
"Good-day, my lady," quoth the old woman, in a cracked
voice. "What is that noisy crowd doing yonder in the green
meadow? I am so deafened by their shouts that I can hardly
hear myself think."
"Who are you, good mother, that you have not heard?" said
Queen Frigg in surprise. "They are shooting at my son
Balder. They are proving the word which all things have
given me,—the promise not to injure my dear son. And that
promise will be kept."
The old crone pretended to be full of wonder. "So, now!"
she cried. "Do you mean to say that every single thing in
the whole world has promised not to hurt your son? I can
scarce believe it; though, to be sure, he is as fine a fellow as
I ever saw." Of course this flattery pleased Frigg.
"You say true, mother," she answered proudly, "he is a
noble son. Yes, everything has promised,—that is,
 one tiny little plant that is not worth
The old woman's eyes twinkled wickedly. "And what is
that foolish little plant, my dear?" she asked coaxingly.
"It is the mistletoe that grows in the meadow west of
Valhalla. It was too young to promise, and too harmless to
bother with," answered Frigg carelessly.
After this her questioner hobbled painfully away. But as
soon as she was out of sight from the Queen's palace, she
picked up the skirts of her gown and ran as fast as she
could to the meadow west of Valhalla. And there sure
enough, as Frigg had said, was a tiny sprig of mistletoe
growing on a gnarled oak-tree. The false Loki took out a
knife which she carried in some hidden pocket and cut off
the mistletoe very carefully. Then she trimmed and shaped
it so that it was like a little green arrow, pointed at one end,
but very slender.
"Ho, ho!" chuckled the old woman. "So you are the only
thing in all the world that is too young to make a promise,
my little mistletoe. Well, young as you are, you
 must go on
an errand for me to-day. And maybe you shall bear a
message of my love to Balder the beautiful."
Then she hobbled back to Ida Plain, where the merry game
was still going on around Balder. Loki quietly passed
unnoticed through the crowd, and came close to the elbow
of a big dark fellow who was standing lonely outside the
circle of weapon-throwers. He seemed sad and forgotten,
and he hung his head in a pitiful way. It was Höd, the
blind brother of Balder.
The old woman touched his arm. "Why do you not join the
game with the others?" she asked, in her cracked voice, "Are
you the only one to do your brother no honor? Surely, you
are big and strong enough to toss a spear with the best of
Höd touched his sightless eyes madly. "I am blind,"
he said. "Strength I have, greater than belongs to most of the
Æsir. But I cannot see to aim a weapon. Besides, I
have no spear to test upon him. Yet how gladly would I do
honor to dear Balder!" and he sighed deeply.
"It were a pity if I could not find you at
 least a little stick
to throw," said Loki sympathetically. "I am only a poor old
woman, and of course I have no weapon. But ah,—here is a
green twig which you can use as an arrow, and I will guide
your arm, poor fellow."
Höd's dark face lighted up, for he was eager to take
his turn in the game. So he thanked her, and grasped eagerly
the little arrow which she put into his hand. Loki held him
by the arm, and together they stepped into the circle which
surrounded Balder. And when it was Höd's turn to
throw his weapon, the old woman stood at his elbow and
guided his big arm as it hurled the twig of mistletoe towards
where Balder stood.
Oh, the sad thing that befell! Straight through the air flew
the little arrow, straight as magic and Loki's arm could direct
it. Straight to Balder's heart it sped, piercing through jerkin
and shirt and all, to give its bitter message of "Loki's love,"
as he had said. With a cry Balder fell forward on the grass.
And that was the end of sunshine and spring and joy in
Asgard, for the dream had come true, and Balder the
beautiful was dead.
 When the Æsir saw what had happened, there was a
great shout of fear and horror, and they rushed upon
Höd, who had thrown the fatal arrow.
"What is it? What have I done?" asked the poor blind
brother, trembling at the tumult which had followed his
"You have slain Balder!" cried the Æsir. "Wretched
Höd, how could you do it?"
"It was the old woman—the evil old woman, who stood at
my elbow and gave me a little twig to throw," gasped
Höd. "She must be a witch."
Then the Æsir scattered over Ida Plain to look for the
old woman who had done the evil deed; but she had
"It must be Loki," said wise Heimdal. It is Loki's last and
"Oh, my Balder, my beautiful Balder!" wailed Queen Frigg,
throwing herself on the body of her son. "If I had only
made the mistletoe give me the promise, you would have
been saved. It was I who told Loki of the mistletoe,—so it
is I who have killed you. Oh, my son, my son!"
 But Father Odin was speechless with grief. His sorrow was
greater than that of all the others, for he best understood the
dreadful misfortune which had befallen Asgard. Already a
cloud had come before the sun, so that it would never be
bright day again. Already the flowers had begun to fade and
the birds had ceased to sing. And already the Æsir
had begun to grow old and joyless,—all because the little
mistletoe had been too young to give a promise to Queen
"Balder the beautiful is dead!" the cry went echoing through
all the world, and everything that was sorrowed at the
sound of the Æsir's weeping.
Balder's brothers lifted up his beautiful body upon their
great war shields and bore him on their shoulders down to
the seashore. For, as was the custom in those days, they
were going to send him to Hela, the Queen of Death, with
all the things he best had loved in Asgard. And these were,—
after Nanna his wife,—his beautiful horse, and his ship
Hringhorni. So that they would place Balder's body upon
the ship with his horse beside him, and set fire to this
 pile. For by fire was the quickest passage
to Hela's kingdom.
But when they reached the shore, they found that all the
strength of all the Æsir was unable to move
Hringhorni, Balder's ship, into the water. For it was the
largest ship in the world, and it was stranded far up the
"Even the giants bore no ill-will to Balder," said Father
Odin. "I heard the thunder of their grief but now shaking
the hills. Let us for this once bury our hatred of that race
and send to Jotunheim for help to move the ship."
So they sent a messenger to the giantess Hyrrockin, the
hugest of all the Frost People. She was weeping for Balder
when the message came.
"I will go, for Balder's sake," she said. Soon she came riding
fast upon a giant wolf with a serpent for the bridle; and
mighty she was, with the strength of forty Æsir. She
dismounted from her wolf-steed, and tossed the wriggling
reins to one of the men-heroes who had followed Balder and
the Æsir from Valhalla. But he could not hold
 the beast, and it took four heroes to keep him quiet, which they
could only do by throwing him upon the ground and sitting
upon him in a row. And this mortified them greatly.
Then Hyrrockin the giantess strode up to the great ship and
seized it by the prow. Easily she gave a little pull and
presto! it leaped forward on its rollers with such force that
sparks flew from the flint stones underneath and the whole
earth trembled. The boat shot into the waves and out
toward open sea so swiftly that the Æsir were likely
to have lost it entirely, had not Hyrrockin waded out up to
her waist and caught it by the stern just in time.
Thor was angry at her clumsiness, and raised his hammer to
punish her. But the other Æsir held his arm.
"She cannot help being so strong," they whispered. "She
meant to do well. She did not realize how hard she was
pulling. This is no time for anger, brother Thor." So Thor
spared her life, as indeed he ought, for her kindness.
Then Balder's body was borne out to the
 ship and laid upon
a pile of beautiful silks, and furs, and cloth-of-gold, and
woven sunbeams which the dwarfs had wrought. So that his
funeral pyre was more grand than anything which had ever
been seen. But when Nanna, Balder's gentle wife, saw them
ready to kindle the flames under this gorgeous bed, she
could bear her grief no longer. Her loving heart broke, and
they laid her beside him, that they might comfort each other
on their journey to Hela. Thor touched the pile gently with
his hammer that makes the lightning, and the flames burst
forth, lighting up the faces of Balder and Nanna with a
glory. Then they cast upon the fire Balder's war-horse, to
serve his master in the dark country to which he was about
to go. The horse was decked with a harness all of gold, with
jewels studding the bridle and headstall. Last of all Odin laid
upon the pyre his gift to Balder, Draupnir, the precious ring
of gold which the dwarf had made, from which every ninth
night there dropped eight other rings as large and brightly
"Take this with you, dear son, to Hela's palace," said Odin.
"And do not forget the
 friends you leave behind in the now
lonely halls of Asgard."
Then Hyrrockin pushed the great boat out to sea, with its
bonfire of precious things. And on the beach stood all the
Æsir watching it out of sight, all the Æsir and
many besides. For there came to Balder's funeral great
crowds of little dwarfs and multitudes of huge frost giants,
all mourning for Balder the beautiful. For this one time they
were all friends together, forgetting their quarrels of so
many centuries. All of them loved Balder, and were united
to do him honor.
The great ship moved slowly out to sea, sending up a red
fire to color all the heavens. At last it slid below the horizon
softly, as you have often seen the sun set upon the water,
leaving a brightness behind to lighten the dark world for a
This indeed was the sunset for Asgard. The darkness of
sorrow came in earnest after the passing of Balder the
But the punishment of Loki was a terrible thing. And that
came soon and sore.