Baldr’s Stone

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The Frithjof memorial stone at Leikanger in Sogn, also called Baldersteinen. Hans Leganger Reusch, first half 19th century

Baldr (also called Balder or Baldur) is a Germanic sun god, he is the son of Odin and Frigg. According to Snorri Sturluson, however, he has one flaw: he may be wise, but no one sticks to the statements he makes. There are stones named after the sun god and there are stories in other mythologies that are very similar to the one about Baldr.

In Balderhaar, on the border between the Netherlands and Germany, there used to be a sacrificial site for Baldr. The sacrificial site would have been a round open area of ​​24 meters in diameter. In the middle stood an oak tree. After the Christianization a cross was placed in the clearing. Large stones also belonged to the sacrificial site, but these are no longer present.

Hödr throws the mistletoe to Baldr

To Odin and Frigg, it is said, were born twin sons: as dissimilar in character and appearance as two children can be. Hödr, god of darkness, was gloomy, silent, and blind, like the darkness of sin, which he was supposed to represent, while his brother Balder, the beautiful, was venerated as the pure and radiant god of innocence and light.

Baldr lives with his wife in Breidablik, a heavenly place in Asgard where no evil has access. He owns a ship called the Ringhorn. We learn in chapter 32 of the Gylfaginning that Baldr and the goddess Nanna have a son named Forseti who inherits his father’s characteristics and presides over a court where all disputes are resolved. Foseti is the mythical chairman of the thing (or Ding; an assembly of free men who may administer justice and make laws). Breaking a promise to Fosite had to be paid for with death.

The advancing cult of Forseti (along with that of Baldr) is considered part of a Frankish-Frisian cultural revival from around 700, which brought both gods to Scandinavia. To this day, the Icelandic word “forseti” is used to designate a chairman and prime minister.

The accounts of Baldr’s death are found fragmentarily in the Poetic-Edda and at length in the Snorra-Edda and in the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus. Baldr is also mentioned in the Merseburger spells from the Middle Ages. They are the only surviving examples of Continental-Germanic polytheistic religious practice in Old High German. The translation reads:

Phol and Wodan
drove to the woods.
Then the foot of the foal touched Balder/the god
injured.

Then Sinhtgunt sang to him (viz. the foot),
Sunna her sister;
Then Frija sang to him,
Volla her sister;
Then Wodan sang to him,
as he could well.

as a bone injury,
as a blood injury,
as limb injury:
bone to bone,
blood to blood,
limb to limbs:
as glued let them be


Baldr began to have ominous dreams of his own death, which terrified the Aesir. Odin traveled to Niflheim and interrogated the soul of a deceased prophetess (a völva, narrated by the Eddic poem Baldr’s draumar) who predicts Baldr’s fate to him.

Frigg made all the elements, minerals, plants and animals of creation swear never to harm Baldr, who thereby became invulnerable. That’s how they thought they could avoid Baldr’s fate.

Odin and his horse Sleipnir encounter an unnamed völva. Sleipnir and the hellhound Garm stare at each other. The völva is in a dolmen. Den ældre Eddas Gudesange, 1895

The story is reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty, after her curse by a witch, all spinning wheels were banished from the kingdom. That way she would be safe, at least…that’s what her parents thought. Yet she stung herself… The witch was furious, because she had not been invited by Sleeping Beauty’s parents. She predicted that Sleeping Beauty would prick herself and die as a result. A spell makes this curse less strong and Sleeping Beauty would sleep, and be able to wake up again.

Anger also plays a role in the völva’s prediction. After the prophecy, Odin makes himself known through an unsolvable riddle and distances himself somewhat mockingly from the völva. She reacts furiously and, without being asked, adds one last, and most terrible, to her predictions: she announces that Loki will be released from his prison and that with it the Ragnarok will begin.

Georges Dumézil, French philologist and comparatist to whom we owe most of the French-language literature on Ossetian mythology, compared Soslan’s death to Baldr’s.

Baldr is being held by a woman, presumably his mother Frigg, after he dies from a mistletoe wound. Illustration from the Völuspá hin skamma, Aldre Eddas Gudesange, 1895

Soslan is a central figure among the legendary Nartes, the heroic race of Ossetian mythology and other mythologies. Soslan was born from a stone that received the seed from the masturbation of a shepherd who admired the beauty of Satana. Knowing this, Satana returns nine months later and opens the stone to retrieve the child. This story features in my earlier article on child stones.

Soslan resembles Baldr in several ways. In some stories, Soslan bathed in the liquid, making his skin invulnerable. The tank was too small for his knees to stick out and not get wet. In other stories, there was another reason he was vulnerable at some point: a blacksmith held him by the hip with pliers to soak him, preventing his hip from getting wet.

Soslan dies from having his legs cut off (or his hip broken) by a magic wheel with steel spikes, with Syrdon revealing the weak point.

But back to Baldr. The Aesir liked to throw all kinds of projectiles at Baldr and hit him with all kinds of objects, always leaving him unharmed. But Loki gives Hödr (a blind god) an arrow made of mistletoe: the only thing in the world that can hurt Baldr. Frigg hadn’t asked the mistletoe not to harm Baldr. And so Hödr, ignorantly, kills the invulnerable Baldr.

The gods can only cry at first because of their grief. Frigg speaks and asks “who was among the Aesir who wanted to earn all her love and favors and was willing to drive the road to Hel and try to find Baldr, and offer Hel a ransom if she would let Baldr go back to Asgard”.

“Kissing under the mistletoe” comes from the legend about Baldr. Frigg decided never to ignore the mistletoe again. To stop thinking the mistletoe was a weapon, she decided to kiss anyone who walked under a bouquet of mistletoe.

This is “the sacrificial stone” on Friggas kulle (Frigg’s Hill), Gothenburg, on December 20, 2008; Yule-blót (a Norwegian mid-winter ceremony celebrated during the Winter Solstice or Christmas). In the photo we see the Blotstein (blood stone) after the ceremony. The offering consisted mainly of beer and seeds.

Frigg tried to get Baldr back from the underworld. His death wrought by Hödr is the victory of darkness over light, the darkness of winter over the light of summer. Baldr’s death in winter would have to do with the solstices.

One of the most important celebrations was held during the summer solstice or the evening of midsummer, in honor of Balder the Good. For that day was regarded as the anniversary of his death and of his descent into the underworld. On that day, the longest of the year, people gathered outside, lit great bonfires, and watched the sun dip little below the horizon in the high Norse regions until it rises again. From midsummer the days gradually get shorter and the sun’s rays less warm, until the winter solstice (Yule-blót), which was called “Mother Night”, as it was the longest night of the year and the days get longer after that. Midsummer evening, once celebrated in Balder’s honor, is now called St. John’s Day.

Soslan and Baldr are similar to other Indo-European mythological heroes because of their invulnerability and the revealing of the weak point (which makes death possible). The Greek Achilles has his famous heel, vulnerable because when he was bathed by Thetis in the river he was held by the heel. Likewise, the Norse mythological hero Siegfried was bathed in the blood of the dragon Fafnir, which made him invulnerable (except in a specific spot on his back where a leaf had gotten stuck).

The legendary death of Baldr also resembles that of the Persian hero Esfandyar in the epic Shahnameh. From a branch of the tamarisk, Rostam cut an arrow, which he later dipped in wine. Armed with this arrow, Rostam appeared before Esfandyar and killed him. And the article about children’s stones already mentioned that Ea used a saw (which had originally served to separate heaven and earth from each other) to whip Ullikummi from his ankles, then the power drained from the monster.

Georges Dumézil notes a comparison between Baldr’s death and a Hindu story from the Mahābhārata. The blind king Dhritarāshtra (blind as the Scandinavian god Hödr) plays Pachisi with the demonic Duryodhana (who is none other than the destructive goddess Kālî, similar to the Scandinavian god Loki).

Pachisi is a dice game that is normally safe for the king. However, Duryodhana wins all the property of the king, including Draupadi (the wife of Dhritarāshtra), by trickery.

Duryodhana seems to be the winner, but with his pride he humiliates Draupadi. This evil action caused Bhima to break Duryodhana’s thigh.

According to Georges Dumézil, the parallelism in the various myths spread over a vast area refers to a scene that would have existed in a more primitive form before the scattering.

Mahabharata, image from 1895. Draupadi, wife of all five Pandava brothers, at a pachisi game in which Yudhishthira, the king of Hastinapura, had gambled all his material wealth. Draupadi prays to Krishna for protection while a judicial officer tries to remove her sari. This event was one of the many inciting factors in the Mahabharata War.

In Finnish mythology, Lemminkäinen shares almost the same fate as Baldr: dying at the hands of a blind man at a feast of the gods. The original, mythological Lemminkäinen is a shamanic figure. In the Kalevala, he is mixed with epic war heroes Kaukomieli/Kaukamoinen and Ahti Saarelainen. In a story somewhat reminiscent of Isis’s quest for Osiris, Lemminkäinen’s mother searches heaven and earth to find her son. Finally, learning of his fate, she asks Ilmarinen to make her a brass rake to dredge her son’s body from Tuonela’s river. Through an elaborate magical ritual and using a series of spells, the mother manages to bring her son back to life. Here too, the story resembles that of Baldr, in which Frigg wants to get her son back from Hel.

Above: Lemminkäinen en Märkähattu from the 14th issue of Kalevala, 1919-1920

Right: An illustration of the blind Höðr killing Baldr , Icelandic 18th century manuscript

Baldr has also been compared to Jesus, as CS Lewis did when he said, “I loved Balder before Christ.” Baldr, a god of light, has similarities to Jesus as a young god who dies and rises to return after Ragnarök, the end of the world. Ragnarok is similar to the Christian Apocalypse, after which Jesus would return to accompany the new era of peace. And also Christmas is associated with Jesus, just like Yule-blót with Baldr.

Baldersteinen

Baldersteinen, also called Fritjofsteinen, is a monumental stone in Baldershagen in Husabø (Norway). The stone is located just below Highway 55 near the new cemetery on the site. Extensive excavation was carried out about 100 meters to the south in 1994. The large burial field of Baldershagen came to light, it dates from the Iron Age.

The stone is 7.8 meters high and 1.25 meters wide and is said to be the tallest monumental stone in Norway. The bautasteen (menhir) has no inscriptions, but probably has its origins in the Iron Age as it stands on the remains of a burial mound from the period 500-800.

The Baldersteinen is traditionally associated with a local chief who was killed in action at the Battle of Fimreitein (1184), but must be considerably older than that event.

The name of the stone has a mythological and historical/literary connection with the saga about the Norse god Baldr and the Frithjofssage, which contains shrines of Baldr.

From the 17th century on, several chroniclers and scholars wrote about Bauta stones. In his book “Sechs Schreiben von einigen Merkwürdigkeiten der Holsteinischen Gegenden” Johann Friedrich Camerer elaborates on the “pagan stones of antiquity”. He had seen and described one on the German island of Sylt, and several in the vicinity of Pöschendorf (near Hamburg). He mentioned that Johannes Schefferus translated the word “Bauta” with blood, “because these bloodstones were set up in veneration for those who had shed blood in the war”.

We have come across bloodstones before, various meanings have been given to it. They would bleed if you pierce (or nail) them with a pin. Sometimes this showed that a woman was going to have a child, they are associated with fertility. Often there are cups or other depressions in the stone, made by people (but sometimes also natural). And sometimes there was a knock (or there was a key) to open it, as I wrote in the article about children’s stones. The etymology bank shows that knocking or hitting also occurs over the Bauta stones:

bautasteen [raw tombstone] {1886}
old norse bautasteinn (norwegian bautestein) [a stone driven into the ground], from bauta [to strike], cf. old high german bōzzan [to strike, to push], old english beatan [to strike], middle dutch bo(o)ten [to knock, to beat]

Troels Arnkiel from Aabenraa (Denmark), pastor and researcher of early history, discussed the meaning of the bauta stones in his most famous work “Ausführliche Eröffnung”. He writes: “At these pagan burial mounds and mountains, the great stones are set up like pillars about it, which is done in remembrance of the dead. It is regrettable that in many places these tombstones have been removed and reused to build churches, castles, farms, stone gardens and church walls. And so many burial mounds and mountains stand unprotected in the fields, and accompanying stone circles and circles have been plundered.”

The Frithjofssage (or Frithiof’s saga) has been translated into English at least 22 times, twenty times into German, and at least once into every known European language, including Icelandic in 1866 and Swedish in 1737.

King Beli of Sogn, a traditional district of Western Norway, had two sons and a daughter named Ingeborg. Helgi was his first son and Halfdan his second. On the other side of the fjord lived the King’s friend Thorstein (Þorsteinn Víkingsson) whose son Frithjof (Friðþjófr) was called the Bold (hinn frœkni).

Frithiof was the tallest, strongest, and bravest of men. When the king’s children were still young, their mother died. A good man of Sogn, named Hilding (Hildingr), prayed that he might cherish the king’s daughter. Frithjof was the foster brother of the king’s daughter as he was also raised together with Ingeborg (Ingibjörg) by their foster father Hilding.

Both Beli and Thorsteinn died in the war, after which Helgi and Halfdan took over the kingdom. The two kings were jealous of Frithjof’s excellent qualities and so they denied him the hand of Ingeborg. They took her to Baldr’s sacred enclosure Baldrshagi, where none dared hurt another, and where neither woman nor man had intercourse.

Nevertheless, Frithjof visited Ingeborg and they continued to love each other. This caused Helgi and Halfdan to send Frithjof to Orkney to pay tribute and while he was gone, they burned down his residence and married Ingeborg to King Ring, the ancient king of Ringerike.

Titel page of Frithiofs Saga, Esaias Tegnér (1876)

When Frithjof returned, he burned down Baldr’s temple in Baldrshagi and went on to live as a Viking.

Then his eye fell on the arm ring that he had given to Ingeborg and that Helgé on the arm of
Baldr had done, and, approaching the wooden statue, he said: “Forgive me, great Baldr, not for thee was the ring taken from Volund’s grave!”
Then he grabbed the ring, but no matter how hard he pulled, he wouldn’t come off.
At last he exerted all his strength, and with a sudden jerk received the ring, and at the same instant the image of the god fell forward upon the altar fire.
Immediately it was engulfed in flames, and before anything could be done the whole temple was in fire and smoke.

Frithiof, horrified at the desecration which he had unwittingly committed himself, endeavored in vain to extinguish the flames and save the precious sanctuary, but, seeing that his efforts were in vain, he fled to his ship and resolved to hard life of an outcast and an exile.

After three years he came to King Ring and spent the winter with him. Just before the old king died, Frithjof’s identity was clear to all and so the dying king appointed Frithjof Earl and made him the caretaker of Ring and Ingeborg’s child. When Ring died, Frithjof and Ingeborg married and he became king of Ringerike.

Frithiofs frieri, August Malmström,
Nationalmuseum

The warriors of the nation now assembled in a solemn Thing to elect an heir to the throne. Frithiof had won the enthusiastic admiration of the people, and they would gladly have chosen him as king; but he lifted Sigurd Ring’s infant son high on his shield when he heard the cries calling his name, and presented the infant to the assembly as their future king, openly swearing that he would support him until he was old enough to defend the territory.

In another version, he first wants to do penance for destroying Baldr’s temple. In a vision he sees that he has to build a new temple.

Complete was Balder’s shrine,
No stockade stood around
Now more of wood,
An iron fence, points of gold,
Cleaner and stronger than before
Appeared in balance
To Balder’s holy house. A long procession
Harnesses who shoot spears do.
And helmets the sunlight—so in splendor
In the sacred forest shone the proud guard.

And of granite, conceived with great care
A bold art, was the mighty work wrought,
And like giant halls,
Those times do not fall,
Rise it up—like Upsal’s temple, where the North
Valhall imagined in this cosmopolitan place.

It stood proudly on the mountain side, his profile
Was calmly reflected in the clear sea,
All around—like a belt of flowers clean,
Went Balders Dal, with bushes full of music
And tender birdsongs, Refuge.

Aeneas finds the golden branch thanks to the two doves who sent his mother to help him

In his Norse history, Torfæus compares Vergil’s hero Æneas with Fridtjof. Æneas is the main character in Virgil’s epic The Aeneid, in which it is told how Aeneas, after his flight from Troy, traveled with many wanderings to Latium (in Italy) after which his descendants will found Rome.

Torfæus Vergils writes that Æneas in distress at sea “sighed and stretched out his palms to the sky” and invoked death in a wailing voice, while Fridtjof in the same situation composed verses about feasting and dancing in Baldershaven, while the storm waves of the North Sea flew around his ears.

In the story of Aeneas, the Sibyl of Cumae agrees to escort Aeneas to Hades so that he can see his father’s “shadow”. But to enter the underworld, she tells him to collect the golden branch from the sacred groves near her cave, so that it can be given to Prosperpina (Persephone) as an entrance fee. This is quite similar to the ransom that Frigg is willing to pay Hel to get her son back. The golden branch would be mistletoe.

Baldershaven is located on the Husabø farm in Leikanger, where a number of burial mounds and settlements were uncovered in the 1990s. Several rich finds document a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age. Is there a grain of truth in the story that Fridtjof placed the Baldersteen on the spot where a shrine to Baldr previously stood?

There are several other places associated with (shrines of) Baldr. There are place names in which the name Baldr occurs, names like Baldrsnes, Baldursheimar, Boldesager (from on. Baldrsakr) in Norway, Iceland and Denmark. In the Netherlands and Belgium, in addition to the aforementioned Balderhaar, place names can also be associated with (sanctuaries of) Baldr: Balloo (a loo) and Ballerkule (a gully) in Drenthe. On the Veluwe is the Balderbosch, Overijssel has Balholt, Ballo and Ballar. In Antwerp there is Balver (a ferry or crossing) and various Bulk and Bulekensteinen.

Baldr is the god of light and Haldr (Hödr) is said to represent darkness. In the Netherlands Hallum and Ballum (on the Wadden Islands) and Holwert and Bolswert (in Friesland) refer to this. Several mythological tales resemble Baldr’s tragic death and his mother Frigg’s attempt to bring him back from the dark underworld. It reminds again of Sleeping Beauty, who wakes up again after a kiss from a prince. Could this kiss have been given under the mistletoe?

Marinda Ruiter

The „Baldersten“ in Sognefjord, Die Gartenlaube, 1876

This is a translation of a Dutch article, sources can be found in that article: De steen van Baldr

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