The most beautiful of all the sons of Odin All-father was Balder the Beautiful. Although Balder knew he was loved by everyone, at night he tossed and turned, dreaming that he was about to be killed. Nothing could cure him of these nightmares.
The Seeress Speaks
Odin, concerned for his son, determined to find out why. He mounted his eight legged steed Sleipnir and rode out over the Bridge of Bifrost to Hel, in the Land of The Dead. Past the fearsome hound that is the Guardian of the Entrance, Odin the All-Father rode. Down into the chill darkness that is Hel, he searched for the grave of Volva the Seeress, and woke her from her cold dark sleep.
“For age upon age I have drifted dreamless in my deathly sleep. What is it that you would ask ?” croaked the Seeress. “Why are the Halls of Hel decked with silver and furs and laid out for a grand feast?” asked the All-father.
The answer chilled him to the bone. For the feast was set for none other than Balder the Beautiful. “Hoder, the blind god shall be the one to slay him.” said the Seeress. “Ask no more of me.” And with that, Volva the Seeress returned to her dreamless sleep of death.
Sadly, slowly, All-father mounted Sleipnir and returned to Asgard where he called a great council of the gods. They were greatly grieved, for Balder was well loved and many long speeches were made as to what could be done. Finally Frigg, wife to Odin and mother of Balder, thumped her white fist on the talk-table.
“I, the Mother of All, need only to extract a promise from all that exists not to harm Balder.” she said. And so it was that Frigg set out on her quest to save her beautiful boy, personally pleading with all the living creatures on the earth.
Sun, fire, water, earth, iron, every sort of metal, tree, disease, beast, bird, fungus, poison, serpent and even the very stones swore never to harm Balder.
Loki plays his Tricks
So there was nothing that could harm Balder. Never did he cut himself with his knife, never did he stumble, nor did he trip. Never did he hit his head, nor prick his finger with a pin. When Balder’s brothers discovered this they made it into a sport. At the feasts Balder would stand to one side as the others threw spears, stones and knifes, but whatever they threw at him was harmless. But there was one who stood aside – Loki, the Trickster.
One day Loki turned up in Asgard in the disguise of an old woman. He spoke to Frigg. “It seems to me that those youngsters are trying to kill Balder.” Frigg smiled gently at the old woman, “Oh no, they would never harm him.” she said. “All things have sworn not to harm him, except that sprig of mistletoe behind the oak, for it is still to young for such oaths.”
Loki went straight away to the mistletoe and, plucking a sharp stem, fastened it to the end of a spear where the iron point would normally go. He sidled up to the blind god Hoder. “Why do you look so miserable? ” he asked with a sneer Hoder could not see.
“I can hear the feasting and the laughter of those who throw things at my brother but I cannot join in, for I cannot see and the other gods do not allow me to carry a weapon for fear I may hurt myself.”
“Come now Hoder,” said Loki with a laugh, “If it truly means so much to you, I shall lend you this spear I found and shall even guide your hand.” The unsuspecting Hoder accepted Loki’s offer and let him guide his hand, Hoder threw the spear and the misletoe struck Balder in the heart.
And that was the death of Balder the Beautiful.