Baldur: The Conflicting Myths (For Pagans and Witches Amino’s #OWC, #KnowYourGods)

Note: This was originally posted on Pagans & Witches Amino as part of their official weekly challenge, “Know Your Gods,” which is all about shining a light on lesser-known deities and mythological figures, or those that it can be hard to find information about. I have really enjoyed going through the tag and learning about new gods and goddesses. If you are interested in paganism, reconstructed religion, or mythology in general, I highly recommend heading over to the app or website and checking out the #KnowYourGods tag.

Baldur isn’t exactly an obscure deity. Most people who have studied Norse mythology are familiar with this member of the Aesir and son of Odin and Frigg, who is commonly associated with light, beauty, and springtime. The most famous myth about Baldur is the story of his murder. Although he probably wasn’t as widely worshiped as, say, Thor or Odin, he was an important member of the pantheon and his death caused a ripple effect throughout the Norse mythos, including being one of the signs of Ragnarok.

However, there are actually two very different versions of this god preserved in writing, as well as two very different stories of his death. Most people are only familiar with the more popular portrayal of this deity, which I personally believe to be the less historically accurate of the two. When I saw the topic for this week’s #OWC, I decided to make a post discussing both versions, and let you guys decide for yourself which version to believe.


“Each Arrow Overshot His Head” by Elmer Boyd Smith (1902), found on

The more popular version of the myth of Baldur’s death was recorded by the 13th century Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson, whose writings have been hugely influential in shaping how modern students view Norse mythology and culture. Snorri was an excellent storyteller and was dedicated to preserving Scandinavian culture and history, but there’s one major issue with the reliability of his accounts: Snorri was a Christian, recording these myths long after Iceland had converted to Christianity, and his goal was to depict Norse paganism as a primitive religion that was inferior to Christianity. Obviously, this means that some of his claims about the old religion have to be taken with a grain of salt. On top of that, many of the sources Snorri used for his record of Baldur’s death have been lost, and some of the elements in his version do not appear in any other records of Norse mythology. This may indicate that Snorri invented some aspects of his retelling, or at the very least introduced Christian influences into the existing myth.

In Snorri’s retelling, Baldur has prophetic dreams that reveal that he is going to die. His mother, the goddess Frigg, is so distraught by this that she travels the universe and gets everything within it, from the elements, to plants and animals, to diseases, to swear not to harm her son. This makes Baldur invincible, and the gods make a game of throwing weapons at him and watching them bounce off harmlessly. But Frigg made a grave mistake: she didn’t bother to secure an oath from the mistletoe, believing that it was too small and delicate a plant to harm her son.

When Loki, the great trickster, learned of this, he crafted a spear out of mistletoe. Loki approached the blind god Hod, who had been listening to the activities from the sidelines, and offered to help him participate in the game. Loki placed the mistletoe spear into Hod’s grasp and carefully took aim, guiding the blind god’s hand. Baldur was struck through the heart and was soon lying dead in a pool of blood.

The gods held a funeral for Baldur, during which his wife, Nanna, died of grief — she was placed with her husband on his funeral pyre.

Meanwhile, Hermod, another son of Odin, rode forth for Helheim, the realm of the dead, seeking to rescue Baldur’s soul. Hel, the goddess of death, agreed to release Baldur — but only if Hermod could get every creature in the universe to weep for the dead god. The Aesir set out, asking everything in existence to cry for Baldur, and they were almost successful, for the god had been beloved by all. But they encountered a giantess named Thokk, who may have been Loki in disguise, who refused to shed even a single tear.

And so Baldur was forced to remain in Helheim, and the other gods began to turn against Loki  for causing the death of their beloved friend.

In this version, Baldur is the kind and gentle god of light and life, and is an innocent victim. Given Snorri’s Christian background, it’s impossible to ignore the similarity between Baldur and Jesus Christ. Baldur’s death here fits the Christian idea of martyrdom perfectly. It’s possible that by attaching these Christian qualities to a popular pagan god, Snorri was hoping to pass on Christian moral to his audience, or at least to present a more Christian-friendly version of the myth.

“Baldur” by Johannes Gehrts, found on Wikipedia

The second version of this myth comes from the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. In Saxo’s version, Baldur is not gentle or a victim, but is instead a fierce warrior with many bloody victories to his name. This story is almost totally different from Snorri’s account, and actually contradicts it in many places.

In Saxo’s retelling, Hod is not a blind god but rather a proud warrior, who is in love with his foster sister Nanna. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Baldur also fell in love with the young goddess, and his desire for her was so great that he vowed to kill Hod and take her for himself.

A group of Valkyries warned Hod of Baldur’s plot to kill him. When Hod told his foster father of this, the old man refused to give his permission for Hod to marry Nanna, out of fear of Baldur’s wrath. However, as a show of his support, he told Hod of a magical sword that would allow him to kill anyone he struck with it, even Baldur. Hod traveled to the home of the giant Miming, the owner of this enchanted blade. Hod managed to ambush Miming and take him captive, forcing the giant to hand over the sword.

When Hod returned home, he discovered that Baldur had been courting Nanna while he was away. Furious, Hod openly challenged Baldur, and the two gathered their armies to meet in battle. After much brutal fighting, Hod was victorious and Baldur was forced to retreat. Hod returned home a war hero and married Nanna soon after.

Deprived of the woman he longed for, Baldur descended into an obsession that was so damaging to his health that he even lost the ability to walk. He repeatedly waged war on Hod’s forces, and though he won many of these battles, he was never able to steal Nanna away. This continued for many years.

Finally, after one of the bloodiest battles yet, Hod decided to sneak into the enemy camp to spy on them. Here he saw three Valkyries bringing Baldur a special food — this was the source of the god’s strength. Hod was able to trick the Valkyries into giving him some of their food, thus giving him strength to match Baldur’s.

The next time Hod and Baldur met, Hod plunged Miming’s magic sword into Baldur’s flesh, dealing a mortal blow. For days Baldur held on, but eventually he succumbed to his wounds and descended to the halls of Hel.

There are several theories as to why these two versions of the myth are so wildly different. One theory, as I mentioned earlier, is that Snorri introduced Christian elements to his version, which would make Saxo’s version the more “authentic” account. Another theory is that Snorri based his version off of Icelandic sources, while Saxo used mostly Danish sources. We know that Norse/Germanic mythology varied a lot from place to place, so it’s definitely possible that these conflicting myths represent regional variations of the same basic story.

Personally, I tend to think of Saxo’s version as the more reliable source, but I can’t deny the power of Snorri’s version. I think both versions should be taken into consideration when trying to reconstruct Norse paganism and incorporate it into a modern lifestyle. If you base your beliefs on Snorri’s version, you’ll probably honor Baldur as a peaceful god of springtime and family. If you base your beliefs on the Saxo version, you’ll probably see him as more of a warrior deity and may ask him for help when you’re feeling unlucky in love. Like with any deity, the sources you choose to pull from will change the nature of your worship.

P.S. If anyone is interested in learning more about the two versions of this myth, I highly recommend The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion by Daniel McCoy, which goes into both versions in depth and was the main source I used when writing this post.

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