Death of Balder
“I saw for Baldr, the bleeding god,
The son of Othin, his destiny set:
Famous and fair in the lofty fields,
Full grown in strength the mistletoe stood.”
– Voluspa, Verse 32, Bellows Translation
The Death of Balder is one of the most significant events in Viking lore. His death causes the final rift between the Norse gods Loki and Odin. Balder’s death sets into motion the events of Ragnarok and the Viking god’s return from Hel after Ragnarok. Balder is the beautiful god, the beloved of Frigg, and is often described as a Viking god of light and goodness. This version of Balder described to us by Snorri Sturluson is often criticized for being “Christ-like.”
The Voluspa refers to Balder in numerous verses, but where things get really interesting is in comparing the story from the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda with the story as described by historian Saxo Grammaticus. In Saxo’s version Balder is a warrior and a womanizer. He gets in a fight over a woman and this ongoing battle eventually leads to his death. There are many similarities between the stories, but Balder is depicted very differently.
Examining Balder’s name is also revealing. First and foremost, Balder is a title meaning “ruler” and was used by Anglo-Saxons. The Old Norse word meant something close to strength or courage. Between Saxo’s version and the meaning of the old Viking name we begin to see Balder as the perfect example of a mighty “Odinic” warrior.
Here we get to Balder’s mythological role, and his spiritual one. In the 10th century heathen poem by Ulfr Uggason, Balder is called the “holy sacrifice.” There are numerous pieces of Migration Age Viking art thought to depict Balder as an Odinic sacrifice. Other heroes of Viking lore who gain Odin’s favor, ultimately meat their demise in battle and several such stories involve a harmless weapon being transformed into a deadly one.
There is no way to know, but for my own depiction of Balder I chose to represent the moment of his death as the ultimate sacrifice. This is why he bears the Valknut as a tattoo over his heart, and also why the shaft of mistletoe pierces that exact spot!
The original painting was done in oil and measures 18" x 24".