Who's Who in the Lore: Baldr
©2005 Ingeborg S. Nordén
Like most of the familiar Norse deities, Baldr too has been misrepresented by both the comics and non-Asatru pagans. These common ideas about him have no basis in the lore:
1. Baldr is NOT a god of sunlight, summer, or vegetation. It's true that the Eddas describe him as the most handsome, kind-hearted and beloved being in Asgard. It's also true that one version of his death-story has Baldr killed by his blind twin brother, and that he is eventually restored to life after most of the "older" gods are killed at Ragnarok. However, these details are not enough to make Baldr's death a nature-myth. (Some Norse Wiccans still insist that Baldr's resurrection should be celebrated at Yule, but neither the lore nor surviving folk traditions justify that belief.)
2. Baldr is NOT a "savior-god" or a Norse adaptation of Jesus. Since the Norse didn't believe that the world needed saving, why would a savior-god be part of their religion? Besides, Baldr and Jesus die in radically different manners according to both versions of the Baldr story. Snorri Sturluson's version (in the Prose Edda) is the only one that shows anything in common between the two deaths. Even then, the only common elements are Baldr's status as a beloved son, his betrayal by a close friend (or relative), and his eventual resurrection. Hardly enough to qualify Baldr as a Christ-clone, I'd say!
In his mythical history of Denmark, Saxo Grammaticus tells a very different story from the one in the Eddas. Baldr and Hodr are mortal heroes competing for the love of the same woman, and Odin supports the killing rather than trying to prevent it as in the better-known version. Mistletoe is never mentioned or used; Hodr kills Baldr with a magic sword instead. Furthermore, Loki never involves himself in the duel, and no attempt is made to release Baldr from Hel after his death.
So which version of Baldr's life and death is authentic lore? I'd personally vote for the Prose Edda account: older Norse poems allude to it frequently (The Seeress' Prophecy, The Lay of King Erik, and of course Baldr's Dreams). Besides, it was common for later Christian writers to dismiss the pagan gods as mortal heroes whom the people wrongly worshiped. (That's at least more polite than calling them demons, but it makes Saxo's version look suspicious.)
More importantly for Heathens, what role is Baldr supposed to play in the pantheon? Unfortunately, the few stories we have about him don't define any: he seems to be little more than "Mr. Popularity", the charismatic figure assassinated with the help of a jealous rival. Being a son of Odin he's probably not as namby-pamby as some people claim, though. If he were, would the gods trust Baldr and his brother to succeed Odin as their next leaders?