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The Myth of Balder

2017 March 6
by Ian Welsh
by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1817)

by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1817)

Once upon a time, in a far away world, there was born to the Allfather and the Goddess of Wisdom, a boy they named Balder.

Balder is called the Shining One, but what matters is that he was he was the gentlest of all the Gods, and the most beloved, for he was the God of Peace.

His mother, Frigg, loving him greatly, sought to ensure he could never die, and went to all the worlds and asked every living thing for its promise not to harm Balder. The only one she did not receive a promise from was mistletoe, for it was young.

And so, when the Loki, the God of Mischief, decided to kill Balder, he tipped an arrow with Mistletoe and tricked a blind God into shooting Balder, and so died the Shining God, The God of Peace, and the most beloved God of all.

His mother, Frigg, bereft, went to the Goddess of the dead and asked that he be allowed to leave the land of the dead, and live again. Hel was willing to allow it, so long as everyone who lived agreed.

And so Frigg went, again, to all who lived on all the worlds, and asked their permission.  All agreed save one, though none agree who that one was: Loki, or the Willow, whom he tricked, and who has wept ever since that it was so.

And so Balder stayed dead, the most beloved of all the Gods, and he will not live again, until after the final battle of Ragnarok.


Please consider the meaning of this story before continuing…

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Peace is the most precious and beloved of all things, and the most fragile. All it takes to kill peace, is one person who does not agree to keep the peace. And peace cannot be restored so long as even one person does not want it restored.

Obviously this is not quite true, but it nonetheless contains a great truth worth thinking on.

We live in a world where we have de-mythologized and, as such, we rarely consider the truth behind many myths or what they were trying to say.


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17 Responses
  1. Willy permalink
    March 6, 2017

    When Frigg went around getting her peace promises, maybe she should’ve also threatened a fate worse than death to anybody harming her Balder.

  2. Ian Welsh permalink*
    March 6, 2017

    The fate of Loki was indeed a fate worse than death. He was placed beneath a monster spewing acidic poison. His wife would gather the poison in a bowl, but when she went to empty it…

    Nope. The myth writers were there. Even a fate worse than death could not preserve the peace. (And no one who knows Odin, etc… would expect anything but a fate worse than death.)

  3. Hugh permalink
    March 6, 2017

    Actually I think we live in a highly mythologized world. Just look at American history or really any political policy or debate: healthcare that is not healthcare, wars against terror which increase the number of terrorists, and making America great again by selling off what’s left of it to the very people who destroyed what greatness it once had. We even have now our own version of the trickster god Loki. Only we call it Rooski.

    The main difference between modern and ancient myths is that ancient myths were meant to convey truths and were a means of comprehending one’s world while modern myths are used to distract and obfuscate all meaning and disconnect us from the world in which we actually live.

  4. V. Arnold permalink
    March 6, 2017

    Hugh
    March 6, 2017

    Well, kudos to you.
    “The main difference between modern and ancient myths is that ancient myths were meant to convey truths and were a means of comprehending one’s world while modern myths are used to distract and obfuscate all meaning and disconnect us from the world in which we actually live.”
    You nailed it exactly.
    Cheers

  5. Tom permalink
    March 6, 2017

    At least the Norse admitted their gods were assholes just like Humans. Its what makes their stories all the more human and tragic.

    If they had all stopped backstabbing each other long enough to concentrate on the real issues, things might have gone better.

  6. Willy permalink
    March 6, 2017

    Sounds like Loki was their description of a psychopath. Even threats don’t sway their kind much. They’re usually just gonna do what they’re gonna do. Re: Hugh – It’s trickled down to the common culture. If any new acquaintance calls me “bro” or “buddy” a little too quickly, I’ve come to expect that it’s a smokescreen for something else.

  7. Shh permalink
    March 6, 2017

    Nice to see you making reference to Norse mythology.

    It would be nice to see some true reflection on those themes. Despite Hugh’s interpretation of the role of myth in modern society, I think, while witty, it completely obviates the nature of archetypes and their role in mirroring human perception, and thus the behaviors we expect in ourselves and those around us.

    The lies that moderns use to form their assumptions about the world are not analogous to myth. Also, American and British lies that are misinterpreted as myth derive largely from simplistic interpretations of Celtic, not Norse, mythology.

    Fortunately, the truths are immune to human perception. What they need to see the light are good story tellers.

  8. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    March 6, 2017

    We need more InnSæi, but fat chance of that. The dominant, in-force paradigm will not allow it. The more virtually connected we are, the more psychically disconnected we become. Man as Machine is a very lonely, insular existence and yet it seems to be where Humanity is headed, evolutionarily, if the religion of Technological Advancement has its druthers. There is so much we are missing. There is so much that has been lost. We are prisoners here, of our own device.

    The Sea Within

  9. highrpm permalink
    March 6, 2017

    religion is myth gone awry. imagination unchecked by cognition. invention is an example of imagination and cognition working together.

    unlike the general christian malaise that holds that all unregenerates — the non-belongers to their collective — are immoral, closer to the truth — if such a concept even exists — is proposed in the phrase, one bad apple spoils the barrel.

  10. Hugh permalink
    March 6, 2017

    Shh, human perception can and often is wrong. So the archetypes that you see behind them can also be wrong. I think it is easier to maintain the existence of archetypes in good economic and stable political times and also when one cultural paradigm dominates, but in our fractured, disrupted age I see them as a Neo-Platonic remnant with little benefit to them. Much more immediate and powerful are the twisted Orwellian myths of our history.

  11. March 6, 2017

    By the headline, I expected the misleading myth behind the Myth of Balder: the myth of “Obalder”, the savior that will bring change and save us from ourselves.

  12. Hugh permalink
    March 6, 2017

    b, isn’t that one also known as balderdash?

  13. Dan permalink
    March 6, 2017

    Nordicism, the gateway drug of fascism for unattached, alienated adolescent males. Balder the Beautiful is dead, is dead.

  14. Ian Welsh permalink*
    March 6, 2017

    Tons and tons of non-racist pagans worship the Norse Gods. (I am not one of them, but they definitely exist.)

  15. Some Guy permalink
    March 7, 2017

    “All it takes to kill peace, is one person who does not agree to keep the peace. And peace cannot be restored so long as even one person does not want it restored.”

    Our economists and elites preach the ethical language of commerce and competition. If you don’t like this God, choose a different one. If one person buys peace, another can buy war, and another can buy low level insurgency and everyone is happy with their consumer surplus maximized.

    Ever more forgotten is the ethical language of power and monopoly – where only unanimity (or damn close as you rightly say) will get the job done.

    In game theory speak, this is known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma, situations where only by achieving near universal cooperation can benefits to those involved be realized. In my experience, courses in economics touch on the Prisoner’s Dilemma briefly, then pass on quickly to something more palatable – even the chosen example itself (why Prisoners?) is tied in knots to present a situation in which cooperation is seen as undesirable, rather than in its more natural state. But this dynamic is fundamental, and underpins much of what we consider morality.

    This is why Plato, in his Republic, rigorously separated the guardians (military and political leaders) from the commercial folks, a model followed by India with it’s caste system, in feudal Europe and Japan where nothing was more shameful for a noble than to engage in trade and in China with its walled off cities filled with bureaucrats (i.e. in all the most successful, populous societies on earth)

    There was a study out a little while ago showing that the only time societies make progress on inequality is during wars. War is the classic example of the economics of monopoly – to win a battle, to win a war, unanimity is absolutely critical and you can’t afford to tell half your population to go crawl under a rock and die, and this attitude bleeds over, for a while, into the rest of society.

    But it’s been a long time since the last time we fought a real, full mobilization, high stakes war, and with nuclear weapons and targets littering the landscape we might not survive another one. Is there another way? Sadly, some of us may live long enough to find out.

  16. Ian Welsh permalink*
    March 7, 2017

    War can do it, so can crashes/depressions/disasters. Even before WWII the great crash and the Great Depression had reduced inequality. The Black Death, of course, massively improved the lot of survivors, an effect that took a few generations to wear off, iirc.

    Some technological/economic revolutions can help as well, it depends on the specifics of the revolution. The commerical/wind/water revolution raised wages significantly at first, for example, but other revolutions (which make periods too interchangeable) drop it, often for very long periods.

  17. Willy permalink
    March 7, 2017

    Is there a myth describing where the angst between two political sides is being caused by an unconscious sense of a loss of control amongst the individuals of both sides, which is itself, resulting from the actions of a third hidden yet very powerful side, and then members of both sides eventually come to realize the truth and focus their energies towards that third side instead?

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