Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Baldur as the Old Norse Answer to Jesus

Each arrow overshot his head by Elmer Boyd Smith
The Invincible, Shining Baldur!
I'm currently reading Robert Ferguson's The Vikings: A History (Penguin, 2009), and came across this passage, discussing the reasons behind the start of the Viking Age:

The threat [Charlemagne's active crusades to Christianize and conquer] may even have affected Viking Age poetry. As we noted earlier, many scholars believe that the Viking Age's greatest spiritual monument, 'The Seeress's Prophecy', was composed comparatively late in the history of northern Heathendom as a direct response to the threat of militant expansionist Christianity and the dramatic and seductive Judaic creation myths of the Bible (p 56).

The tumblers began to fall into place almost at once. The poem he refers to, The Voluspa, gives an account of the entirety of Norse Mythology, from creation to the events leading up to Ragnarok and beyond -- addressing the death of Baldur and his return to rule the new world, post Ragnarok. I'd never considered the story of Baldur from this perspective -- as a response to Christian ideals -- having always assumed it to be part of the lore before Christian influence, but once you start, the tumblers all start clicking together into place.

What if Baldur is the Heathen answer to Jesus? The only son of Odin and Frigg -- indeed, very possibly the only LEGITIMATE son of Odin and his wife -- Baldur is known for his essential goodness, his extreme beauty, his wisdom, and his sense of justice. The Seeress mentions the death of Baldur, and even tells Odin it will be the Mistletoe, thrown by Hod, which will kill him. She details the major events of Ragnarok, too, but the poem finishes with a vision of what will come after the death of so many of the gods:
59. Now do I see | the earth anew
Rise all green | from the waves again;
The cataracts fall, | and the eagle flies,
And fish he catches | beneath the cliffs.

60. The gods in Ithavoll | meet together,
Of the terrible girdler | of earth they talk,
And the mighty past | they call to mind,
And the ancient runes | of the Ruler of Gods.

61. In wondrous beauty | once again
Shall the golden tables | stand mid the grass,
Which the gods had owned | in the days of old,
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .

62. Then fields unsowed | bear ripened fruit,
All ills grow better, | and Baldr comes back;
Baldr and Hoth dwell | in Hropt's battle-hall,
And the mighty gods: | would you know yet more?
And the second to last stanza, powerful, broken and corrupted, considered spurious by most academics, but which makes a LOT more sense if all of this (and Baldur's story in particular) is the response to the Christian ideas of the ever impending return of Jesus:
 65. There comes on high, | all power to hold,
A mighty lord, | all lands he rules.
Rule he orders, | and rights he fixes,
Laws he ordains | that ever shall live.
What if the peoples of Scandinavia, after they heard about Jesus responded with "Oh yeah? Well we have Baldur, and he does everything your god does, only better." What if Ragnarok as recounted by the Seeress is really just a metaphor for the Christianization of the world, resulting in the "death" of the gods, until Baldur returns -- until the PEOPLE return to their faith in the old gods and the old ways, even to the Golden Tables of the gods? What if Ragnarok was already happening when the Voluspa was written?

Maybe Baldur became the answer, the hope of a people who saw their way of life, their faith, their very cultural identity, being destroyed and replaced. Just hang in there, he says, Christianity is just a fad. Your gods are coming back, and they're going to bring you a better world, one where you'll be protected and everything will be even more beautiful than before. You aren't forgotten -- your gods are at war, fighting for your survival, and we're going to win.

2 comments:

  1. Really interesting. I had no idea.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't either! But now I can't stop thinking about it.

      Delete

Comments are Love!

(Nota Bene: During #NAMEthatBUTT season, all comments are moderated and your guesses are hidden until after the butt is revealed!)