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.


  1. Really interesting. I had no idea.

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

  2. I hope this is true. The christinization of our people and the erasing of our ways of life are disgusting. I want everyone to go back to their pagan roots.

    1. It's just the latest in a continuing story. What happened to the Norse and the Celts before them is nothing that had not happened before, and as much as we want to believe otherwise -- I fear it will happen again.

      This is not to excuse any of it -- just to give the erasure context. And there is still a great deal of erasure happening today beyond just faith traditions. So I think it's important to recognize that this is something ongoing, and not at all limited to Christians vs Pagans.

      What I want and wish for, is that everyone will be free to experience or not experience the spirituality that speaks to their heart -- without infringing on the rights of others, and without erasing anyone else's faith or beliefs.

  3. What's funny to me is comparing Baldr to Jesus as if Baldr was after. However history shows the Norse Gods were before the Christian god so while the comparison could be made it would be more in the way that jesus was created in Baldr's image.

    1. So this can be argued both ways, absolutely!! Baldr as a god may well have existed prior to Jesus but the particular mythos regarding his resurrection is hard to date! The Norse Myths as we know them today, as they were preserved, did not evolve in a vacuum, and the only myths that were preserved were preserved AFTER Christianity had overrun Scandinavia and some academics would even argue that Snorri just... kind of made some of the myths up entirely. (I don't know the details of their argument but it might be worth looking up which myths Academics are pointing at specifically.)

      So yes, the gods themselves pre-date Christianity! Their specific stories as we have come to know them today evolved alongside it, though. Which doesn't make them any less legitimate or valid or real, it's just important context to hold in our heads while we read them.

  4. I'm going to go on a bit of a fun rant, but this has literally been my jam for the last few months. As a practitioner of Asatru for 20 years and a convert to Orthodox Christianity in the last year, I can talk a bit from both sides of the fence and topics I've been struggling to make sense of myself.

    Most Christian traditions that are encountered have the strict "We have the One True God while you worship devils/demons/false idols" argument, while Psalm 82 specifically talks about the Most High "Presiding in the great assembly, and rendering judgement on the gods." The Orthodox perspective is that Capital G God assigned lower case gods and other divine beings to govern all aspects of the earth (nature spirits) as well as pantheons to guide the tribes of men. Won't hear that in a protestant church, for sure. The problem is that instead of pushing worship upwards to the Most High, many became enraptured by their own egos and fell, becoming the not-fun-gods of some myths (Zeus the serial-rapist come to mind). In short - in Orthodox Eastern Christianity, gods and nature spirits are real. Some are very evil (trolls, huldra, kelpies), and none are to be worshipped, but you can respect and honor them (tomten/nisse, alfar, dvergar, etc).

    In realizing Christ and trying to make sense of things that I still felt to be true, I went down the road of "what did the Varangians in Byzantium, the ancient Scandinavian Rus, and the early Norse think as they converted?" Turns out, there was a lot of syncretism going on. Look at all of the rune-stones, a cross and biblical iconography on one side, Odin and Thor on the other. The saga of Sigurd and Fafnir is carved into one of the Stave Churches. The early premise was that "Ragnarok had already happened, most of the Old Gods died gloriously against the Giants (and look, we've got the Nephilim giants in our stories, too, fighting against David et al), and some of the other Old Gods survived (enter Baldr) who are divine but in service of the Most High and Christ. You can acknowledge your Old Gods, but don't worship them anymore. Of course, that was pre-Schism and the "fire and sword" conversion of Western Catholicism that we all know and loathe.

    As far as the Poetic and Prose Eddas, both were codified by a Christian monk in Iceland. It is my firm belief that there is Christian imagery woven into the stories, but he kept them as true-to-form as he could.. the Poetic, anyway. The prose is just a way for him to somehow tie the Norse to Troy and eventually Noah's Ark. A lot of what we know about the Old Gods is thanks to the monks and priests who were honoring their ancestors' memory and legacy.


Comments are Love!

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