Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Funeral of Balder

 Through all of Åsgard their was grief in every corner. All that is but one...

Odin removed the body of Balder to Breidablik, and he directed the gods to go to the forest and cut down huge pines with which to build a worthy pyre. (A pyre is a structure made of wood used for burning a body as part of a funeral rite. As a form of cremation, a body is placed upon the pyre, which is then set on fire.)

While Hermod was speeding along the cheerless road which led to Nifl-heim, the gods carried down to the shore a vast amount of fuel which they piled upon the deck of Balders dragon-ship Ringhorn. They then proceeded in constructing an elaborate funeral pyre for Balder. According to custom, this was decorated with tapestry hangings, garlands of flowers, vessels and weapons of all kinds, golden rings, and countless objects of value. After this was completed the immaculate corpse, richly attired, was brought and laid upon it.

One by one, the gods now drew near to take a last farewell of their beloved companion and as Balders wife Nanna bent over him, her loving heart broke and she fell lifeless by his side. The gods reverently laid her beside her husband so that she might accompany him even in death.
Odin in token of affection for the dead and of sorrow for his loss, bent down before the body of Baldir and places his most precious possession upon his pyre. His offering to Balder was his magic ring Draupnir. It was noted by the assembled gods that he was whispering in his dead son’s ear, but none were near enough to hear what words he whispered.

The gods prepared to launch the ship, but found that the heavy load of fuel and treasures resisted their combined efforts and they could not make the vessel stir an inch. The mountain giants witnessed the scene from afar, and noticing their quandary drew near and said that they knew of a giantess called Hyrrokin who dwelt in Jötun-heim and was strong enough to launch the vessel without any other aid. The gods therefore bade one of the storm giants hasten off to summon Hyrrokin. She soon appeared mounted upon a gigantic wolf, which she guided by a bridle made of writhing snakes. Riding down to the shore the giantess dismounted and volunteered s to give her aid. She reached Balder’s mighty ship Ringhorn into and setting her shoulder against its stern she sent it with a rush into the water. Such was the weight of the mass, however, and the rapidity with which it shot down into the sea, that the earth shook as if from an earthquake, and the rollers on which the ship glided caught fire from the friction. The unexpected shock almost caused the gods to lose their balance, and this so angered Thor that he raised his hammer and would have slain the giantess had he not been restrained by his companions. Thor boarded the vessel once more to consecrate the funeral pyre with his sacred hammer. As he was performing this ceremony the dwarf Lit stumbled into his way. Thor, who had not entirely recovered his temper, kicked him into the fire which he had just kindled with a thorn, and the dwarf was burned to ashes with the bodies of the divine pair.

The great ship now drifted out to sea, and the flames from the pyre presented a magnificent spectacle which assumed a greater glory with every passing moment. When the vessel neared the western horizon, it seemed as if sea and sky were on fire. Sadly the gods watched the glowing ship and its precious freight until suddenly it plunged into the waves and disappeared.

Sadly the gods returned to Åsgard. No sounds of merriment or feasting greeted the ear, for all hearts were filled with anxious concern for the end of all things which was felt to be imminent. Frigg alone cherished hope and she watched anxiously for the return of her messenger Hermod. 

Meanwhile Hermod had ridden over the bridge and along the dark Hel-way, and then on the tenth night he had crossed the rushing tide of the river Giöll. Here he was challenged by Mödgud who inquired why the Giallar-bridge trembled more beneath his horse’s tread than when a whole army passed. He also asked why he, a living rider was attempting to penetrate into the dreaded realm of Hel.

Hermod explained to Mödgud the reason of his coming, and having ascertained that Balder and Nanna had ridden over the bridge before him, he hastened on until he came to the gate which rose forbiddingly before him.

Hermod came at last to Hel’s banqueting-hall. Here he found Balder, pale and dejected, lying upon a couch, his wife Nanna beside him. Balder gazed fixedly at a beaker of mead, which apparently he had no heart to drink.
In vain Hermod informed his brother that he had come to redeem him. Balder shook his head sadly, saying that he knew he must remain in his cheerless abode until the last day should come, but he implored Hermod to take Nanna back with him. When Nanna heard this request she clung more closely to her husband’s side, vowing that nothing would ever induce her to part from him, and that she would stay with him forever, even in Nifl-heim.

The long night was spent in close conversation, and Hermod sought Hel and implored her to release Balder. The churlish goddess listened in silence to his request, and declared finally that she would allow her victim to depart provided that all things animate and inanimate would show their sorrow for his loss by shedding tears.

This answer was full of encouragement, for all Nature mourned the loss of Balder, and surely there was nothing in all creation which would withhold the tribute of a tear. Hermod cheerfully made his way out of Hel’s dark realm, carrying with him the ring Draupnir, which Balder sent back to Odin.

The assembled gods crowded anxiously round Hermod as soon as he returned, and when he had delivered his messages the Æsir sent heralds to every part of the world to bid all things animate and inanimate weep for Balder.
North, South, East and West rode the heralds, and as they passed tears fell from every plant and tree so that the ground was saturated with moisture, and metals and stones despite their hard hearts, wept as well.

The way at last led back to Åsgard. By the road-side was a dark cave in which the messengers saw crouching the form of a giantess named Thok, whom was actually Loki in disguise. When she was called upon to shed a tear she mocked the heralds, and fleeing into the dark recesses of her cave she declared that no tear should fall from her eyes, and that for all she cared, Hel might retain her prey forever.

As soon as the returning messengers arrived in Åsgard, the gods crowded round them to the result of their mission. Their faces, all aglow with the joy of anticipation grew dark with despair when they heard that one creature had refused the tribute of tears, Therefor they would never behold Balder in Åsgard again.

It did not take long for the gods to discover Lokis treachery. This was Lokis last crime. His actions convinced the gods that nothing but evil remained within him, and they pronounced unanimously upon him the sentence of perpetual banishment from Åsgard.

Come back tomorrow to see what happens to Loki…


Shelly said...

I'll be back.

Anonymous said...

Ah finally! I like the way you ended this one. Now I just have to wait to hear Loki's story. I'm pretty excited about it I have to tell you!

Michael Di Gesu said...

I love all the details in the Norse mythology. Looking forward to tomorrow for the conclusion.