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    Chapter 33

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    Chapter 33
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    Chapter XXXIII
    The Death of Baldur The Elves -- Runic Letters -- Scalds --
    Iceland

    Baldur, the Good, having been tormented with terrible dreams
    indicating that his life was in peril, told them to the assembled
    gods, who resolved to conjure all things to avert from him the
    threatened danger. Then Frigga, the wife of Odin, exacted an
    oath from fire and water, from iron and all other metals, from
    stones, trees, diseases, beasts, birds, poisons, and creeping
    things, that none of them would do any harm to Baldur. Odin, not
    satisfied with all this, and feeling alarmed for the fate of his
    son, determined to consult the prophetess Angerbode, a giantess,
    mother of Fenris, Hela, and the Midgard serpent. She was dead,
    and Odin was forced to seek her in Hela's dominions. This
    descent of Odin forms the subject of Gray's fine ode beginning,

    "Up rose the king of men with speed
    And saddled straight his coal-black steed."

    But the other gods, feeling that what Frigga had done was quite
    sufficient, amused themselves with using Baldur as a mark, some
    hurling darts at him, some stones, while others hewed at him with
    their swords and battle-axes, for do what they would none of them
    could harm him. And this became a favorite pastime with them and
    was regarded as an honor shown to Baldur. But when Loki beheld
    the scene he was sorely vexed that Baldur was not hurt.
    Assuming, therefore, the shape of a woman, he went to Fensalir,
    the mansion of Frigga. That goddess, when she saw the pretended
    woman, inquired of her if she knew what the gods were doing at
    their meetings. She replied that they were throwing darts and
    stones at Baldur, without being able to hurt him. "Ay," said
    Frigga, "neither stones, nor sticks, nor anything else can hurt
    Baldur, for I have exacted an oath from all of them. " "What,"
    exclaimed the woman, "have all things sworn to spare Baldur?"
    "All things," replied Frigga, "except one little shrub that grows
    on the eastern side of Valhalla, and is called Mistletoe, and
    which I thought too young and feeble to crave an oath from."

    As soon as Loki heard this he went away, and resuming his natural
    shape, cut off the mistletoe, and repaired to the place where the
    gods were assembled. There he found Hodur standing apart,
    without partaking of the sports, on account of his blindness, and
    going up to him, said, "Why dost thou not also throw something at
    Baldur?"

    "Because I am blind," answered Hodur, "and see not where Baldur
    is, and have moreover nothing to throw."

    "Come, then," said Loki, "do like the rest and show honor to
    Baldur by throwing this twig at him, and I will direct thy arm
    towards the place where he stands."

    Hodur then took the mistletoe, and under the guidance of Loki,
    darted it at Baldur, who, pierced through and through, fell down
    lifeless. Surely never was there witnessed, either among gods or
    men, a more atrocious deed than this. When Baldur fell, the gods
    were struck speechless with horror, and then they looked at each
    other, and all were of one mind to lay hands on him who had done
    the deed, but they were obliged to delay their vengeance out of
    respect for the sacred place where they were assembled. They
    gave vent to their grief by loud lamentations. When the gods
    came to themselves, Frigga asked who among them wished to gain
    all her love and good will. "For this," said she, "shall he have
    who will ride to Hel and offer Hela a ransom if she will let
    Baldur return to Asgard." Whereupon Hermod, surnamed the Nimble,
    the son of Odin, offered to undertake the journey. Odin's horse,
    Sleipnir, which has eight legs, and can outrun the wind, was then
    led forth, on which Hermod mounted and galloped away on his
    mission. For the space of nine days and as many nights he rode
    through deep glens so dark that he could not discern anything
    until he arrived at the river Gyoll, which he passed over on a
    bridge covered with glittering gold. The maiden who kept the
    bridge asked him his name and lineage, telling him that the day
    before five bands of dead persons had ridden over the bridge, and
    did not shake it as much as he alone. "But," she added, "thou
    hast not death's hue on thee; why then ridest thou here on the
    way to Hel?"

    "I ride to Hel," answered Hermod, "to seek Baldur. Hast thou
    perchance seen him pass this way?"

    She replied, "Baldur hath ridden over Gyoll's bridge, and yonder
    lieth the way he took to the abodes of death."

    Hermod pursued his journey until he came to the barred gates of
    Hel. Here he alighted, girthed his saddle tighter, and
    remounting clapped both spurs to his horse, who cleared the gate
    by a tremendous leap without touching it. Hermod then rode on to
    the palace where he found his brother Baldur occupying the most
    distinguished seat in the hall, and passed the night in his
    company. The next morning he besought Hela to let Baldur ride
    home with him, assuring her that nothing but lamentations were to
    be heard among the gods. Hela answered that it should now be
    tried whether Baldur was so beloved as he was said to be. "If,
    therefore," she added, "all things in the world, both living and
    lifeless, weep for him, then shall he return to life; but if any
    one thing speak against him or refuse to weep, he shall be kept
    in Hel."

    Hermod then rode back to Asgard and gave an account of all he had
    heard and witnessed.

    The gods upon this despatched messengers throughout the world to
    beg every thing to weep in order that Baldur might be delivered
    from Hel. All things very willingly complied with this request,
    both men and every other living being, as well as earths, and
    stones, and trees, and metals, just as we have all seen these
    things weep when they are brought from a cold place into a hot
    one. As the messengers were returning, they found an old hag
    named Thaukt sitting in a cavern, and begged her to weep Baldur
    out of Hel. But she answered,

    "Thaukt will wail
    With dry tears
    Baldur's bale-fire.
    Let Hela keep her own."

    It was strongly suspected that this hag was no other than Loki
    himself, who never ceased to work evil among gods and men. So
    Baldur was prevented from coming back to Asgard. (In
    Longfellow's Poems, vol. 1, page 379, will be found a poem
    entitled Tegner's Drapa, upon the subject of Baldur's death.)

    Among Matthew Arnold's Poems is one called "Balder Death"
    beginning thus:

    "So on the floor lay Balder dead; and round
    Lay thickly strewn swords, axes, darts and spears,
    Which all the Gods in sport had idly thrown
    At Balder, whom no weapon pierced or clave;
    But in his breast stood fixt the fatal bough
    Of mistletoe, which Lok the Accuser gave
    To Hoder, and unwitting Hoder threw;
    "Gainst that alone had Balder's life no charm.
    And all the Gods and all the heroes came
    And stood round Balder on the bloody floor
    Weeping and wailing; and Valhalla rang
    Up to its golden roof with sobs and cries;
    And on the table stood the untasted meats,
    And in the horns and gold-rimmed skulls the wine;
    And now would night have fallen and found them yet
    Wailing; but otherwise was Odin's will."

    THE FUNERAL OF BALDUR

    The gods took up the dead body and bore it to the sea-shore where
    stood Baldur's ship Hringham, which passed for the largest in the
    world. Baldur's dead body was put on the funeral pile, on board
    the ship, and his wife Nanna was so struck with grief at the
    sight that she broke her heart, and her body was burned on the
    same pile with her husband's. There was a vast concourse of
    various kinds of people at Baldur's obsequies. First came Odin
    accompanied by Frigga, the Valkyrior, and his ravens; then Frey
    in his car drawn by Gullinbursti, the boar; Heimdall rode his
    horse Gulltopp, and Freya drove in her chariot drawn by cats.
    There were also a great many Frost giants and giants of the
    mountain present. Baldur's horse was led to the pile fully
    caparisoned and consumed in the same flames with his master.

    But Loki did not escape his deserved punishment. When he saw how
    angry the gods were, he fled to the mountain, and there built
    himself a hut with four doors, so that he could see every
    approaching danger. He invented a net to catch the fishes, such
    as fishermen have used since his time. But Odin found out his
    hiding-place and the gods assembled to take him. He, seeing
    this, changed himself into a salmon, and lay hid among the stones
    of the brook. But the gods took his net and dragged the brook,
    and Loki finding he must be caught, tried to leap over the net;
    but Thor caught him by the tail and compressed it so, that
    salmons every since have had that part remarkably fine and thin.
    They bound him with chains and suspended a serpent over his head,
    whose venom falls upon his face drop by drop. His wife Siguna
    sits by his side and catches the drops as they fall, in a cup;
    but when she carries it away to empty it, the venom falls upon
    Loki, which makes him howl with horror, and twist his body about
    so violently that the whole earth shakes, and this produces what
    men call earthquakes.

    THE ELVES

    The Edda mentions another class of beings, inferior to the gods,
    but still possessed of great power; these were called Elves. The
    white spirits, or Elves of Light, were exceedingly fair, more
    brilliant than the sun, and clad in garments of delicate and
    transparent texture. They loved the light, were kindly disposed
    to mankind, and generally appeared as fair and lovely children.
    Their country was called Alfheim, and was the domain of Freyr,
    the god of the sun, in whose light they were always sporting.

    The black of Night Elves were a different kind of creatures.
    Ugly, long-nosed dwarfs, of a dirty brown color, they appeared
    only at night, for they avoided the sun as their most deadly
    enemy, because whenever his beams fell upon any of them they
    changed them immediately into stones. Their language was the
    echo of solitudes, and their dwelling-places subterranean caves
    and clefts. They were supposed to have come into existence as
    maggots, produced by the decaying flesh of Ymir's body, and were
    afterwards endowed by the gods with a human form and great
    understanding. They were particularly distinguished for a
    knowledge of the mysterious powers of nature, and for the runes
    which they carved and explained. They were the most skilful
    artificers of all created beings, and worked in metals and in
    wood. Among their most noted works were Thor's hammer, and the
    ship Skidbladnir, which they gave to Freyr, and which was so
    large that it could contain all the deities with their war and
    household implements, but so skilfully was it wrought that when
    folded together it could be put into a side pocket.

    RAGNABOK, THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS

    It was a firm belief of the northern nations that a time would
    come when all the visible creation, the gods of Valhalla and
    Niffleheim, the inhabitants of Jotunheim, Alfheim, and Midgard,
    together with their habitations, would be destroyed. The fearful
    day of destruction will not, however, be without its forerunners.
    First will come a triple winter, during which snow will fall from
    the four corners of the heavens, the frost be very severe, the
    wind piercing, the weather tempestuous, and the sun impart no
    gladness. Three such winters will pass away without being
    tempered by a single summer. Three other similar winters will
    then follow, during which war and discord will spread over the
    universe. The earth itself will be frightened and begin to
    tremble, the sea leave its basin, the heavens tear asunder, and
    men perish in great numbers, and the eagles of the air feast upon
    their still quivering bodies. The wolf Fenris will now break his
    bands, the Midgard serpent rise out of her bed in the sea, and
    Loki, released from his bonds, will join the enemies of the gods.
    Amidst the general devastation the sons of Muspelheim will rush
    forth under their leader Surtur, before and behind whom are
    flames and burning fire. Onward they ride over Bifrost, the
    rainbow bridge, which breaks under the horses' hoofs. But they,
    disregarding its fall, direct their course to the battle-field
    called Vigrid. Thither also repair the wolf Fenris, the Midgard
    serpent, Loki with all the followers of Hela, and the Frost
    giants.

    Heimdall now stands up and sounds the Giallar horn to assemble
    the gods and heroes for the contest. The gods advance, led on by
    Odin, who engages the wolf Fenris, but falls a victim to the
    monster, who is, however, slain by Vidar, Odin's son. Thor gains
    great renown by killing the Midgard serpent, but recoils and
    falls dead, suffocated with the venom which the dying monster
    vomits over him. Loki and Heimdall meet and fight till they are
    both slain. The Gods and their enemies having fallen in battle,
    Surtur, who has killed Dreyr, darts fire and flames over the
    world, and the whole universe is burned up. The sun becomes dim,
    the earth sinks into the ocean, the stars fall from heaven, and
    time is no more.

    After this Alfadur (the almighty) will cause a new heaven and a
    new earth to arise out of the sea. The new earth, filled with
    abundant supplies, will spontaneously produce its fruits without
    labor or care. Wickedness and misery will no more be known, but
    the gods and men will live happily together.

    RUNIC LETTERS

    One cannot travel far in Denmark, Norway, or Sweden, without
    meeting with great stones, of different forms, engraven with
    characters called Runic, which appear at first sight very
    different from all we know. The letters consist almost
    invariably of straight lines, in the shape of little sticks
    either singly or put together. Such sticks were in early times
    used by the northern nations for the purpose of ascertaining
    future events. The sticks were shaken up, and from the figures
    that they formed a kind of divination was derived.

    The Runic characters were of various kinds. They were chiefly
    used for magical purposes. The noxious, or, as they called them,
    the BITTER runes, were employed to bring various evils on their
    enemies; the favorable averted misfortune. Some were medicinal,
    others employed to win love, etc. In later times they were
    frequently used for inscriptions, of which more than a thousand
    have been found. The language is a dialect of the Gothic, called
    Norse, still in use in Iceland. The inscriptions may therefore
    be read with certainty, but hitherto very few have been found
    which throw the least light on history. They are mostly epitaphs
    on tombstones.

    Gray's ode on the Descent of Odin contains an allusion to the use
    of Runic letters for incantation:

    "Facing to the northern clime,
    Thrice he traced the Runic rhyme;
    Thrice pronounced, in accents dread,
    The thrilling verse that wakes the dead,
    Till from out the hollow ground
    Slowly breathed a sullen sound."

    THE SKALDS

    The Skalds were the bards and poets of the nation, a very
    important class of men in all communities in an early stage of
    civilization. They are the depositaries of whatever historic
    lore there is, and it is their office to mingle something of
    intellectual gratification with the rude feasts of the warriors,
    by rehearsing, with such accompaniments of poetry and music as
    their skill can afford, the exploits of their heroes living or
    dead. The compositions of the Skalds were called Sagas, many of
    which have come down to us, and contain valuable materials of
    history, and a faithful picture of the state of society at the
    time to which they relate.

    ICELAND

    The Eddas and Sagas have come to us from Iceland. The following
    extract from Carlyle's Lectures on Heroes and Hero worship gives
    an animated account of the region where the strange stories we
    have been reading had their origin. Let the reader contrast it
    for a moment with Greece, the parent of classical mythology.

    "In that strange island, Iceland, burst up, the geologists say,
    by fire from the bottom of the sea, a wild land of barrenness and
    lava, swallowed many months of every year in black tempests, yet
    with a wild, gleaming beauty in summer time, towering up there
    stern and grim in the North Ocean, with its snow yokuls
    (mountains), roaring geysers (boiling springs), sulphur pools,
    and horrid volcanic chasms, like the vast, chaotic battle-field
    of Frost and Fire, where, of all places, we least looked for
    literature or written memorials, the record of these things was
    written down. On the seaboard of this wild land is a rim of
    grassy country, where cattle can subsist, and men by means of
    them and of what the sea yields; and it seems they were poetic
    men these, men who had deep thoughts in them and uttered
    musically their thoughts. Much would be lost had Iceland not
    been burst up from the sea, not been discovered by the Northmen!"

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