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Juvenile red tailed hawk with clean and pristine feathers

Friday, July 7, 2023

The Death of Balder


This is an ink wash painting that I have owned for the last fifteen years or so. The beloved Norse god Balder has been slain and his wife is at the river Helayid begging for his return.

I really like it but it is far too dark for most people. Most people would not want something so saturnine in their home and I understand that. Oh well. Another one to throw in my coffin on my expiration day.

But I have had a lifelong interest in all sorts of mythologies and this Norse tale is terribly bittersweet. I have shown it to Norwegian friends for an exact translation and they say that the very old form of their language is honestly beyond them. 

I wrote about the piece in 2010 and will plagiarize myself if it is okay with you, I am having a very difficult day and it will help me to cut a corner or two.

If I had the time and wasn't flat on my back I would straighten it and show it in optimal form. But I don't. I always thought it evoked a Picasso like "Don Quixote" quality.

This inkwash was painted by the Norwegian artist Louis Moe (1859-1945) in 1929. The painting shows the god Balder at the River Helayid. Balder was the Norse god of love and happiness, son of Odin and Frigg, the most beloved god in the Norse pantheon. Balder had a prophetic dream of his own death. He grasped the verity of his dream because he is the god of truth. His mother had the same dream. The death of Balder was foretold to be the event that would portend the destruction of the gods.
Frigg was worried and had all living creatures promise not to hurt her son. Every creature made the vow except for the mistletoe, being thought unimportant and too young to swear an oath.

The trickster Loki, Balder's cousin, had an arrow made of mistletoe and went to the place where the gods were casting spears at Balder. He gave the arrow to the blind god Höðr who cast it at Balder and killed him.

Balder was ceremonially burnt upon his ship, Hringhorni, the largest of all ships. As he was carried to the ship, Odin whispered an unanswerable riddle in his ear. Balder's wife Namma threw herself into the funeral fire to await Ragnarok, when he would be raised from the dead and reconciled with Höðr.

This painting shows Balder and Namma alongside Hel at the river Helayid. Frigg begged Hel through the messenger Hermod to release her son. Hel promised to release Balder from the underworld if all beings alive and dead would weep for him. And all did, except a giantess, Þökk, who refused to mourn the slain god. It turns out that she is actually Loki in disguise.  
And so we await the end of the world.
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I  always wondered why Marvel chose to feature another testosterone addled Thunder god with a hammer when Balder had such a beautiful story but so it is.

Their arrows flew above his head...

From the Edda:

Annar sonur Óðins er Baldur, og er frá honum gott að segja. Hann er svá fagr álitum ok bjartr svá at lýsir af honum, ok eitt gras er svá hvítt at jafnat er til Baldrs brár. Þat er allra grasa hvítast, ok þar eptir máttu marka fegrð hans bæði á hár og á líki. Hann er vitrastr ása ok fegrst talaðr ok líknsamastr. En sú náttúra fylgir honum at engi má haldask dómr hans. Hann býr þar sem heita Breiðablik, þat er á himni. Í þeim stað má ekki vera óhreint.


The second son of Odin is Baldur, and good things are to be said of him. He is best, and all praise him; he is so fair of feature, and so bright, that light shines from him. A certain herb is so white that it is likened to Baldur's brow; of all grasses it is whitest, and by it thou mayest judge his fairness, both in hair and in body. He is the wisest of the Æsir, and the fairest-spoken and most gracious; and that quality attends him, that none may gainsay his judgments. He dwells in the place called Breidablik, which is in heaven; in that place may nothing unclean be.

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