Monday, June 02, 2008

Mercy and Good Judgement are the Best Heathen Qualities

I consider heathens who pooh-pooh Baldur's death to be irreligious. There. I said it. Hann er beztr, ok hann lofa allir, "He is the best, and all love him." He is called Baldr inn góða, (Gylfaginning 49) "Baldur the Good". Hann er vitrastr ásanna ok fegrst talaðr ok líknsamastr, en sú náttúra fylgir honum, at enginn má haldast dómr hans, "He is the Wisest of the Aesir, and the fairest in speech, and the most merciful, and it follows from his nature that no one may hold against his judgements." (Gylfaginning 22.) Líknsamastr, "the most merciful", may also be translated as "the greatest healer", the one who gives the greatest relief and soothing.

Concerning his judgements, the father must partake of the nature of the son in greater quantity, and of his son Forseti, it is said that svæfir allar sakar, "he puts to rest all disputes", and that En allir, er til hans koma með sakarvandræði, þá fara allir sáttir á braut, "Everyone who comes to him with troublesome quarrels leaves reconciled." There's no two words about it : Baldur and his son Forseti are powerful forces of reconciliation and peace, and their judgement is considered the best. But if such high words of praise can be said for Forseti, so much the more so for Baldur, whose powers of reconciliation and mercy must have been so much higher, for when Baldur died, Forseti was still left amongst the Aesir, and yet we are told in Gylfaginning 49 that En Óðinn bar þeim mun verst þenna skaða sem hann kunni mesta skyn, hversu mikil aftaka ok missa ásunum var í fráfalli Baldrs, "But Odin bore that scathe the worst as he knew with greater understanding than any how mighty a taking-away and loss Baldur's death was to the Aesir." This was knowing that Forseti, of whose mighty powers of reconciliation we have just spoken, was still amongst the Aesir!

Odin, with all his wisdom, appreciated just how big a loss this was to the Gods, even with Forseti's awesome powers of reconciliation still amongst them. Are you going to gainsay Odin in this regard?

The importance of Baldur's líkn and vitra and dómr --- his Mercy and Wise Judgements -- could not be spoken of in greater terms or with more emphasis and hyperbole. Gylfaginning 49 says of his death that hefir þat mest óhapp verit unnit með goðum ok mönnum, "That was held to be the greatest undoing of good fortune that had ever happened amongst gods and men."

I'll put this in William Shatner speech : The. Greatest. Undoing. Of Good Fortune. That had. Ever. Happened amongst. Gods. And men. And I will repeat it one more time : The greatest undoing of good fortune that had ever happened amongst Gods and men.

That is how important the qualities that Baldur represented were. And Voluspa 62 - 64 tells us for what Odin and the Einheriar were fighting so mightily at Ragnarok, for after the battle is over, Böls man alls batna, Baldr man koma;búa þeir Höðr ok Baldr Hropts sigtoptir vel valtívar....ok burir byggja brœðra tveggja vindheim víðan. Sal sér hon standa sólu fegra gulli þakðan á Gimlé; þar skulu dyggvar dróttir byggja ok um aldrdaga ynðis njóta, "All bale shall be repaired, Baldur shall come ; Hodur and Baldur, the good victory-gods, will dwell there in Hropt's Victory-Homestead ... and the sons, the two brothers, shall dwell in the Home of Winds. A hall she sees standing, fairer than the sun, thatched in gold in Gimle ; there shall the trusty, worthy folk dwell forever and ever enjoying happiness."

That's pretty unambiguous language. The return of Baldur means the repairing of all ill. The term batna, applied to bale, means the total recovery from an illness. All ill shall be repaired, when Baldur comes back to rule in the house of his father, where the folk shall enjoy eternal happiness.

I'd call that a happy ending. And it's just too bad if some creepy folks raised on Wagnerian fantasies of doom find that too cheerful. It's the way it is. It is that end, and the values it represents, towards which everything aims. It is the raison d'etre for the einheriar and their difficult training, and the entire reason that so much is staked on the battle of Ragnarok. What did Odin whisper in Baldur's ear, that no man knows? We may be told all we need to be told when Gylfaginning 49 tells us that Óðinn lagði á bálit gullhring þann, er Draupnir heitir. Honum fylgði sú náttúra, at ina níundu hverja nótt drupu af honum átta gullhringar jafnhöfgir, "Odin laid on the pyre that gold-ring which is called Draupnir. It follows from its nature that every nine nights drop from it eight gold-rings of equal weight."

Rings were extremely important in heathendom. The ring on the altar of the temple was like the Bible that people swear upon in court these days. It received all of the holy oaths on penalty of perjury. Only the gothi of the temple was allowed to wear it into the thing, and thus was an emblem not only of the holiness of all the oaths of the folk, but a sign of the authority of the gothi. To give a ring in this context is to hand over authority of the temple. But there is more packed into this symbol of Draupnir, because it produces nine generations of rings, and it took nine generations to establish an odal estate. There couldn't be a clearer symbol of Odin handing over authority of the holy steads to Baldur. And that is precisely what Voluspa tells us happens after Ragnarok is over.

Ragnarok is fought so that the Best, the Wisest, and the Most Merciful may rule in the holy heavenly homesteads, to bring eternal happiness.

I've heard irreligious, flippant, mocking heathens say that Baldur's death was "necessary", that it was part of making "the world the way it is". Sure, it's "necessary" if you like the way the world is now, with all of its endless strife and wars and bale. If you like the evil our ancestors rightfully called "illness". If you like an axe-age, a wolf-age, an age of bale. But if you are a sane human being who has not been driven mad with resentment or blood-lust, you hate these things. Let's just say it outright. Let's just say it and drive away the folks looking for blood to sate their teeth upon, looking for schadenfreude, looking to turn holy religion into a fest for jotnar.

They don't want to hear it. It doesn't match their image of a "Viking religion". They can't stand the fact that Baldur's place in the Old Religion indicates a place for Mercy, Goodness, and Reconciliation that rivals the best values of Christianity. It seems to me these nidings, and I'll freely call them that, have rejected Christianity not because of its authoritarianism, or its rejection of the holiness of nature, or its anti-sexual attitudes --- all good reasons to hold it at arm's length --- but because they can't stand the fact that it speaks so heavily of love and mercy.

Well, I'm sorry to tell those folks in no uncertain terms that Mercy and Reconciliation were the highest values of heathendom for which all battles were fought, even the greatest of all battles. I won't waver on this, nor cater to jotnar-thralls. These facts aren't infiltrations from Christianity. They are one hundred per cent heathen. In fact, if anything, our appreciation of these facts is diminished by the fact that they presented good competition to the Christian faith and thus were under-preserved. All of the world wept for Baldur. The living, the dead, the very earth and trees and metals. Snorri, perhaps exaggerating, says that even some of the giants attended his funeral. Perhaps they were those judged who by his hand had received mercy.

We would do good to reemphasize these values and reclaim them as authentically heathen.

It's true that one of the things the story is telling us is that as the Golden Age was lost and men became more and more corrupted, these things were progressively lost, as the axe-and-wolf age progressed. It is no wonder, then, that we find so little emphasis upon this in our records, at least on the surface, and yet if you examine those records more closely, how prominently frith and grith feature.

I'm aiming at a Baldur-centered heathenism, one that knows where its true values lie. That doesn't mean that Baldur is the only God. It doesn't mean that we are to only exercise mercy, and that there is no place for the other energies the Gods represent. This isn't a monotheism of Baldur. It's simply acknowledging what was once acknowledged : that amongst the Holy Powers, Baldur is the best. And we ought to accord his spirit of Wise Judgement and Merciful Reconciliation the place in the high seat it deserves.

All translations copyright 2008 by Siegfried Goodfellow


Anonymous Swain Wodening said...

Being Anglo-Saxon Heathen I think of Balder as merely a deified hero, a demi-god in a sense. For that reason, I feel he is not Forseta's father. That aside, as that is a whole other debate, I think you do a good job of bringing up the qualities of mercy and judgment. I think, as Heathens we often think there is no room for mercy. It is rarely mentioned in the lore, not nearly as often as bravery, hospitality, and generosity, but you can see it lurking behind Havamal verses and Anglo-Saxon maxims and even rune poem verses in regards to the poor and oppressed.

2:53 AM  
Blogger R.S. Rowland said...


If you'd like to discuss that these ideals mean from a Heathen worldview...feel free to e-mail me. Spot on chap!

8:40 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

With balance and moderation being such highly valued heathen thews, it would be strange indeed if mercy were not a value. It slipped my mind that Theodish folks have a different construction of the pantheon than Asatru ; please forgive if my words of confidence offended the customs in your house. I draw a great deal of worth from the Anglo-Saxon and indeed even the Theodish, but my theorizing tends to be more comparative and composite rather than particularist. In any case, if Baldur is not a God in your tradition, nevertheless Forseta must represent some of those same qualities, no?

Again, it's an honor that you come by and add your thoughts. Please continue to do so.

2:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

pardon, but didn't baldr return the ring to odin c/o hermod?

1:29 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Yes. There is a constant interchange between the underworld and the overworld that maintains balance.

4:15 PM  

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