The Gods and Goddesses of Odinism
Copyright © 1996 The Circle of Ostara
Published with the kind permission of the Circle of Ostara.
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The story of the death of Balder (see Norse Myths, page 150) is an archetypal pagan myth which echoes through the folk tales of many peoples. It was in fact adapted and used in the Christian crucifixion story in order to reconcile unwilling pagans to the new enforced religion. In the Icelandic version of this story it reveals the doomladen attitude to Ragnarok which became current among the vikings at the time, when their old religion was being overwhelmed by Christianity and the cycle of the Earth was rapidly descending into the final centruies of this Dark Age. In their story the idea of the return of Balder receives little attention.
In the original tale the return of this radiant god of summer was the climax of the story and the whole purpose of its telling. We know this not only from a comparison with the similar myths of our own and other peoples but from the fact that the feast of Balder, Midsummer’s Eve, the summer solstice, was a great and joyful celebration. On this night bonfires were lit, there was feasting and rejoicing. For the power of Balder was at its height: it was the longest day, the peak of the growing season.
On that night the priest-magicians gathered the plants of power: hypericum, the plant the Christians call St. John’s Wort. Indeed, Balder was seen to be the spiritual force which gave healing and magical power to many herbs. St. John’s Wort is sacred to him and must at one time have borne his name. Other plants, too, of a natural potency, have been named for him such as Balder’s Brow, that we know as chamomile.
Balder was known as the god of light and purity, beauty, healing and magic. He was a master of runes and must have been a master of enchantment for it was said that the runes were written on his tongue. These things were told of Balder in old tale. What of the real Balder, the divine spirit that we as pagans can approach and with whom we can communicate?
We see him as a being of radiant light, a spirit of nature and the growth of plants, but those plants of smiling gardens and fruitful vines, of orchard trees bending with fruit, and the magic of herbs, the plants that live with mankind rather than in the wilderness. Balder should be close to us, his being bound up with ours. But in these dim days, when the darkness of the Age still clings around us, and the growing of food for the human mass has been for the lost part taken over by the soulless machine system, Balder is hard to find. It is, indeed, as if he is exiled to some distant World of Spirit, and will not return: all the world weeps for him. Only here and there, in “hidden valleys where the grass is green”, where those who live in them still tend their gardens with love, can Balder be found.
As with Sif, Nanna, the wife of Balder, has been treated with gross neglect by the Christian collectors of our old mythology. This is a common Christian abuse. They despise and attempt to suppress the feminine principle, they denigrate the bearers of new life.
Nanna is a fair and loving spirit, the female counterpart to Balder himself, the Goddess of Summer. As she walks the Earth the flowers spring up where her feet have pressed and the orchard trees burst into blossom. That is what her name means, Blossom. In a charming mythological folktale she is said to be the daughter of a goddess called “Nip” whose name means “bud”. In reality we know little of Nanna other than the sweet sense of her presence in the gardens and orchards when spring comes round and the summer deepens each year, those same beloved and natural gardens where Balder still visits. The few of us who are lucky enough to live in such gardens can try to reach out and find communion with these spirits of the Summer Earth and the golden sunlight, and sometimes, when birds sing and the scent of flowers and herbs floats on the warm air, we know that they pass by.
There is no need to invoke Balder and Nanna. Reach out to them with love. If you are in a place where they can sense it you will know if they answer.