By John T. Mainer
Inside the greatest stories are a hundred little stories that get forgotten. In the story of the first winter, the death of Baldur the bright, there is a story too of little Mistletoe. At Yuletide now we hang mistletoe, and whenever a boy and girl pass beneath it they must kiss, but so many have forgotten why. The tale of mistletoe is one of love and pride, foolishness and forgiveness.
First and best of the sons of Frigga and Odin was Baldur the bright. The shining one, his laughter and courage were beacons to the Aesir, and his gentleness the offer of peace when the battle din had faded. Where the world carved by Jottun and Odin from Ymir’s bones was cruel and cold, would Baldur add a touch of gentleness and wonder. Where spearsharp mountain was cut by icy stream would Baldur carve a hidden flowered glen, and softly whispering pool. Where Muspelheim’s fire clawed at the ice and rock of earth would Baldur twist and twine them to forge a bubbling spring of warmth to bring the promise of life to the most forsaken fell. When the first war raged between Aesir and Vanir sweet Frigga feared for her son, for ever was he first in battle, and all too swift to offer mercy where death strokes were safer. In time the Aesir and Vanir swore to peace, and the Vanir too grew to love Baldur. For a time the nine worlds were near peace, the Aesir and Vanir united, the raiding with the Jottun more friendly sport than earnest war. At this time did Frigga vow to make her Baldur safe from harm from all.
To the dwarvish deeps she went, and begged favour of the dwarves. Let not stone or steel, nor metal forged dare harm sweet Baldur’s hide. The dwarves looked deep into the secret earth, at the ropes and rivers of gold, the sparkling diamonds promising the wonders of the night sky, and the thousand secret riches that Baldur had woven into the iron deeps when the world was new forged and so they swore. To the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the whales and fishes of the deep did she go and beg safety for bright Baldur, and as each would look to the beauty Baldur had woven into their world, they would promise his protection. From Yggdrasil and all lesser trees did Frigga then beg favour, and one by one they all swore Baldur’s weal for the beauty he had given them. At last came Frigga to the youngest of plants, the newborn Mistletoe. She begged protection for her son, and Mistletoe said no.
Mistletoe lives on the oak, and never sees the sun. Far from the ground it sees not beyond the mighty oaks dark leaves. The oak itself did lend its voice to beg and plead with Mistletoe, but Mistletoe had never seen the gifts of Baldur’s making. All Frigga’s tears and oaks stern words did not move Mistletoe to mercy, in ignorance and pride it swore no oath to the lady mother.
Alone of giant, man and god was Loki is his jealousy. Baldur’s love meant nothing to him, and he ever sought to mock him. For all his jests did him no good as Baldur never angered, but laughed instead with right good will when Loki’s wit did best him. With envy and rage did Loki plot to do fair Baldur evil, at last he thought to ask of Frigg the protection she had won him. In the high feast hall with a gentle smile did Loki come to Frigga.
”How you must fear with such a bold son, that evil must befall him. Of all the gods your Baldur’s courage in the vanguard ever finds him”
At Loki’s words did Frigga smile, never suspecting evil. She shared with her kinsmen her sons defence, the secrets of his protection.
“The stones of earth, all metals forged, all beasts of water, wind and land have all sworn him protection.” Did Frigga smile.
Loki pressed for answers
”What of tree and leaf and nut? What of dandelion or rose?”
Frigga laughed at his silly words, and revealed the last of her secret.
“Trees and grasses, bush and vine have all sworn his protection. Only lowly mistletoe of all that lives still dares withhold protection.”
Loki laughed and slid away, his mission now completed. Sweet Frigga not suspecting yet that Loki plotted treason. Down to midgard with a silver knife did Loki make his harvest. A slender wand of mistletoe that in the fire with spells he hardened. His arrow forged of mistletoe, and murder in his heart, Loki crossed the rainbow bridge and came to Odin’s court.
“A game!” cried Loki shouting loud, “A sport to test our mettle” Loki’s challenge drew every eye and he worked his trick so vile.
“Let Baldur stand before the host, let every warrior try him” Loath were the gods to raise hand against him, but Baldur did beseech them.
”What harm in this? Lets have a game, let all my friends and brothers try their mightiest of strokes and let me judge the winner!”
Baldur’s words stirred every heart with honest love for battle, and laughing did they all array to try their strokes against him. Odin’s spear and Thor’s dread hammer, swords of Frey and Heimdall, the bow of Uller all did fail amidst the warriors laughter. Blind Hod alone did not take part, until dread Loki urged him on and promised his assistance.
”Come now brother, what’s the harm” smiled Loki in his treason. “I’ll guide your hand upon the bow, let your warriors heart remember”
Hod then smiled and drew his bow, and Loki fit the arrow, dread mistletoe struck Baldur dead and the light of the world fell with him.
All remember what happened next, how sweet Sunna fled from a world without Baldur, how winter came to the world. All remember the punishment of Loki, a binding and torment that would last until the end of days. Each Yule we remember Baldur’s arrival at Hel’s own hall, how she bade him to sit beside her and join her in her hall until the end of days when he will return to lead the survivors. Who now remembers the fate of Mistletoe, the agent of Baldur’s bane?
When Baldur fell, sweet Sunna turned her face away and fled. Without the light of the sun, the world grew cold and dark, the trees lost their leaves, and for the first time Mistletoe saw beyond the embracing arms of oak. Everywhere the dying light showed emptiness and loss, but here and there would beauty shine and mistletoe did weep. “Who has made this” would Mistletoe ask at each thing of majesty and wonder, “Baldur” was the answer every time until the heart of mistletoe was shattered.
Mother Frigga in her rage demanded the death of her sons dread slayer. Of Odin and of Yggdrasil, of Frey and gentle Nerthus she begged the price of mother’s vengeance, until every god condmened it. Alone of all the gods did Freya hear the weeping. Alone of all the Vanir did she stoop to hear the reason. To mistletoe she swiftly flew within her falcon cloak, upon the oak tree did she land beside the weeping plant. Loves golden goddess softly asked why mistletoe did weep?
“For Baldur slain, for beauty lost, for love gone out the world”
Freya asked of Mistletoe what weregild would it pay? How could it give back the beauty lost, the love that Baldur offered? When Mother Frigga in her rage came down the Bifrost bridge. Freya stood with mistletoe to greet the grieving mother.
“Blessed Frigga will you accept the weregild of the weeping flower? Or will you slaughter and stain the memory of the loving son you’ve lost?”
Frigga stared hard eyed and cold to hear the weregilds terms, Mistletoe in humble grief did make this solemn vow.
“Where Yuletide brings the pain of loss will Mistletoe bring love, beneath my humble leaves let love be now kindled. What fairer grave goods for the sun bright lord than the promise of love new kindled? When two now meet beneath my leaves, let loves kiss light between them. Let the light of love remember him that the world weeps for this season.”
Now down the ages we remember beneath the mistletoe, a kiss the promise of new love, within this coldest season.