A Norse Tale Retold

Only a Misletoe

Hazel Minot

There is one law for Gods as well as men, and when the Past and Present run their course the Future goal is what they make it — and nothing else. Thus, when a shadow fell across the Aesir land, portent of greater darkness, and Baldur, who was 'alone without sin,' suffered from evil dreams, Odin saw the meaning of these signs. Yet, hoping against hope, he sought out Wala the ancient prophetess. With mighty incantations he roused her from her grave, only to learn what he already knew — Baldur would die! Joy and sunlight would depart with him; the present and the future would be swallowed by the past.

Gloom settled upon Asgard; but Frigga, the Mother of the Gods, would not waste the days in useless grief. Far and wide she wandered, seeking a promise from all things that they would not harm Baldur — all things except the mistletoe. The little green plant, clinging forlornly to the bough of a great oak, seemed too weak to be a source of danger, and Frigga passed it by.

Then light and happiness returned to Asgard. The Gods rejoiced in the protection given to 'the well-beloved,' and played games of skill and daring — hurling spears and other weapons at the laughing Baldur, making a sport of it because all missiles fell powerless around him. Only Loki, the mischief-maker, stood apart. Silently he watched the games, thinking up schemes to prove his cunning greater than Frigga's foresight.

Alone in her palace, spinning, Frigga heard the shouting and laughter, and wondered at the cause. So, seeing an old woman limping along the road, she called and asked what she had seen, and why the Gods were so full of laughter.

"Ah!" said the woman, "it is a sight indeed. Baldur is invincible; the Gods have hurled all kinds of weapons at him, yet he is unharmed. Nothing touches him, but only drops at his feet. I with my own eyes have seen a mighty spear thrown with force, yet when it reached the 'shining one' it settled to the ground as lightly as a feather.

And Thor, the Thunderer, sent his hammer straight at Baldur's heart, and it fared no better than anything else. The Gods are as happy as though this charm were some of their own making."

Frigga laughed and told how she had won protection for her son. The old woman listened with close attention, asking questions and leading Frigga on until she, in her happiness, said too much; telling that she had overlooked the mistletoe growing on the great oak.

"But of course you could leave that," the woman agreed. "It has no evil properties, and little strength beyond clinging to its home. Well, I wish you happiness, fair lady!" and with a smile that in some way chilled Frigga, the old woman departed.

When she could no longer be seen from the castle she turned swiftly in the direction of the ancient oak; but it was no old woman who gathered the mistletoe! Loki, chuckling to himself at the success of his disguise, was busy with a magic of his own. He sang weird songs and muttered incantations around the mistletoe. Soon it was a feeble plant no longer; its shape had changed into that of a quivering spear, caught in the bark of the oak; and Loki drew it out and hefted it.

"Frigga, fair Frigga," he laughed, as though she were there and he tormenting her, "you forgot that nothing is great and nothing is small in itself. Too bad, for Baldur shall pay for that forgetfulness."

The games were still in progress when Loki returned. Again and again the Gods hurled their weapons at Baldur, and the more they failed to touch him the more pleased they were. Loki noticed that only blind Hodur took no part.

"Come, Hodur, join the games," he teased, knowing well what the reply would be.

"It is Loki who speaks — I would know that even if I did not recognize your voice. Only the mischief-maker would suggest that blind Hodur try his luck at games! You are unkind, Loki."

"It is you who are unkind, Hodur. Since none of the other Gods has time to think of you, I would help you join the sport. I will stand beside you and guide your arm so that you may hurl a spear in the right direction."

So the blind god, who longed to have some part in the activity around him, accepted Loki's offer. They stood up together, and the crafty Loki placed the spear of mistletoe in Hodur's hand and aimed it at Baldur's heart.

There was a cry of anguish and disbelief as Baldur fell to the ground. It could not be that the god of joy, he who made things grow and blossom, lay dying at their feet! Yet it was so, and in their grief the Gods blamed poor Hodur, since Loki had disappeared, but Odin calmed their wrath.

"Stay your vengeance!" commanded the Allfather. "It is Loki rather than blind Hodur who has brought this curse upon us. Yet even the mischief-maker, though he suffer the things which must come to him for this evil deed, was but an instrument of that which Wala foretold. Darkness will come upon us, and none can stop its course — not even loving Frigga! But as night is followed by day, and the seasons cycle in the fulfillment of mortal years, so the twilight of the Gods shall be the prelude to a greater dawning. Loki has sinned in vain, for Baldur shall live again."

(From Sunrise magazine, November 1953; copyright © 1953 Theosophical University Press)

We sleep, but the loom of life never stops; and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up tomorrow. — Henry Ward Beecher

Eternity may be but an endless series of those migrations which men call deaths, abandonments of home after home, even to fairer scenes and loftier heights. — Bulwer Lytton

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