Balder myth background

Balder myth background

The Balder myth is one of few with signs of agriculture. It is also the only one of few we find in the rock-carvings. The version of Snorri looks like real myth while the version of Saxo Grammaticus at the time was a modern version about fighting kings

Balder motif, Valaspa, Mimer Well, Laukeberg, Idun's apples, rock-carvings, mourning mother, Loke, mistletoe, druid, Roman augur, Etruscan augur, Tree of Life, the Holly Oak, Thor, Inanna myth, Isis myth, Snake pit

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About the original size of the Balder series

This section gives the background to the golden bracts with the Balder motif. I show 6 of them and the variations. The find places are Beresina, Kiev 2 bracts; North Jutland 2 bracts; East Zealand 1 bract plus 1 fragment from the same place and 2 more from unknown place in Denmark. They can be dated after a golden medallion of Constantius II 323 - 361 AD in the find from Ukraine.

These weigh about 3 grams or the same as half a normal finger ring. They are made of thin plate diameter ca 26 mm and none of the pairs are exactly alike. Maybe the figures are punched in from the back.

The centre of the Evenstorp rock-carvings ca 2000 BC with the Leader instructing the Maiden with her suite before the season. Around this is the detailed programme

In the first songs of Valaspa of the Edda the Balder theme begins in verse 28 with the Leader instructing the Vala and giving her golden rings in verse 29. She is just remembering what should happen and uses the Mimer Well = memory of the Leader. Partly she takes the guise of the harvesting Maiden and her suite since she is the seeress.

The main motif is simply harvest time that began after midsummer those days. The harvested hey later and after that leaf maybe and soon the corn. Some maybe sow burn-beat wheat in the same period and that is why we have so mixed traditions and myths. In a way it seems that they mix the burn-beat fire with the normal harvest ritual.

In their animation harvesting was the killing of the idol of corn or whatever they harvested. There were several activities in parallel in this case. That is why we see a little of the 6000 years old Inanna myth about the birth of agriculture in this. We seethe typical trio Inanna, her mate and the guard as the main composition

This is a cut from Laukeberg's big rock-carvings and the late Aake Ohlmarks read it as Balder's homicide

Seeing the blind Hauder assisted by Loke at left is easy when they shoot at Balder without arms since he is the vegetation. The composition is completed with the mourning mother in upper left corner. In these rock-carvings the loop starts with the sowing and the myth of Idun's apples.

This is the only fragmentary illustration I have found. It is much like the golden bracts in which a few details gives a hint of the myth. It is like a visual instruction how to create a poem from fragments. Written prose tales work in the same way out from details on a string. Here I use Edda names since we have the prose saga about the myth and it sounds original.

Our rock-carvings show that they got many myths and tales from the South and they surely mixed them with their own collection. Some of them were just for fun and discussion in the nights. Others were educating the youngsters about life. Myths about agriculture were also teaching the youngsters at the same time, as it was the memory before the season.

The golden bracts were made for the nobility of which maybe few knew about agriculture. Still as member of the society and surely as leader of local rituals they used motifs from the season and the myths. In the collection of golden bracts we find their entire World Order as well as the myths in agriculture and society. The Nordic animal ornaments were born during the Golden Age and they got impressions from the South as well as from the Celts on the continent as well as on Ireland where we find some of the main motifs in 5th century.

Observe my transcription of the Scandinavian last letters in the alphabet. I use the original transpiration writing the sounds like Ö = AU as in Norway today; Ä = AE or Danish and Latin Æ and the long A = AA that is more like O. I try to be consequent and use the automatic "replace" in the Word-processor.

The reader can get trouble when reading different sources on this subject since we all have our own style with no standard. Some of us try to get the right feeling by conserving some of the old style and tone in language. My Old Norse is too poor for that.

Mourning Mother at the bones rock-carvings at Haugsbyn

This section of the rock-carvings shows the composition with mourning, mother, guard and the ferryman. The fourth is only bones. There is also the dots of asterism Scorpio that ties the situation to their starmap and it is harvest time. In upper right corner is spring when the little one = corn is on its way at the Underworld River.

This is animating end of season and that the Ferryman takes over and guards the larder. In Edda it is Loke since his name is also "locking in". This is from last millennium BC. The mourning mother we find in several places on our rock-carvings. Even the Hittitian syllable alphabet has a symbol for that. It is some version of Isis or Demeter myth. 

The researchers do not find a real clue in the Balder myth and hardly in any of the Edda themes. I wonder if there ever have been a red thread and I give up. Let myth be myth and give inspiration. Naturally we can see some fragments and when we for instance hear the work mistletoe we think of what we know about that.

As a child I always wondered how can they shoot with this thing?

Then we researcher naturally look at old sources and see if there is some reason. For instance Plinius wrote about the mistletoe:

"In treating of this subject, the admiration in which the mistletoe is held throughout Gaul ought not to pass unnoticed. The Druids, for so they call their wizards, esteem nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree on which it grows, provided only that the tree is an oak.

But apart from this they choose oak-woods for their sacred groves and perform no sacred rites without oak-leaves. The very name of Druids may be regarded as a Greek appellation derived from their worship of the oak. For they believe that whatever grows on these trees are sent from heaven. It is a sign that the tree has been chosen by the god himself.

The mistletoe is very rarely to be met with; but when it is found, they gather it with solemn ceremony. This they do above all on the sixth day of the moon, from whence they date the beginnings of their months, of their years, and of their thirty years’ cycle. That is because by the sixth day the moon has plenty of vigour and has not run half its course. After due preparations have been made for a sacrifice and a feast under the tree. They hail it as the universal healer and bring to the spot two white bulls, whose horns have never been bound before.

A priest clad in a white robe climbs the tree and with a golden sickle cuts the mistletoe that is caught in a white cloth. Then they sacrifice the victims, praying that God may make his own gift to prosper with those upon whom he has bestowed it. They believe that a potion prepared from mistletoe will make barren animals to bring forth, and that the plant is a remedy against all poison."

We get often the impression that the Greek and Roman writers stand for the only real truth. It is a question about our attitude and the writer's attitude. In this case we should remember that the Roman augurs used similar methods in prediction. The art of divination is old as some kind of society with specialised members ... Ronald Reagan trusted his astrology and they say the English believe more in astrology and in their politicians and that sounds sound.

The Romans saw naturally Etruscan augurs as odd, "They think that lightning is message from the gods, we see that the clouds bang together and cause the lightning". We know differently and see that both survived for a while, but do not know for how long our culture stands. Many intellectual questions do not at all affect the survival of mankind.

Most of the cultures have their gods above and many concretises them as asterisms or stars. If the society think their creating gods are in heaven then it is natural that everything comes from above. They are right since the sun energy drives our biosphere. It is only a question about words and metaphors.

The Tree of Life is at least 6000 years old in symbolism. It is a natural symbol for growth and even for survival. The Holly Oak is one of our strongest trees that can exceed 1000 years of age. The oak is host for maybe 800 different species of life. It is only natural that the oak became symbol of sustainability and life in the philosophy that need dynamic symbols as reference … it is also natural that many other useful species of trees got their own mythology.

The mistletoe is just an occasional guest with no root in soil and it was natural the people were interested in that being. Another thing is that they investigated all plants for medicine. In the Balder myth its function is only to be "the innocent tool" in the hand of "the innocent archer" Hauder. We should not use Christian logic and ethic, but the very original one.

Our ancestors thought to the bottom and we meet that they were anxious about doing the right things. Many in our time laugh at "primitive" man asking and apologising when he cut down a tree … we cut the rain forests for good and destroy our climate.

Then modern man do not understand that our ancestors were cautious and asked "can we take another life" They saw it as murder and partly maybe because of their believe in reincarnation. That shows us also that they were early seeing murder as unacceptable and the murder was punished. Maybe some of the offerings of humans simply were punishment. Some people easily believe that our ancestors were barbarians.

We have to know this to understand why the myth uses these odd instruments to be allowed to harvest the grain they animated as a god. I think it is Christian influence that generations since Snorri have made Loke the Devil. In ancient meaning he was just the principle of innovation and locking the ideas to a shape. Then it is another thing that imagination has no limits and Loke = imagination and innovation sometimes also was harm for the gods. It is not easy to think about gods as abstractions of ideas.

Scientists always speak about problemizing and seek the problems in the object at the agenda. Our ancestors went the other way and simplified to get the substantial and sustainable clue in the matter. Many of the ancient myths seem simple with no sophisticated clue as we intellectual always seek.

Their problem was to educate next generation and that the adult generation could use the tales as memory and instruction year after year. However much of the original message surely have been lost since later generations did not understand what it all was about.

It is natural that a child initially believes in the words that he knows the meaning of. Allegory and metaphor asks for educating and the ability of thinking in two places. Some people never learn to read between the lines. Maybe our ancestors love of mystery was a way of teaching children to see behind the curtain. Some of their pictures have a detail that unmasks the picture by telling that there is another reality init. It was their way of staying in reality and not believe in gods as real doers. 

Once I was driving with goats when visiting a friend in childhood. Then I thought, "How did Thor get his big but in a wagon seat like this? I was in the age when I read all books in the library about our mythology. Thor should ride in the sky and his goat wagon caused the thunder and his hammer the lightning. Maybe the goats of deities have another size? … a child can ask more and harder questions than a wise can answer.

I do not know if Indian boys asked the same question since their Pushan also used goats in front of his wagon. Myths of that kind are often globally spread and our common heritage.


On this sample I see a master with distance to his motif. I suppose it was a He.

Note the pearls or circles at his neck. Is it medals or neck-rings it is hard to say, but on some bracts they have the Celtic ring. He has also something on his chest in the same way as some Roman Emperors wore some decoration.

The burlesque story is always behind what we see. We have only a few examples of this kind. It is good to have them otherwise it would be too serious like in many organised religions. In fact there is much of joking in the stories and that make it easier to remember

Another trick was the antiphon song in the land of Kalevala Karelia. They still practise it. In the evenings the leader sang and the public repeated the verses at the same time as they learnt the story. I think it was much the same in Sumer.

Synonym for "thane" the lowest rank in Mercia was "thegn" and that is the Danish word "degn" choir leader in church. Maybe the early thegn was the ritual leader of his land. Thane is maybe "dane" and it means "train"

Early epos has in common that they are long songs with much repeating or as in Kalevala that they repeat the same issue with different words. It was an extraordinary way of learning language I think. In the Edda sphere they were taught to use "kenninger", i.e. synonyms and in they seem to have a hidden mystery. Even Beowulf is long and it takes time before you understand the battle with Grendel and later with his mother and soon you are under the bog. There is something Celtic "flow of combinations" in that.

Kalevala is the small village with some characters and I noted that the Caucasian Nart Epos is of the same type. The Edda songs have a great variety from Havamál that is mostly proverbs that works even today … over the mighty Valaspa and mystery play with the gods to the noble Rigstula and some sagas about heroes.

Oden means "leader" and he was created in pace with the Erils as legionaries. The merchants did not need a leader and as the Romans tell their leader was Mercurius or Hanno with no opinion. Merchants do not know nationalities and they are friends with every-one as long as they have no sword above their head.

But the legionaries and the growing kingdom needed a definition of leadership. Tyr was not a leader but a judge and for instance the tradition in West Gautland is that they were led buy one or two judges.


These two pictures show more background and details in the main myth of agriculture with the moon goddess in centre

The rock-carvings is the oldest known myth of Inanna leaving her seed t her twin sister Ereshkigal as the womb of earth. The other is about 1000 years younger from the Akkadian period in Sumer. Still we have Inanna and her guard in centre and the eagle is maybe the lightning. We see the twig as beginning of growth. 

The Balder myth we know is the end of evolution and surely Inanna myth, Isis myth and several other myths are mixed in that. The Inanna myth in general is about the spring, but she also invented the used of trees as shade and as food harvested in the end of summer. In the Isis myth the characteristic theme is when she seek the bones of Osiris and travel around. We see fragment in some rock-carvings and some Danish place names has the question "Where" as root, i.e. Hvornum and Kvorning and even Spauring = Asking belongs to these.

They taught me in school that the Greeks invented it all. However if we really want to understand the myth and reality we have to know it all from the beginning. We have also to understand the early agriculture and the means of getting people to work and teaching people out from the memory in the myths. In nobility this knowledge faded out in time.