05 July 2010

[Admin] Comment Moderation

Due to a rush of Chinese link spammers, I am moving comments to "moderated" for a while. So if your comment doesn't show up immediately, don't fear, I received an email about it and should approve it shortly.

04 July 2010

Prayer Beads, Week 9: Baldr, Nanna, Iduna

In the name of Balder, Bright One who must fall, may I learn to offer
sacrifice with grace.
In the name of Nanna, Bright One's Shadow, may I learn loyalty in love.
In the name of Iduna, Giver of Immortality, may I have health and
purity of body.

This has been a hard trio for me to cover, in part because I have virtually no connection to these three deities.


In the name of Balder, Bright One who must fall, may I learn to offer
sacrifice with grace.

Baldr is a god of light, beauty, love, happiness, and other such positive things. Described as being beautiful without measure, his hall Breiðablik (Broad-gleaming) is described in Snorri's Gylfaginning as there is not in heaven a fairer dwelling. It was this god that the lady Skaði sought out when choosing the god with the most beautiful feet for her marriage parter (and ending up with Njörðr). His death also has had a profound impact on modern heathen practices, and a lot of the enmity regarding Loki can be traced to the story of Baldr.

Unfortunately, the precise factors in his death is one of the points of contention between Saxo and Snorri, and how that encounter is interpreted plays a critical role in Loki's culpability, at least on the surface.

The Snorri interpretation is the one that we are most familiar with. In it Frigg asks everything in the world not to harm her son, but overlooks the mistletoe. Loki takes advantage of the blind god Höðr and gets him to fire the arrow that kills Baldr.

The traditional interpretation here has Loki as the bad guy, but makes Baldr seem, really, like a braggart. Standing in front of the gods and saying "Look what my mom did for me! Now I cannot be hurt!" Unlike than a somewhat heroic death fighting another king (Saxo's interpretation), we get him dying through hubris combined with the (potentially malevolent) actions of a trickster.

One of the more interesting interpretations of the events leading up to Baldr's demise is that his death was necessary so that he may survive the destruction of Ragnarok. Knowing that Helheim was the only place he could preserve his son, he had Loki work as his hatchet-man. In this interpretation the attitude of Baldr has a little more leeway. Instead of mere bravado, his action of inviting attack becomes an open door to allow Loki to do his work and ensure Baldr's availability after Ragnarok. In this interpretation, we see Baldr as sacrificing himself for the good of the world--not just this world, but for the world that exists after Ragnarok has passed and the gods are destroyed.

The implication here is clear: it makes Baldr into a Christ-figure, who's death was necessary that the world might live. There is also some thought that this entire storyline has been corrupted from Christian influences, which is entirely possible.

Regardless of one's particular interpretation of the events or what they might mean, Baldr's death makes for an excellent opportunity to meditate on impermanence. We will pass on, as it says in Hávamál:

Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die, --
the doom on each one dead

Whether Baldr went willingly to his death or if his death was an unwelcome shock, it was certainly assured and if nothing else we can take his death as a lesson in death and on being ready for it when the time comes.


In the name of Nanna, Bright One's Shadow, may I learn loyalty in love.

Nanna Nepsdöttir is the wife (according to Snorri) or love interest (according to Saxo) of Baldr. Very little is known about her individually, as most of her written accounts seem to describe her mostly in terms of her relationship to the men in her life. In Snorri's Gylfaginning she dies of grief for her lost husband.

So what does it mean to "learn loyalty in love." Does being loyal to someone require following them in death?

I generally like to think of the matter as entirely unrelated, actually, though it does make for a common story theme. I don't tend to think that loyalty requires being slavishly devoted to someone, nor does it require monogamous commitment. Loyalty doesn't even require a sexual or romantic relationship.

Loyalty means being true to your commitments. Not the ones that you speak, necessarily (thank you, Loki) but something far deeper. It means showing support for that person, even if they may not recognize the form that support comes in. It means not betraying that individual to others out of a sense of personal gain (beyond how your own personal gain is benefitted by your loyalty).

When we have loyalty in love it implies to me something much deeper than either word by itself would. Love can be a fleeting and whimsical thing when it doesn't have loyalty associated with it. Loyalty without love, on the other hand, starts to look very militant and can come across as hollow: loyalty to a cause you don't really believe in.

So when I say "may I learn loyalty in love" I read it multiple ways. Both may I learn loyalty in my love, and my I learn loyalty in love.


In the name of Iduna, Giver of Immortality, may I have health and
purity of body.

Iðunn is the guardian of the Apples of Immortality and a goddess of youth. John Lindow lists her name as meaning "ever young," while Rudolf Simek thinks of it as "the rejuvenating one." She seems to be a peacemaker, stepping in to ask her husband Bragi to not fight with Loki in Lokasenna. When Loki turns on her, she has the distinction of quietly asserting her boundaries without turning to attack him:

I'm not saying words of blame to Loki,
in Ægir's hall
I quietened Bragi, made talkative with beer;
and all living things love him

In this specific prayer we contemplate health and purity of body. For us there are no apples, no silver-bullet magic cures, and "purity of body" is something that we have to maintain for ourselves. We have to bear the responsibility for caring for our own selves, which means things such as eating right, not drinking to excess, and taking care to acknowledge the risks we take. Too often we neglect this to our own detriment.