The Legend of the Mistletoe

Frigga, queen of the Aesir gods, wife of Odin, loved all her children; but most of all she loved her son Baldur, called the Beautiful, god of vegetation and the Sun. So great was her love for him that she went through the whole world and made every thing promise that it would never harm Baldur. She exacted the promise from stones and wind, from plants and animals, from fire and water, and all promised faithfully never to harm Baldur the Beautiful.

But when Frigga came to the little mistletoe, she saw that it was small and weak and did not make it promise. Then the queen of the gods returned to Asgard to share her news with the Aesir.

When the gods heard this, they created a new game. Baldur would stand in front of them and they would hurl spears and stones, axes and all manner of weapons at him. But because of their promise, all the weapons bounced back or turned aside.

Now when wicked Loki, the trickster god, heard of this, he was angry and sought some way to undo the magic Frigga had woven. He came to her one day, disguised as an old woman, and sought speech with her.

“And is it true,” he asked, ” that you exacted a promise from everything in the world never to harm your son Balder?”

“It is true,” Frigga said. “Oh – I did not ask the mistletoe to promise; but it is so small and weak, it could not harm anyone.”

So Loki left and came to where the mistletoe was and saw that it had grown hardy and strong. He fashioned a short spear from it and with this he came to where the gods were playing their new game. He came to the blind god Hod and said, “Honored sir, why do you not join in the game?”

“Gladly would I show honor to Baldur,” Hod said, “but I have no weapon, and I cannot see to aim.”

“I will help you,” Loki said. “Here is a weapon, and I will guide your aim.”

So Hod threw the mistletoe spear; but instead of falling short, it pierced Baldur through and through, and he fell dead upon the spot.

The Aesir seized Hod, but wicked Loki had vanished; and the tale of how he was caught and punished is not a fit subject for Yule.

In one version of the story, Baldur was restored to life, though he had to spend part of each year in Hel’s kingdom. We call that time of year Winter now.

When Frigga’s son was restored to her, Frigga decreed that from that day forward, mistletoe would nevermore bring death into the world, but only life. And that is why couples kiss beneath the mistletoe at this time of the year, to celebrate Baldur’s resurrection.