The great god Odin was the father of all the gods. He and his children dwelt in the city of Asgard at the end of the rainbow.
Odin’s palace was as high as the sky and roofed with pure silver. In it was a throne of gold. When Odin sat upon the throne he could see all over the world.
Each day he sat upon the throne to see if everything was as it should be on the earth. He loved the people and the animals, and all the beautiful things of earth because they were the work of his hands.
Odin had two ravens which were as swift as thought. Every day he sent the ravens to fly over the oceans and over the land to see if any harm was being done. When they came back they perched upon his shoulders and whispered in his ear all that they had seen.
Besides this there was a watchman who never slept. He was called Heimdal, the white god. He stayed always at the foot of the rainbow, which was the bridge of the gods, to see that the frost giants did not come into Asgard, and to listen to the sounds of earth. So sharp were his ears that he could hear the grass and the wool on the sheep’s backs growing.
One day when Odin mounted his throne he saw that the earth was no longer green and beautiful. The air was full of snowflakes and the ground was as hard, as iron. All was dark and cold.
The ravens, which had been sent out to see if all was well, came hurrying back to tell Odin that Hoder, the blind old god of darkness, had taken possession of the earth.
Heimdal, the watchman, called that he could, no longer hear the music of the waterfalls and birds, and all the pleasant sounds of earth. Everything was mute with fear of the terrible god of darkness.
Odin called the gods together, and they looked with pity on the great earth, which had been so pleasant a place.
Thor, the strong god, offered to go with his hammer and fight with the god of darkness, but Odin knew that Hoder could hide himself away from Thor.
Then Balder, the Beautiful, the god of light, whom all the gods loved, offered to go. So Odin gave him his winged horse, Sleipner, and he rode away across the rainbow bridge.
As soon as the light of Balder’s shining eyes fell upon the poor, cold earth, it brightened and stirred. But the old, blind god Hoder brought all his forces of darkness to resist the god of light, and the earth lay as if dead.
Balder struck no blows as Thor, the strong god, wished to do. He did not even try to resist the god of darkness. He only smiled upon the earth and called to it to awake.
At last the blind god turned and fled before the light of Balder’s face. Then the streams leaped up and sang, and the birds came back and the flowers bloomed.
Everywhere the grass and the waving grain sprang up beneath Balder’s footsteps, and the trees put out their gayest blossoms to greet him.
The squirrels and rabbits came out of the places where they had hidden themselves and danced and frisked with joy. Never had the earth been so beautiful.
But Hoder, the blind god, in his realm of darkness, was only waiting for an opportunity to take possession of the earth again. So Odin permitted Balder’s mother to cross the rainbow bridge to help her son.
The goddess went through all the earth, begging each plant and stone and tree not to harm her son, who had brought them nothing but blessings. And every tree and shrub and tiny plant, and every rock and pebble, and every stream and little brook promised gladly. Only the mistletoe, which grows high up in the oak-tree and not upon the ground as other plants do, was forgotten.
Loke, who was a meddlesome god, always doing something wrong, found out that the mistletoe had not given the promise, and told Hoder.
Hoder thought that because it was so little and weak it could not really kill the god. So he shot an arrow tipped with a tiny twig of mistletoe at Balder.
The arrow pierced through and through the beautiful god, and he fell dead. Then the earth put off her green robe and grew silent and dark for a time.
But because Balder, the Beautiful, had once lived on earth, Hoder could only make it cold half the year and dark half the day.
And even now, if you listen, in the winter you can hear the wind moan through the trees which fling their great arms in grief. And on summer mornings very early, you will find the stones and the grass wet with weeping in the darkness.
But when the sun shines the tears are turned to diamonds and the earth is glad, remembering Balder the Good.
I heard a voice, that cried,
“Balder the Beautiful
Is dead, is dead!”
And through the misty air
Passed like the mournful cry
Of sunward-sailing cranes.
Balder the Beautiful,
God of the summer sun,
Fairest of all the Gods!
Light from his forehead beamed,
Eunes were upon his tongue,
As on the warrior’s sword.
All things in earth and air
Bound were by magic spell
Never to do him harm;
Even the plants and stones,
All save the mistletoe,
The sacred mistletoe!
Hoder, the blind old God,
Whose feet are shod with silence,
Pierced through that gentle breast
With his sharp spear by fraud
Made of the mistletoe,
The accursed mistletoe!”