I thought I would beguile you this week with a tale about mistletoe. The ‘season to be merry’ time approaches after all. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe grows out of Norse mythology and here is the story.
Baldur the Beloved
One of the most beloved of the gods was Baldur, son of Odin and Frigg. He was the god of the summer sun and just one of those handsome, generous, happy, brave guys that was a pleasure to hang out with.
However dark dreams began to trouble Baldur and so the rest of the gods, fearing the worst, got together and voted Odin the man most likely to find out the meaning of the dreams. Odin saddled up his trusty steed Slepnir and rode, incognito, into the underworld to seek out a dead seeress. When he arrived he found the place all decked out in splendour as though waiting for the guest of honour…yep you guessed it, Baldur.
Odin returned to base in Asgard and gave the gods the bad news. Frigg in her distress went around every entity, the four elements, all things living and non-living and got them to swear an oath never to harm her son. What mother could do less?
At this point everyone cheered up and began teasing Baldur throwing rocks and sticks and anything else they could find to test his invincibility. All of which he took in great good humour.
Enter the Villain, Stage Left.
The villain, Loki was an irreverent, malicious trickster. He asked Frigg whether she had really asked all things to swear the oath and she told him ‘all except the mistletoe; small innocent as it is what harm could it do?
‘Ah-ha’ thought Loki, ‘time for mischief’. He cut a bough of mistletoe to make a spear and whispered to the blind god Hodr.
‘Such a shame you cannot join in the fun. Let me help you. Throw this branch at Baldur.’
He put the spear in Hodr’s hand and, standing behind him helped him to hurl it right at Baldur. It pierced him through and through.
Frigg offered to pay a ransom for the return of her son and whilst another of Odin’s sons, (to be called the obscure son), galloped off to the underworld the rest of the gods prepared for Baldur’s funeral.
They took his ship ‘Hringhorni’ (the-ship-with-a- circle-in-the-stem) piled it with goodies, including Baldur’s wife who had dropped dead with grief and his horse. They couldn’t push the ship off the shore and into the water so recruited the help of a giantess who launched it with one mighty shove that shook the world.
Meanwhile Back in the Underworld…
The obscure son of Odin found Hel, the goddess of that region sitting with a pale and wan Baldur. Hel set the ransom thus:
‘let every living thing in the cosmos weep for him and I will send him back; should but one refuse to weep, I will keep him.’
Loki’s Last Trick
The obscure son hastened back to Asgard and messengers were despatched across the cosmos. Everyone wept…except one a giantess who said.
‘Let Hel keep him.’
And so the ransom could not be paid and Baldur remained dead in the cold, dark damp of the underworld.
The giantess was actually Loki in disguise.
However, weep not – there is an alternative ending to this tale that goes:
for three days the cosmos wept for Baldur. His mother’s tears turned into the white berries of the mistletoe. However, all the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth did the trick and Baldur was resurrected. Frigg vowed to kiss all who pass under the mistletoe. Hence the tradition of a mistletoe kiss was born.