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17.09.2019

Hodr

He is the third son of Odin (by Frigg). His twin brother is the beauty-god, Baldr, and their eldest brother is the thunder-god, Thor.

Hodr (pronounced “HO-der”; from Old Norse Höðr, “Warrior”) is a Scandinavian god whom we know only from a single episode in Norse mythology: the death of Baldur.

Two widely divergent versions of this story exist. The more familiar of the two (the one recounted in the above link) comes from the Prose Edda of the medieval Icelander Snorri Sturluson. As Snorri tells it, the god Baldur, who is here portrayed as being a charming, beloved, innocent sufferer, had dreams that foretold his imminent death. His mother, Frigg, went around and obtained oaths from everything in the world that they would not harm her son. The only being she omitted was the mistletoe, as she thought it to be too small and harmless a thing to be of any real consequence in this matter. When the wily trickster Loki discovered this oversight, he fashioned a mistletoe spear.

While all the gods were amusing themselves by throwing every available projectile at Baldur and laughing as the things bounced off of their unharmed companion, Loki approached Hodr – here portrayed as blind and rather gullible – with the mistletoe spear. He convinced Hodr to throw the spear at Baldur to contribute to the game and to honor the strength of his brother.  With Loki guiding his hand, Hodr launched the spear at Baldur. The weapon pierced him, and, to the shock and horror of all present, he fell down dead on the spot.

 

Hodr was later killed by Baldur’s avenger, Vali, who seems to have been conceived specifically for this purpose.

The other version of this tale comes from Gesta Danorum, “The History of the Danes,” by the medieval Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. Here, Hodr is far from the passive pawn that Snorri makes him out to be. Saxo’s Hodr (Latinized as “Hotherus”) is a character whose personality and deeds accord better with his name, which, as noted above, means “Warrior.”

Hodr and Baldur were two great war leaders who marshaled their armies against each other due to a dispute over the hand of the beautiful maiden Nanna. Baldur had been nourishing himself with a special, spiritual food that conferred invincibility, and Hodr knew that he would be unable to defeat Baldur by normal means. So Hodr undertook a long and perilous journey to the underworld. There, he obtained a weapon that had been charged with magical powers that would enable him to overcome Baldur’s own magically-induced strength. Soon thereafter, Hodr wounded Baldur in combat, and Baldur died of his wounds some days later. However, Hodr was then himself slain by Baldur’s avenger, who is here called “Bous.”

These two stories are similar enough that they must point back to the same basic tale. Yet they also differ in several definitive respects, not the least of which is Hodr’s character.

Imagine for a moment that Snorri’s version of the tale was the only one that had survived down to the present day. This is, in fact, the case for many of the stories that Snorri relates. His version of Baldur’s death is clearly far from the full picture, and his account cannot be taken at face value.

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