Riggin’ in the Friggin’
Solstice 2021 – Wisdom and Betrayal
Bryan Zepp Jamieson
December 21st 2021
When it came to observing the Winter Solstice, the Nordic gods were first and foremost. Makes sense, given that they lived in the land of ice and snow, and the midnight sun and noon darkness. Observing the Solstice didn’t make them better behaved, mind you; even compared to the pantheons of Rome and Greece that came later, this was an exceptionally unruly bunch, with amazing sexual antics. Loki alone could add four more letters to the somewhat overworked acronym, LGBTQ.
Perhaps the best-known of all the legends of the Aesir is that of Baldur, son of Odin and Frigg. Baldur was what could be considered “the nice one,” for a given value of ‘nice.’ Like most Nordic gods, his hobbies included murder and mayhem. But he was politer about it. Certainly all the other gods loved him, save one, and all living creatures, again, save one. You can’t have a story like this without a little bit of the Joker and Kryptonite, right?
Baldur was associated with wisdom, knowledge, and light. As with most such deities, he was born on the Winter Solstice. He was the local version of Prometheus, and like most other light-bringers, he met a bad end. Getting born around Winter Solstice is something of a warning sign amongst gods.
For all his wisdom, and for all that he was loved and admired by pretty much everything, Baldur began dreaming of his death. He mentioned this to Frigga, who like most mums, decided to ensure safety for her son. Death is something of an option with gods, and so Frigga decided to ensure his immortality by making him invulnerable to everything. So she went to nearly very plant and creature on Earth and asked them to vow never to hurt her son.
Since Baldur was, as noted, loved and respected, everyone agreed to this. Obviously there were no Republican Senators in those days, showing how far we’ve fallen. It wasn’t until later that Frigg got around to realizing that she forgot to ask the mistletoe not to hurt Baldur. She shrugged it off, concluding that mistletoe was a harmless enough plant, good only for unwanted sexual advances at office parties. Mistletoe routinely kills mighty oaks, and could probably kill Yggdrasil, the Nordic tree of life, if given a crack at it. Perhaps Frigg lived above the treeline. She was certainly no arborist.
But she was something of a blabbermouth. She mentioned this omission to Loki, the one god who didn’t like Baldur. Sibling rivalry or something. Frigg’s sake, woman, what were you thinking?
Loki made a spear from mistletoe and convinced a blind old god, Hodr, to throw it at Baldur. Hodr didn’t have any reason to think this was an odd request; the gods had made a pastime of throwing spears, maces, cats and low-yield nukes at Baldur because his invulnerability tickled them pink. A twig’s as good as a Nord to a blind Hodr, right? So Hodr tossed the spear, it hit Baldur, and Baldur dropped down dead.
The pantheon petitioned the goddess of Hades, Hel-Half-Rotted, to release Baldur. Hel said she was fine with that so long as the gods got a unanimous vote on it. Which they did—almost. One Frost Giant refused. Given that the Frost Giants and Gods were mortal enemies it’s not real clear why they had a say in the matter, but in this instance the Giant was Loki in disguise, adding yet another letter to his personal LGBTQ designation.
So poor old Baldur went to Hel, and Loki ended up strapped by his own entrails to a table while a poisonous snake dripped venom into his eyes. But he got over it.
Light bringers come, and light bringers go, usually in horrible fashions. We have a streak in us that likes to tear down the thinkers and the optimists, and make some sort of ersatz “moral lesson” from them. Baldur seems the exception to that rule; there’s no homily that he deserved to die for any number of (usually) demented reasons. If there’s a lesson here at all, it’s that popularity and civility can’t protect you from the random vagaries of the universe or even a malignant plot with unlikely odds of working.
But here’s the thing; Baldur dies, as do light bringers, and are gone from this world. But the world keeps on turning. The next day following solstice, a ship stationed exactly at the Arctic circle might see a brief glint of sunlight to the south before seconds later, the sun sets again. The nights get shorter, and eventually, the days get warmer. The equinox—twelve hours of daylight—will inevitably come three months later. No matter how many light bringers die, the light returns, on its own, and in its own immutable pattern. It’s one of the few things in this world we can absolutely count on.
It is also the first day of winter, and even as the light slowly returns, the storms and the cold hold sway. The return of the light isn’t a solution. It is, instead, a promise.
It’s dark now. But Earth has made a promise to her children, one that even Loki can’t thwart.
Don’t lose hope. Never lose hope.