In Search of the Earth Mother : Norse Gods Frigga and Baldur

In the 13th century an Icelandic poetic wrote down the last religious relics of an ancient Viking culture, the Prose Eddas. From these and other ancient manuscripts have come many treasures of Western culture and pre-Christian mythology. The story of Frigga and Baldur comes from it.

One of the fascinating discoveries I have made as an amateur cultural sleuth and mythologist is the hidden archetypes of the old Earth Mother – a spirit our ancestors believed in for thousands and thousands of years prior to the advent of Greek, Roman, and Modern European civilization.

The Earth Mother is important. Her symbols and Holidays reverberate through today’s culture, often unknown to us, permeating not just Modern religious thought and philosophy but how we view each other, view the sexes, our entertainment, our story telling, and the meaning of life itself.

In my search for this illusive archetype it’s become clear that her presence is deeply rooted in a Northern Hemispheric ritual involving the return of the dying sun in winter, the birth of the sun at the beginning of the year, the death of a Sun hero on the Summer Solstice, the strange celebrations around the Winter Solstice and Christmas, and this heroic figure’s rebirth and return in January.

As a personification of the Earth itself, the Earth Mother represents the Soul of the World and power over all life. And it’s her control metaphorically over the Earth’ living plants and animals, the play of light and dark, good and evil, spirit and flesh that’s portrayed through her and her diametric sons. It’s the eternal battle of good versus evil and conflict found in all Western story telling that originates from her.

I believe there are few myths and fairy tales left to light a path to her understanding. With the layers and layers of patriarchal war-like cultures that invaded Europe from the east the past 3000 years much of what she represented through the Celts was obliterated. We know the Roman invasions in Britain and France, much of the core of what the Earth Mother represented, was destroyed. The ancient groves of the Druids and Witches was cut down. And what remained was indoctrinated into current religious practices.

But some profound references have yet remained of what and who she was, what the seasons represented in portraying her secret truths, and how our Western ancestors used her spirit in explaining the meaning of the cycle of the sun and moon, and the cycle of life and death itself. It’s that ancient story that’s repeated in some form through much of European fairy tale and Modern tropes.

The story of Frigga (Frig) and her son Baldur found in the Prose Edda is I believe one of many critical references to the quintessential story of what Western European Earth Mother cultures believed in. Why is that important you ask? Because her story, like theirs, is repeated thousands of times in current novels and movies….the old tale of the woman with two lovers, the battle of the good hero versus the evil antagonist, where the hero fighting for her love and for the world perishes in his pursuit of this victory. That is the Earth Mother story retold millions of times today unknown to the writers who still repeat them.

In the Norse tale, Frigga has a son banned Baldur, his name translated as “shining one”. He represents the male personification of the sun itself, the one who returns each spring to bless the Earth with his life-giving light. He is the Bran of a Welsh myth, the Balor of Irish myth, the Saturn of Roman story, and the Seigreif of the Germans.

In the Norse version, Baldur has a dream foretelling his own death. It’s then his mother Frigg comes forward to decide not just his birth, but his death and resurrection. This then is the power of the Earth Mother, of the eternal feminine power that manipulates the male persona over and over in the many versions of this sun worshipping tragic tale. Baldur hearing of his death tells his mother and the Gods of his plight. His mother then turns to the animals and plants and four elements of the world asking them to promise not to hurt her son. Only the Mistletoe, the sacred parasitic oak tree plant of the Druids, fails to appease her. Baldur returns saying he is invincible until the eternal trickster Loki makes a spear of Mistletoe for Baldur’s Brother Hothr, who slays him. But Loki gets the information from Frigga, Baldur’s mother. So she again is the instigator of his birth and now death.

Frigga then mourns with the Gods for the death of her shining sun at Christmas, or at the very zenith of the Winter Solstice when the sun in the sky is at its lowest. We know the Druids and the Celts mourned at that time, praying that the sun would return. For the Earth depended on it.

Baldur is a personification of the sun, and his real slayer, the Earth Mother as witch in winter, has come to take him away. His brother Hothr is in fact the Lord of the Underworld, his polar twin. And so the Earth Mother and her good and evil, light and dark sons are in play as they are in all our stories. It’s the cycle of the seasons that the Earth Mother represents. And it’s that drama we see repeated in many forms in all our movies today….and story that contains the cycle of returning drama.

In the story Baldur’s body is burned upon his death as we know the Celts would do, burning in wicker a figure representing the death of the sun. They did this for the Earth Mother so her shining son would return to the underworld and be reborn on January 1st. It was the releasing of the dying sun, his spirit, from the dying winter world.

Several versions of Frigga say she cried for 5 days, where her tears turned the bloody red of the mistletoe berries, the Christmas red of the slain sun lord, to white. The Druids then brewed these poisonous berries drinking them in the ritual of hallucination and death, seeing through the poisonous brew like the witches the journey of the slain son/sun through the underworld from December 25th – December 31st. Again the Earth Mother mourns for the son she has slain.

Frigga then eats the berries  impregnating herself again and giving birth to a new baby Baldur once more as the new sun returns to shine upon the earth in January. The mythological cycle now complete repeats itself again.

The Mistletoe, the plant that grows above the earth, is one of few that does not touch the Earth, and so becomes the source of Baldur’s death, insemmination, and resurrection. But it’s the Earth Mother alone that controls it all. For Frigga is the only participant in the birth, death, and resurrection of her child the sun. But that connects the plant to our holiday and its secret purpose in that play of the Earth Mother. When we kiss a woman beneath it we are portraying the end of that tragic cycle and the seeking of the love of the Earth Mother for us, in us. Women then become a personification of fertility when we do that act. It’s all unconscious to us but there in hidden symbols and pagan plants.

In essence all story telling in the West – any story that has any kind of “story arc” ending in a resolution – is a portrayal of the Earth Mother myth. Why? Because that story is the story of the movement of the sun from winter, to summer to winter again, and the final conflict and death at the end of the year in the Winter’s Solstice. Any story arc that starts off good, dives into conflict, and ends at catharsis is Western and follows it’s pattern. It’s just the ancient seasonal drama of the dying year.

What Frigga and Baldur show us is that the eternal feminine controls this life and death, much as women give birth to new life in our world. The Mistletoe, the plant that grew in the “Golden Bough” of the world tree is the eternal father that fertilizes her. But she is the Matriarch that controls the flow and rythm of life itself and the birth and death of her son. She controls it all, her two sons and eternal battle of life and death that cycle around her.

It’s said in a poetic version that the Mistletoe grew upon the limbs of the willow tree, and that as long as the tree wept Baldur’s spirit world perish but return to bless the earth with his sunshine again. But should the tree not weep for him would the Earth plummet into eternal darkness, the sun never returning again. And this was the Ragnorak of the Vikings in the Twilight of the Gods mythology.

This then explains and connects the worship of trees, of the burning of sacrifices, and the power of the Earth Mother in her love of two men. All participated in the grand spectacle of the cycle of the seasonal death of the sun at Christmas, our deep sadness and mourning for him in fires and cut Christmas trees, of Mistletoe and its secret meaning on the Winter Solstice, of Baldur’s tragic death on the Summer Solstice, and the personification of these characters in Modern story-telling through the woman with two lovers…..the Lord of Light who died in winter and the Lord of Darkness who ruled the lands of the underworld.

Our challenge now is to see in the Frigga and Baldur story and many others the need we still have to portray the story arcs of Western literature through it, and the Earth Mother as not just a Goddess, but an archetype of ourselves that’s permanently tied to our very reason for existing and the old battles of light and dark and the cycle of the seasons exist through her. She is the one that holds a piece of us through the unconscious symbols of her in our brains. We as writers and story tellers simply need to see every story ever told as a reflection of the drama of those cycles she creates inside of us. For she is but a part of us, an archetype trapped in minds and cultures continually reinvented by Western people who repeat blindly her ancient song forever.

– The Author, 2016

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