When one mentions Norse mythology, famous Aesir gods like Thor and Odin immediately come to mind. Another deity who perhaps overshadows the other famous names is Loki.
In ancient Viking societies, they consider Loki the god of mischief, changing his sex and shape at will. Born to Fárbauti, a Jötunn—a race of giants in the myths, experts in illusions and glamour—Loki has proved to be a cunning trickster and troublemaker. He could turn into a horse, fly, fish, and occasionally, an older woman.
Maybe the most famous tale about Loki is the one where he is tied to a slab of stone in an isolated cavern. His wrists and ankles are bound to either side of him, and his face mutilated by the slow but steady drip of snake venom for all eternity—right before Ragnarok, or Doomsday, begins, of course.
Rarely, though, does one hear about why he was punished so severely like that.
How did the other gods get so angry with him that they subjected him to such cruel eternal damnation?
The answer to that is because Loki tricked a blind god, Hod, into killing his brother, Balder.
But what led him to do that? Why did Loki kill Balder? Better stick with us as we unleash the answers to these questions in a few.
How Did Balder Die?
Before this event, Balder had been plagued by dreams of his demise. A son of Odin and Frigg, Balder was the god of light and purity, among other things. Everyone considered him as the perfect deity: warm, kind, and extremely handsome. So when the other gods heard about what he had been going through, they were all worried.
Anxious for her son, Frigg traveled all the Nine World, from Asgard to Midgard to Helheim, and demanded every creature, even the rocks, not to harm Balder. Only when she had extracted all the Worlds’ promises did she decide to come back home.
In celebration, the gods held a feast for Balder. They decided to test out Frigg’s statement that not a single thing in the Nine Worlds could ever harm her beloved son. They threw everything and anything at Balder. The promise held, and as was said, the things just bounced harmlessly off of Balder’s skin.
Almost all of the gods were in a good mood—all except one. Loki was sat in the corner of the dining hall, not partaking in the game of trying to endanger perfect Balder’s life. He watched as all the other gods continued to throw things at Balder, having so much fun that the hall was then reduced to rubbles and splinters of wood.
Finally, annoyed by the gods’ antics and noise, Loki decided to end the party. He transformed into an old lady and went to talk with Frigg. In his disguise, he asked her why the gods were bullying Balder and told her how terrible it must be to see her son struggling. And so Frigg asked the older woman why they were having the celebration; the other gods were just playing a game and testing out her promise that nothing could ever harm Balder.
Loki then asked if she was confident that nothing could ever hurt Balder.
In a daze, Frigg let it slip that there was one tiny thing that she had not talked to; she had considered it small and not worthy of demanding a promise from, so she did not bother to speak to it.
Again, Loki pressed her to tell him what that thing is. It was a little clump of a mistletoe plant.
After hearing that information, Loki transformed back into his true self and went to retrieve the plant. When he got back to the celebration, he sought out Balder’s blind brother, Hod. Loki found him sulking in the other corner of the hall. Loki then approached him and sparked a conversation with him, telling Hod how unfair it was for him to be excluded from the festivities just because he is blind. Finally, Loki convinced Hod to grab the plant from his hand and throw it in his brother’s general direction.
Balder crumpled on the spot. Everyone gasped in shock and disbelief.
Grief-stricken, Frigg held her son’s lifeless body and cried. She asked the other gods if someone would be willing to go to Helheim and offer ransom to the goddess Hel.
Hermod, another son of Odin, proffered to go.
Upon his return, Hermod told the other gods that Hel would only return Balder if every single thing in the Nine Worlds mourned for his death. After hearing this, the gods took it upon themselves to spread the word, demanding tears from every creature in the Worlds. But Thokk, a giantess, refused to grieve for Balder, and because of this, Balder remained in Helheim and became an honorable guest in Hel’s hall.
What Was Loki’s Punishment?
As most gods suspected that Thokk was Loki in disguise, he was subjected to a trial and was later found guilty of tricking Hod into murdering Balder. Loki’s punishment is not as straightforward as one might think. Before he got chained in his cavern, the gods made Loki watch as they turned one of his favorite sons, Vali, into a wolf. They cheered and laughed as Vali disemboweled his brother, Narvi. After that, the gods also gutted the wolf.
They used the entrails of Loki’s sons as the binding rope for his wrists and ankles. Over the years, they have calcified and hardened, making it almost impossible for Loki to break out of them.
As foretold in the myths, Loki escaping from his punishment will signal the start of Ragnarok. He will side with the Jötunn and fight against the Aesir and Vanir gods at Doomsday.
So, Why Did Loki Kill Balder?
There was no apparent reason as to why Loki killed the god of light. Some accounts say that he got bored of the festivities and just found a way to end all of it. Some describe Loki as jealous of Balder’s influence and popularity among the gods and people, as he was always stereotyped as diabolical himself. Whatever the reason may be, this particular myth shows Loki’s mean-spiritedness and hostility. This event also tells that the other Norse gods are not good either, as they included Loki’s innocent children in his vile punishment.