I’ve just read an article by Thomas D.Hill called Guðrún’s Healing Tears, discussing the idea that expressing grief leads to healing and that unexpressed grief can lead to death. It argues that everyone tried to get Guðrún to openly lament Sigurð’s death because they were afraid that she would die of grief if she did not – and it seems to have worked, since at the start of Guðrúnarkviða in Fyrsta she was set on death, but by the end she leaves for Denmark to grieve and Brynhildr, who does not weep or lament, dies instead.
I have read other explanations for encouraging Guðrún to express her feelings – were they empowering her to survive her grief, or disempowering her by encouraging her to behave ‘as a woman should’, and therefore lose her agency for vengeance? It’s interesting, but as her own sister was the one who eventually got her to cry, and since Brynhildr was massively pissed off about this, I’d argue for the former. I think Brynhildr would have liked it just fine if Guðrún had died of grief – as, indeed, Guðrún initially intended to do – and cursed Gullrönd because she had saved her sister’s life by forcing her to express her grief.
Near the end of his article, Hill mentions the way Þökk thwarts all attempts to retrieve Baldr from Helheim by refusing to cry. I’ve never really understood this part of Gylfaginning, but looking at tears as a route to healing and inability/refusal to express grief as a road to death gives me a possible insight on it. I’m not a scholar, so my idea may be full of holes as far as I know. But I’d be really interested to read your thoughts and criticism on it.
Loki killing Baldr has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Eventually I concluded it was all to do with death being really important – so important that even a God shouldn’t be immune from it. Loki is Hel’s Dad, after all, and it’s my belief that Loki Himself has chthonic aspects to His nature (though, apart from His obvious link to both Hel and Sleipnir, this is my own UPG. I mean, I think that if you look at His children then you can make an argument for it anyway, but that’s not the point of this post). But that doesn’t mean He has to be happy about Baldr’s death.
My own understanding is that being immune from death puts you outside the natural cycles of…well, everything. I believe in the immortality of souls, but also that souls must all die and be reborn in different ways (so maybe I believe in recycling more than actual death lol). There’s nothing anywhere that doesn’t grow, ‘die’, renew and transform over some time scale or other. What happens to someone – or Someone – who exits this cycle? I know many people would see this as leaving the cycle of suffering and all, but I’m not seeing it that way. To remain still is to stagnate – and that’s fine, if it’s part of a process of decay and eventual renewal, but what if absolute immortality cuts off the important next step? Rebirth and renewal comes *after* death, after all. Maybe Loki was saving Baldr from becoming a Norse Tithonus (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tithonus-Greek-mythology).
Another theory is that Óðinn Himself wanted Baldr safely in Helheim as a kind of insurance policy against Ragnarök, and that He and Loki worked together to achieve this. Either way, we all know what effect Loki’s refusal to weep had on Baldr and the rest of the Æsir. What I hadn’t really thought about before is the effect it might have had on Loki.
Initially, Everyone is so shocked and grieved that They are unable to speak or weep – like Guðrún. Eventually, however, They all mourn (except Loki?), and then of course Hermóðr comes back with the news that *everything* must weep before Hel will ‘free’ Baldr. Whatever the reason was that Baldr had to die, Loki is now the only one standing in the way of it all going wrong. He is like Brynhildr – the cause of the death Everyone else is mourning, but (outwardly, at least) completely unrepentant and definitely not about to shed any tears…And therefore, possibly, fully conscious that He’s walking down a road that leads to death and pain. Almost like grief is a toxin that will kill you if you don’t get it out. Brynhildr kills herself, and Loki doesn’t exactly live happily ever after. I don’t recall Hel putting a time limit on the ‘weeping Baldr out of Hel’ thing, leaving the depressing possibility that Loki can never mourn for Him, and therefore never heal (not until after Ragnarök, anyways).
Hit me with your thoughts 🙂