London

Mysterious stone idol signifying end of days draws wonder and fascination in Old North

Neighbours in Old North are talking about a mysterious stone obelisk after an image of the monument recently made its rounds on social media.

An expert in Viking runes says the stone is a depiction of the beginning of the end

Locals say this stone idol with runic carvings appeared in London's Gibbons Park last spring. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

A mysterious stone idol is drawing wonder and fascination in London's Old North, with neighbours speculating over the stone's meaning, origin and what, if anything, the idol's creator is trying to say. 

The stone stands about 18 inches or 45 cm and shows a hand painted carving of a bearded figure who appears to have been shot in the heart with an arrow. The stone also carries a series of carved runes to the right of the drawing. 

"[They're] somewhat recognizable letters, but certainly not English," said James Wexler, a 41-year-old employee of Western University who was clearing invasive buckthorn from the area known as Baldwin Flats, north of Gibbons Park on Wednesday. 

James Wexler, 41, grew up on the Parkway, a street that rims Baldwin Flats where the stone idol was found. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Wexler said he wasn't sure when the idol appeared, but guesses it was likely within the last year. He said if the idol means anything, it's a mystery to him. 

"A guy kneeling down with an arrow in his chest is the best I can come up with," he said.

According to Natalie Van Deusen, a professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Alberta, whose research focuses on Norse paleography, the idol depicts the Norse god Baldr.

"It depicts the death of Baldr," she said, noting the runes on the right hand side of the stone actually spell out his name. 

Idol depicts the death of Baldr

The idol is a depiction of the Norse god Baldr, whose story is the first sign of the Norse legend of the end of days. Runic characters on the right actually spell out 'Baldr' according to an expert on Norse paleography. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

In Norse mythology, Baldr was the most beloved son of the gods Odin and Frigg and was haunted by a prophecy of his own death. Because he was so adored by his parents, his mother made all living things promise not to hurt him. 

Except, Van Deusen said, the mother neglected to ask the mistle toe plant. 

"She thought it was too young and innocent to do any harm." 

This made Baldr nearly invincible and legend has it the gods made a sport of hurling things at Frigg's beloved son, knowing it wouldn't do any damage. 

Eventually Loki, the trickster in Norse mythology, became jealous of Baldr and once he found out his weakness, he fastened a sprig of mistle toe to an arrow.

Natalie Van Deusen is a professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Alberta. (University of Alberta)

That arrow ended up in the hands of Baldr's blind brother Hod, who let the arrow loose on Baldr without knowing its lethality, killing his brother and triggering the sequence events that would eventually lead to Ragnarok. 

"It's a pretty important scene in the mythology," Van Deusen said. "That's the story about how Ragnarok begins." 

"It has to do with the broader idea of fate," she said. "It brings about all these other events that sort of cascade until the whole world is consumed by fire." 

"It's that pivotal moment that there's no return after that happens and a big part of that is he was killed by his own brother and it symbolizes social collapse." 

'This is a first for me' 

James Wexler (left) kneels as he takes a closer look at the mysterious stone idol in Baldwin Flats, north of Gibbons Park. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"It's kind of surprising in a way to see a depiction of Baldr in a modern day rune stone," she said. "Aside from how important he was in the mythology in bringing about the end of the world, he really wasn't that popular as a god."

"This is a first for me," she said. "I'd be very curious to see if anyone comes forward to say 'I did this.'" 

Until we know who created the rune stone in Baldwin Flats, we'll never know what the artist was trying to say, but one can't help but draw parallels between the Norse legend of the end of days and our own predictions of impending ecological disaster through climate change. 

"I think there's something to that," Van Deusen said. "The extreme weather that they describe was part of the events that followed this that continue to signal increasingly the end of the world." 

Van Deusen said in the course of her studies, she's never seen anything like the idol found in Baldwin Flats and as far as she can tell it's not a reproduction of a rune stone from another time. 

"There's nothing that shows Baldr like this. It's a completely independent creation," she said. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.