I is for Iðunn

Idun (pronounced “EE-done;” from Old Norse Iðunn, “The Rejuvenating One”[1]) is a goddess who belongs to the Aesir tribe of deities. Her role in the pre-Christian mythology and religion of the Norse and other Germanic peoples is unfortunately obscure, but she features prominently in one of the best-known mythological talesThe Kidnapping of Idun. In this tale, which comes to us from the skaldic poem Haustlöng and the Prose Edda, Idun is depicted as the owner and dispenser of a fruit that imparts immortality. In modern books on Norse mythology, these fruits are almost invariably considered to be apples, but this wasn’t necessarily the case in heathen times. The Old Norse word for “apple,” epli, was often used to denote any fruit or nut, and “apples” in the modern English sense didn’t arrive in Scandinavia until late in the Middle Ages.[2] Whatever species Idun’s produce belongs to, its ability to sustain the immortality of the gods and goddesses makes Idun an indispensable presence in Asgard.

–from Norse Mythology for Smart People by Daniel McCoy

Idun, the Aesir goddess of youth, possessed fruit, most often referred to as apples, that delayed aging in those who ate it. She was an important goddess to keep around. But one day she disappeared.

This story is an early one since Hoenir is still with the Aesir, before he was one of the Aesir hostages sent to the Vanir at the conclusion of the first Aesir-Vanir war.

The story begins when Loki, Odin, and Hoenir (see F is for Freyja for an earlier mention of Hoenir) traveled through a mountainous region where little food could be found. When they came upon a herd of oxen, they killed one and began to cook it over a fire, but it never cooked. When the three discussed how it could be that an ox over a fire wouldn’t cook, they heard a noise above. An eagle in the branches of a tree above them explained that he had cast a spell on the fire so that it would not cook the meat. The eagle offered to release the spell in return for first having his fill of the meat. The gods weren’t pleased, but agreed, and the eagle took the choicest pieces of the ox.

Loki wasn’t happy with the loss of the best pieces, so he grabbed a heavy branch and struck the eagle, who was in reality the giant, Thjazi. The branch stuck to Thjazi, who, with Loki still hanging on, flew high into the sky. Loki begged Thjazi to return him to earth. Thjazi agreed on the condition that Loki would bring him Idun and her fruit. Loki agreed but didn’t tell the other gods.

When the three returned to Asgard, Loki went to Idun and told her that they had found fruits on their journey that were far superior to hers. He offered to take her to the place and convinced her to bring her fruits with her to compare. Idun followed Loki, and when they reached the place, Thjazi arrived, again in the guise of an eagle, and took Idun away to his palace in Jotunheim.

Back in Asgard, the gods began to notice they were showing signs of age: sagging skin, greying hair. When they realized Idun was no longer in Asgard and had last been seen with Loki, they forced Loki to tell them what had happened. The gods insisted Loki do something to return Idun to Asgard.

Freya loaned Loki her hawk feather cloak which allowed Loki to change into the form of a hawk and fly to Jotunheim. When he reached Thjazi’s home, he discovered Thjazi was away. Delighted with his good luck, Loki transformed Idun and her fruit into a nut which he grabbed in his talons and headed back to Asgard.

When Thjazi returned and found Idun gone, he turned himself again into an eagle and began chasing Loki. As Loki approached Asgard, the gods built a pile of kindling around their fortress. Thjazi was so close behind Loki that once Loki had reached the fortress with Idun, the gods set the kindling afire, and Thjazi was unable to avoid flying into the burst of flames. His feathers caught on fire, he fell, and the gods killed him.

Loki isn’t such a bad guy in this story. He is just one of the guys, suffering the same troubles as the others, and trying to come to the defense of all three by attacking Thjazi in his eagle shape. But then he gets stuck and must turn to the enemy for help. Can anyone blame him for agreeing to Thjazi’s terms for his return to safety?

How might the story have changed if Loki trusted Odin and the other gods with his dilemma? Loki’s problem is that he always wants to do things alone, his way. If he needs help from others, he turns to trickery and guile, not honesty and trust.

But every story needs conflict, a villain to fight against. Giants aren’t enough in these tales. Loki, the betrayer, plays for and against both the good guys and the bad guys. His presence forces the others to show their true colors.

What can I learn from the story of the kidnapping of Idun? Maybe I need to figure out how to incorporate a Loki figure in the stories I write.

Reference to Idun and her apples can be found in the Poetic Edda, stanza 44, Grimnismol, The Ballad of Grimnir;  stanzas 19-20 of Skirnismol, The Ballad of Skirnir; stanzas 19, Harbarthsljoth, The Poem of Harbarthstanzas  16-18, Lokasenna, Loki’s Wrangling; stanza 3, Thrymskvitha, The Lay of Thrym.

[1] Simek, Rudolf. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. p. 171.

[2] Turville-Petre, E.O.G. 1964. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. p. 186.

Image credit: By John Bauerhttp://runeberg.org/gudasaga/, Public Domain, Link

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