God of the Month Club: Idunna, Norse Goddess of Youth

8891501fb0b2ed011195570c98cd449cThe first God of the Month I’m focusing on is definitely Idunna. I owe Her! I fell horribly behind and kept neglecting Her the last couple of months and just saying, “It’s okay, I’ll roll Her over into next month’s GMC.” Of all the Gods She probably understands the problems facing writers, being married to the Norse Poet God. And She is one of the gentlest and most understanding in the pantheon, except perhaps for Sigyn, one of Loki’s wives. But, in any case, here we go, finally fulfilling my promise to Her. Thank You for being patient, Idunna! Hopefully with internet at my cabin I’ll be better at getting these out on time.

Idunna, or Idun, IthunIðunn, (pronounced EE-doon) is the Norse Goddess of youth and rebirth Who guards the apples that keep the Aesir eternally young. She keeps the golden, magical apples in a chest made of ash wood. This casket or chest was magical. No matter how many apples She pulled out of it, the same number remained inside. Supposedly, Her name means The Rejuvenating One1” or “Ever Young”. She serves a similar role as Hebe in the Hellenic pantheon — Hebe is the Greek Goddess of Youth, the cup-barer of the Gods, daughter of Zeus and Hera, Who serves the ambrosia the heavenly feasts (this does not mean that I believe that They are one and the same, it was simply an observation). Idunna is married to Bragi, the God of poetry and song. Who serves as the Aesir’s skald, or court mistral, 220px-idunn_and_bragi_by_blommerpoet, and storyteller. The pair of Them are not what you think of when you think of the stereotypical Viking Deities — They are not warriors. They are the Healer and Poet. According to Odin’s Volk, Idunna is the same as the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Eostre or Ostara, making Her also a Goddess of dawn and spring, which would make sense as a Goddess of youth. Those are natural associations to make of a rejuvenating Goddess of Youth.

According to the Poetic Edda, Her father is a Dwarf, the blacksmith Ivald or Ivaldi. This would make Her the sister of the blacksmiths who made some objects of great power for the Gods:

1) Freyr’s ship which always has a fair wind and could fold up to fit in his pocket; 2) Odin’s spear (Gungnir) which he will carry into Ragnorak; 3) Sif’s hair, which had to be replaced after Loki stole the original; and possibly  4) BrisingamenFreyja’s  magical necklace. … Her mother is sometimes believed to have been a valkyrie (although I’m not sure that’s verified in the Lore) – which would explain why she lives in Asgard instead of with the dwarfs. I haven’t seen a legend that tells how she and Bragi met or how she came to be in charge of the apples2.

In my research online I found several other versions of Her parentage. Wikipedia quoted another ancient poem, the Hrafnagaldr Óðins, is which She is identified as descending from the Alfar3 (Elves). Some people believe She was originally from the imagesVanir tribe of Gods, leaving Vanaheim to be with Her husband Bragi. But I don’t believe there is anything in the Lore about that. Given Her role as the guarder and nurturer of the sacred apples, a Vanir association would make sense, since the Vanir tend to be more nature-focused Deities than the Aesir, Whose focus is often on sky and war. But again, I don’t actually know this is backed up in the Lore, I think it may actually be an assumption, making Her a Vanir because of His .

In the poem Lokasenna, the Trickster God Loki crashes a party and proceeds to insult every single God there. During this, Loki accuses Idunna of sleeping with Her brother’s murderer. Unfortunately, this story has not survived the ravages of time, and we don’t even have an idea of Who Idunna’s brother was, nor Who His murderer was. However, something about Idunna’s nature can sill be learned from this story — She is the sole Deity to keep Her cool in the face of Loki’s insults, the only One to realize that He is trying to rile Them up and that it isn’t worth taking the bait. This shows that She is by nature a calm Goddess, a peace-maker.

Ithun spake:
16.”Well, prithee, Bragi | his kinship weigh,
since chosen as wish-son he was;bragi
And speak not to Loki | such words of spite
Here within Ægir’s hall.”
Loki spake:
17. “Be silent, Ithun! | thou art, I say,
Of women most lustful in love,
Since thou thy washed-bright | arms didst wind
About thy brother’s slayer.”
Ithun spake:
18. “To Loki I speak not | with spiteful words
Here within Ægir’s hall;
And Bragi I calm, | who is hot with beer,
For I wish not that fierce they should fight4.”

The Tale Of The Kidnapping of Idunna

There is only one surviving myth about Idunna, regarding Her kidnapping by a giant named Thjazi (Þjazi). This incident was, of course, Loki’s fault, and so it was up to Loki to rescue Her. These days the reason why He does so is often left out of the story for brevity’s sake, and many people come away with the impression that Loki is just a jerk Who does crazy stuff for no reason. He was essentially blackmailed into helping Thjazi. While Loki, Odin, and Hoenir were on a trip through the Nine Worlds, Loki is snapped up by a giant eagle. The eagle flew low, crashing against rocks and trees, bashing Loki into everything it could until He was mad with pain. When Loki begged to be let go, the eagle said He would only do so if Loki bought Idunna and the golden 220px-loki_and_idun_-_john_bauerapples of immortality outside of Asgard’s walls. Loki knew then that the eagle was a giant who had shape-shifted into the form of an eagle. He agreed, probably because He knew He’d get Her back at some point or figure a way out of it.

Thjazi let Him go, but only after making Loki swear an oath that He would bring Idunna out of Asgard. When Odin, Hoenir, and Loki had returned to Asgard, He set about His task. Loki told Her that He had found a magnificent apple tree outside of Asgard that He wanted Her to see, and that She should bring Her own apples to compare. He said He had never seen one that rivaled Hers, but this nearly did so. Idunna, being both innocent-minded and a committed gardener, did just that. Thjazi, again in the form of an eagle, swooped down and carried Her off to his fortress in Thrymheim. Loki went back into thaziAsgard as if nothing had happened.

As the days passed and Idunna was nowhere to be seen, the Gods began to age. They weakened. They weakened and Their hair streaked with gray. Bragi ceased to make music, as His heart was heavy with worry and sorrow. He had no idea where His beloved wife had disappeared to. Finally the Gods called a Thing — a council where legal matters are decided. After They discussed and examined the last day Idunna was seen and realized Loki was the last to be seen with Her, it became clear what had happened.

As with so many Norse myths, it came down to “Loki, get over here and fix the thing you broke, damnit!”. Loki was summoned before the Thing and had to answer to the Gods’ wrath. Loki promised He could rescue Idunna and bring Her back to Asgard, but but to do so Freyja would need to lend Him Her cloak of falcon feathers so He could fly to Thjazi’s fortress. She did so readily. When Loki got there, He waited until Thjazi left. Eventually Thjazi went outside to go fishing in a nearby river. Loki flew into a window of Thjazi’s fortress, and when he found Idunna, He turned Her into a nut so He could easily carry Her in His claws. So Loki flew downloadtowards Asgard, the Idunna-nut grasped tight in His falcon-talcons.

Thjazi returned to the castle not long after Loki left, and of course He found Idunna missing. He knew immediately it had to have been one of the Gods Who came to steal Her back. He turned into an eagle again, and flew towards Asgard to give chase.

images-1In Asgard, the Gods were anxiously awaiting the outcome, lining the walls, watching the skies for some sign of Loki. When They see a hawk barely keeping ahead of an eagle, clutching something in its claws, They realize immediately what is going on. They rush to pile wood and kindling against the wall of Asgard, preparing for a large bonfire. Then They wait, and just as Loki flew over the wall, the Gods ignited the waiting brush. The eagle could not avoid the leaping inferno, and his wings are destroyed. He fell to ground in torment, and was quickly dispatched.

Idunna was then able to resume Her form and was reunited with Her husband Bragi. She dispensed the feast, and as the Gods ate They changed – the wrinkles melted away to smooth skin, Their health and power returned,

Some people – both mythologists and heathens – interpret the story of the Gods growing withered and old to represent what happens to nature and the earth in 7e15da18659a483c3c542a240e819224winter, when nothing will grow. When Loki rescues Idunna and the Gods are restored to Their vitality and youth, that is symbolic of spring returning to the world in this metaphor. This makes even more sense even you realize that is not the end of the story – Thjazi’s daughter Skadi storms Asgard demanding recompense for her father’s death. She took all the Gods hostage and demanded that if They didn’t want to go to war with Her, then She must be allowed to pick a husband from among Them. Odin agreed, but She must choose a husband by looking only at Their feet. Skadi saw a pair o feet that She thought were better-looking looking than the others and said “I choose that one; there can be little that is ugly about Balder.” But the feet belonged to Njord (Njörðr), Vanir-God of the Sea and Father of Freyja and Freyr.

Skadi also demanded that the Gods make Her laugh, which She thought would be impossible. Of course, Loki was up this task as well. Loki tied a cord around the beard of a goat, and the other end idunaround His own testicles. Yes, you read that right. The goat and Loki then yanked each other back and forth across the Great Hall of Asgard, both squealing and squealing loudly. Loki “fell” in Skadi’s lap, and Skadi couldn’t help it, this stone-eyed Goddess of winter laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. And lastly, Odin put Thjazi’s eyes into the sky as two blazing stars, for his daughter to look upon whenever She wished.

And so, Loki had not only bought Idunna back, but His …um…… antics bought the Aesir another very powerful Giant-Goddess over to Their side. In fact, Skadi is the Norse Goddess of winter, and represents everything that is the opposite of Idunna, the Spring Maiden. Taking the myth this way, it also puts Loki’s role into a new context: the One Who must brake the stagnation of status quo, the eternal sameness, to set up the cycle of seasons that we are so familiar with. In another connection with seasonal changes in which Loki pops up is the myth in which He cuts off Sif’s hair:

Loki, apparently for no reason, cuts off the long golden hair of Sif, a harvest goddess, whilst she lies sleeping and unsuspecting of him.  Loki then compensates for his deed by going to the dwarfs to ask them to make a magical wig of spun gold, which, when placed on Sif’s head, grows as her original hair did.  So Sif’s hair represents a field of ripe corn and Loki a fire would could suddenly destroy it; but if new corn is planted in the place of the original it will naturally grow again, represented by Sif’s new wig produced by Loki’s instigation, and suggesting, therefore, that Loki replaces all he destroys and so presides over the continuing cycle in nature5.

As further proof of this, apples and nuts have long been associated with rebirth in Germanic culture, and both were buried in graves as gifts for the dead as far back as the Proto-Indo-European period. Entire buckets of apples were found at a 9th century 220px-ydun_1858_by_h-_w-_bissen_-_angleburial site in Norway. Similarly, nuts are a symbol for fertility the world over, but particularly in Southwest England (where there was considerable Heathen influence at one time). In the Volsunga saga, apples were again shown to be a symbol of fertility. In it, the infertile King Rerir prays to Odin for a child. So Frigga, Odin’s wife, sends a crow to drop an apple in his lap. When King Rerir’s wife eats the apple, she becomes pregnant (although she was pregnant for six years, before they give her a caesarean section in to bring the baby to term, and he becomes a great hero named Völsung.) Clearly, Idunna’s importance cannot be overstated, despite what little can be gleaned about Her Personage from the Lore.

Modern Experiences and Understandings of Idunna

Of course, the Gods are still alive, and Idunna very much exists. While there may be a lot of Lore that may be lost, we can learn from the Gods directly, or from the experiences of others. Galina Krasskova, a Heathen priest, wrote a short essay about what is known about Idunna. In in she states that:

Hrafnagaldr Odins’ also charges Idunna with nourishing the World Tree, Yggdrasil, through Ragnarok, indicating at one point, that She conceals Herself within it’s trunk. Scholar Rudolf Simek notes that if Idunna were honored in Pagan times, it would have been as a Goddess of fertility, because of the apples. I would extend that and see Her instead, and partially by extension, as a Goddess of health and transformative power. It’s clear from the tale of Her kidnapping that Her power over these things was coveted by the Jotnar, who live in a dangerous, hostile world. Amongst the Ice etins that world is also often bleak and barren. As I noted in my book “Exploring the Northern Tradition,” it is interesting to note that Thiazi coveted not the apples, but Idunna Herself. Ostensibly the apples were useless unless given directly from Her hands, which would imply that their regenerating power lay within this Goddess Herself6.

Jax at the website Pagan Princesses  speaks a little about what Idunna means to Her:

Iðunn, to me, has the qualities of a good hedgewitch. She tends her garden and provides food that heals the gods. idun-1She reminds us of the healing power of the foods we choose eat – and the destructive power of malnourishment. I’m not much of a gardener (though I make another attempt every year), but I am a foodie, and I do most of the cooking in my family. I have started calling on Iðunn when I’m cooking to bless my skill and help me make wise choices in what I feed my loved ones. Also, she helps me remember the importance of culinary craft and to not undervalue my work in the kitchen. Without the work of her hands, even the gods would die7.

I’m actually going to keep doing more research for Idunna this month, maybe write a short ritual for Her or something. But the month is now about 2/3 over and I’d like to get this post out there to be seen. Plus, I just got “Skalded Apples” by Galina Krasskova, a devotional to Idunna and Bragi, and I want to be able to review it before the end of the month.

So, while waiting, let’s raise our glasses to Idunna!

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May all praises be sung to Idunna,

Gentle Goddess of Youth, Keeper of the Apples,

Wife of Bragi, and Nurse of the Norse!

Hail, Great Idunna, whichout Whose gentle ministrations,

Even the Gods would age and die!

Hail gentle Idunna, the supporter of poets through Her husband Bragi!

Hail, knowlegmable gardener, in alll Your aspects and permetations!

Look kindly upon us.

Hail!

 

idunsapplen11

Suggested Links:

Iduna: Lady of the Orchard online shrine

Bragi: For the Skald of Skalds online shrine

Idunna’s Wikipedia Page

Idun in Norse Mythology : The Tale of the Apples

New World Encyclopedia Entry on Idun

Interesting video – I don’t agree about Idunna being an aspect of Freyja, but there is there a lot of good information in there. The retelling of the story in comic-like pictures is cool, and the interpretation of the myth of the Kidnapping of Idunna as a shamanic journey is very intriguing.

Video on Idunn, Eir, and other goddesses….

The Goddess House Blog: Idun, Goddess of Youth

What the Apple-Maiden Told Me by Raven Kaldera

On the Apple Plant-Spirit

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

4The Poetic Edda. Lokasenna, verse 16-18. As quoted on New World Encyclopedia. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Idun

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