This week, spring rolled into the northern hemisphere, and with it comes various traditions and celebrations. For the Norse, spring is the time of Idun (or Iðunn), the goddess of rejuvenation and the keeper of the magic apples that keep the gods and goddesses young.
You read that right: the Norse gods are not immortal on their own. They are given their youth and beauty by Idun’s delicious, golden apples. It seems counter intuitive to not have immortal deities, doesn’t it? Well, one thought is that because so many of the gods came from mixed backgrounds, their immortal blood was a little diluted.
No one really knows where Idun’s apples come from– or if they are even apples, for the word used to describe these fruit in the Poetric Eddas could also mean almost any type of fruit or nut. But apples are often seen as a sign of magic, so the translator community seems to have decided on them. Wherever they come from or whatever they are, there are always enough of them. Any time Idun opens her basket, there are the same number of apples within. If she takes one out, another one appears.
Idun is married to Bragi, the god of poetry. One poem talks of how Loki accuses Idun of sleeping with her brothers murderer– but we don’t really know who Bragi is supposed to have killed or how or why. Another missing mystery in our incomplete knowledge of the Poetic Eddas.
Loki once stole Idun. Not her apples. Idun herself. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Of course he did. He’s kind of a dick and she has some mighty powerful apples there.” But you may be surprised to find out why.
You see, Loki got into a little tiff with this giant eagle one day. The eagle got the better of him in a fight. He revealed himself as the giant Thjasse and said he would let him go if he brought him Idun and her apples. Loki said this was cool, turned himself into a falcon and flew off to get her.
He tricked Idun by saying that he’d seen better apples than her (ladies, don’t fall for that one) right outside of Asgard. When Idun went to look, Thjasse grabbed her and flew away with her.
For a long time, the gods and goddesses didn’t know what had happened to Idun. But they began to get older and become withered. And Bragi could make no music nor write any poetry while his wife was missing. So, they realized that Loki was probably behind this, cornered him and made him explain.
Loki told the tale, whereupon the gods told him to get his shit together and bring Idun back. HE asked if he could borrow the goddess Freyja’s eagle disguise, and though Freyja is not fond of Loki, she said that was cool– so long as it meant Idun was returned.
So, Loki flew to Thjasse’s home and found Idun within and the giant missing. Quick as a flash, he turned her into a nut (or perhaps an apple?) and gripped her in his talons. But just as he was leaving Thjasse’s hut, the giant returned, turned into an eagle, and began to chase the pair.
A great race took place there. The gods could see Loki and Thjasse coming, so they prepared great fires along the walls of Asgard. Just as Loki-as-falcon rushed across the walls, the gods lit the fires. And Thjasse was caught in them. His wings were burned to a crisp, and he dropped from the sky, to be put to the blades of the gods.
Safely in Asgard, Idun returned to her true form and flew into Bragi’s arms. Poetry and immortality were once again reunited and beauty was returned to the world.
If you want to celebrate this spring rite right, consider taking someone who love into the blooming spring meadows, hills, or fjords and reciting some beautiful love poetry for them. The skals and Bragi himself would probably be pretty upset if you didn’t use this opportunity to make your own poetry for your beloved. So honor them thus. And bring a picnic. Preferably with apples– or at least some cider in your tankard.