Idunn: The Rejuvenating Goddess that Keeps Norse Deities Young
Idunn (Iðunn) is one of the most important goddesses in Norse mythology. The name of this goddess has been variously translated to mean ‘The Rejuvenating One’, ‘Ever Young’, and ‘Rejuvenator’, which highlights the role she has in the Norse pantheon. You can guess how worried the other gods would be if anything happened to her.
One of the best-known Norse myths is known as ‘The Kidnapping of Iðunn’, in which it is demonstrated just how important this goddess was to the other Norse deities. In this myth, the other Norse gods and goddesses begin to age after Idunn was kidnapped – they had to do all they could to get her back.
From left to right: Iðunn, Loki, Heimdallr and Bragi. Illustration of a scene from the poem Hrafnagaldr Óðins. (Public Domain)
Who was Idunn?
According to Norse belief, Idunn was an Æsir, one of the two tribes of deities in the Norse pantheon. In the literary sources, she is depicted as the wife of Bragi, the skaldic god of poetry. She is also believed to be the goddess who was in possession of the fruits that allowed the gods to maintain their youthfulness.
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Bragi sitting playing the harp, Iðunn standing behind him. (1846) By Nils Blommér. (Public Domain)
Incidentally, the Norse believed that their gods were not immortal, and hence Idunn’s fruits were extremely valuable to them. Whilst this fruit is commonly said to have been apples, it has been pointed out that Old Norse word for apple was ‘epli’, and that it was used to denote any kind of fruit or nut.
Therefore, Idunn’s presence in Asgard was of utmost importance, as it was from this goddess that all the other Norse deities depended. The gods faced dire consequences if they did not have access to her fruits of immortality, and this is clearly seen in the famous myth simply known as ‘The Kidnapping of Iðunn’. This myth can be found in the Skáldskaparmal, a book in the Prose Edda, and is told be Bragi to Ægir, a sea jötunn, during a banquet in Asgard.
Idunn with apples. (CC BY SA)
The Kidnapping of Iðunn
The story begins with the journey of Odin, Loki and Hoenir from their home in Asgard to some desolate place where food was hard to find. Eventually, they found a herd of oxen in an open valley, took one of them, and began cooking it. When they thought that the ox was cooked, they went to check it. To their great surprise, it was still raw.
They tried to cook the ox a second time but failed again. It was then that the gods heard a voice from the oak above them, informing them that it was responsible for causing the ox to remain uncooked. When the gods looked up, they saw a huge eagle, who turned out to be the jötunn Þjazi. The eagle makes a deal with the gods, telling them that he would undo the magic he had placed on the ox in exchange for a portion of it.
Loki, Odin, and Hoenir try to cook, but Þjazi stops them. (Public Domain)
The gods agreed to this, and Þjazi flew down, ripping the choicest parts with his sharp talons. This angered Loki, who grabbed a pole to attack the jötunn. Loki swung the pole as hard as he could, causing it to get stuck in the eagle’s back. Þjazi began to fly upwards, with one end of the pole on his body, and the other in Loki’s hands. Clinging to the pole in mid-air, Loki felt that his arms would be ripped off from his shoulders, and begged Þjazi to release him. The jötunn refused to do so unless Loki brought him Idunn and her fruits of immortality. To this the trickster god agreed and was released.
When Loki returned to Asgard, he approached Idunn, and told her that he had seen fruits in a certain wood outside Asgard that seemed like hers and asked her to come with him with her fruits to make a comparison. She fell for Loki’s trick, and as the pair arrived at the place, the goddess was abducted by Þjazi, and carried off to his abode in Jötunheim.
Loki and Idunn. (Public Domain)
Meanwhile in Asgard, the gods and goddesses began to age, and gathered for a meeting, in which Loki was absent. Suspecting that the god of mischief had something to do with Idunn’s disappearance, they seized him, and found out what he had done. Threatened with torture and death, Loki now promised to get Idunn back.
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Getting the Goddess of Youth Back
Borrowing Freyja’s hawk plumage, Loki flew to Jötunheim as a hawk. As Þjazi was out at sea, Loki found Idunn alone in the jötunn’s home. Turning her into a nut, Loki picked her up, and began his flight back to Asgard. When Þjazi returned, he noticed that the goddess was missing, turned into an eagle, and began to pursue Loki.
"There sat Idun with her beautiful hair falling over her shoulders". The goddess Iðunn, hand on her eski (a small chest), surrounded by apples. Þjazi, in the form of an eagle, appears in the corner. (Public Domain)
The Æsir prepared themselves for Þjazi’s arrival. Just outside Asgard, the gods prepared a pile of wood-shavings, which they lit up as Þjazi approached. The eagle’s feathers caught fire, and Þjazi fell to the earth, where he was slain by the gods. It was in this manner that Idunn was returned to the gods, and their youthfulness returned once more.
Idunn and the Apples of Youth. (Public Domain)
Top image: ‘Idun and the Apples’ (1890) by J. Doyle Penrose. Source: Public Domain
By Wu Mingren
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