IDUN AND THE APPLES OF YOUTH



In one of the many beautiful places of Asgard, the home of the gods, lived Idun (Ee-doon) and her husband Brage (Bra-gee) the god of poetry. Idun was the most lovely of all the goddess's, and she was also one of the most important because she had in her care the Golden Apples of Youth. These wonderful apples were kept in a golden casket, and Idun took great care of them, for so long as the gods ate these apples, they could never grow old. Another marvellous thing about these golden apples, was that no matter how many were eaten, there was always the same number of apples left in the golden casket. You can imagine how dreadful it was for Asgard when both Idun and the apples were stolen away.
The gods of Asgard had enemies who had heard of these magical apples and who were envious of the good fortune of the gods, wanting the apples for themselves. The worst enemies of Asgard were the Frost Giants, cunning and evil beings who were always plotting against the kindly gods of Asgard.
The dwarfs who lived in the caverns beneath the mountains would also have liked to have had the apples, but Idun would let no one but the gods of Asgard eat of the magical fruit.
Without these apples, the gods would soon have grown weak and old like ordinary mortals, and their enemies would have been able to defeat them, and to capture the great palaces of Asgard. Then suddenly Idun disappeared from Asgard, and with her went the magic apples.The gods searched everywhere but there was no sign of the lovely goddess and her life-giving fruit. Then someone remembered that they had seen Idun with Loke, the mischief-maker. This aroused their suspicions, and Odin father of all the gods, demanded that Loke confess what he had done. So Loke told of what had happened to Idun, and this is the story from the old legends of the Northmen of how Idun was stolen from Asgard.
One fine day, Odin decided to go on a journey out beyond the walls of Asgard, and he took with him Honer (He-ner) and Loke. Although Loke was usually in trouble because of his foolish pranks and the tricks he played on his fellow gods, he could always be counted to amuse them on long journeys.
So, in a way, in spite of his trouble-making, Loke was still popular. The three gods travelled into the country beyond Asgard, right into the country of the Dwarf People, or elves. Here we have seen in the story of Sif, the harvest-godess of the golden hair, the gods of Asgard, thanks to the cunning of Loke, had enemies. Ivalde and his sons had not forgiven them for what they thought was their unjust decision as to the value of the gifts Ivalde and Sindre had brought to them when they had been invited by Loke to make fine metal-work for the gods of Asgard. One of these dwarfs had escaped from the prison in which Odin had had him placed for wrong-doing, and he had changed himself into an eagle. This man's name was Thjasse (Te-as-se) and he learned that the gods were to travel through the mountain land where he had sought refuge. So he was waiting for Odin and his companions as they made their way into the hills.
Thjasse captures Idun and her magic casket
After traveling all day from dawn, through the dark forests and over high mountains, the gods rested in the evening in the Valley of  Oaks. There they built a fire and looked around for something for their supper. Soon a number of bears were seen wandering amidst the trees. The gods killed one of these for they were very hungry indeed. They prepared the beast ready for cooking, but Thajasse had placed a magic rod on the ground near to their cooking fire.
The gods placed the dead bear over the fire and got ready for a good meal, a very satisfying supper of roast meat.. But, although the fire was a good one, the meat never seemed to get any nearer to being roasted.. The gods at first were very puzzled by this but Odin, looking round saw an eagle sitting on a branch of a tree, watching them most intently. Odin knew then that a spell had been thrown on them, and that the eagle was really Thjasse in a cunning disguise.
When Thjasse saw that Odin had noticed what was wrong, he called out to the god "If you will let me have part of the roast bear for myself, I will remove my magic spell' Odin agreed to this, and soon the meat was crackling over the fire and a lovely smell of roast meat began to fill the forest glen. When the meat was cooked, Odin began to share it out, but before he had a chance to cut it up, the eagle flew down quickly and seized in his sharp claws a very large piece of meat---a far larger portion than Odin had would have given him. When Loke saw this he was furious, for not only did he love making mischief, but he also loved having good things to eat. So Loke, in his anger, picked up the first thing that he saw so that he could beat the eagle with it. This was the magic rod!
Loke began to hit the great eagle, and then to his great surprise, he found that not only could he not let go of the stick, but the stick was firmly fastened to the eagle.The eagle spread its giant wings and began to fly a little above the level of the ground, dragging Loke, firmly held to the rod, behind him.. Loke had a most uncomfortable time as he kept bumping into rocks and trees, and the prickly bushes tore at his flesh as he was dragged along.
At last, even the mighty eagle had to pause for a rest, and Loke begged Thjasse, the eagle, to let him go. Loke was so frightened that he promised Thjasse that he would do anything if only he would remove his magic spell and set him free. This was just what Thjasse wanted, and he demanded that Loke should obtain for him not only the lovely Idun, but the magic apples as well. Loke was struck with horror when he heard this demand, but, being a coward, he wanted his own life and freedom above all things. So he promised that he would obey the demands of Thjasse and that he would arrange that Idun and the magic apples should fall into his power.
So, Loke was allowed by Thjasse to return to Odin and Honer, but, of course, he did not tell them what he had promised to do for their dwarf-enemy, Thjasse. The three gods, after this unpleasant little adventure of Loke, returned to Asgard where they saw Idun playing happily with the golden apples and the golden casket.
Loke had indeed set himself a difficult task, for, very naturally, both Idun and the gods, kept careful watch over the magic apples. But Loke was very cunning and had a very smooth tongue, that is to say that he could speak very sweetly and pleasantly when there was anything he wanted. He waited his time, watching Idun day by day until the right moment came along when he could work his treacherous trick with safety. He well knew what would be his punishment if the gods found out that he planned to steal Idun and the magic apples, and to hand them over to their enemy. So Loke waited and watched, and then, one sunny day, he could not find Idun anywhere. He hunted around and at last found her in a sunny glade with the golden casket by her side.. He peered through the bushes watching Idun quietly singing to herself, and from time to time, playing with the magic fruit in the magic casket.
Then Loke entered the glade and began to talk very pleasantly to Idun. She did not altogether trust the mischief-maker, but at last she was persuaded to walk with him down the forest path. Then to herv horror, she discovered that they had wandered away from the boundaries of Asgard, and that she was in a part of the forest that she did not know. She was frightened, very frightened, but Loke only laughed, and Idun then knew that the fire-god had tricked her, as he had tricked so many people in his various unkind games.
Before Idun had time to find her way back to Asgard, Thjasse, still disguised as an eagle, swooped down on her and picked her up in his strong claws. Swiftly the eagle flew back to his strong castle in the mountains.
Meanwhile, in Asgard, Idun had been missed, and so had the golden apples. The gods were horrified at the rapid changes in their appearance. They had suddenly begun to grow old, and to grow old very quickly. They saw their hair turning thin and grey, and their skins getting wrinkled and worn. The Frost Giants had also heard thayt the magic fruit was gone from Asgard, and they sent their icy arrows that killed everything they touched. Great storms blew over the land and a severe frost, with much snow, changed the whole appearance of the home of the gods.

The weary gods searched everywhere for Idun, and for the life giving apples. But they could find no trace of her anywhere. It was then that they remembered seeing Loke with Idun, and they began to suspect that Loke had been up to his old tricks.. When he was brought before Odin, Loke confessed what had happened, and the father of the gods in great anger told the wicked Loke that he must find Idun and the magic casket, and bring them safely bavck to Asgard so that all the evil that he had done might be put right.
So Loke turned himself into a little bird and flew away over the sea in search of Thjasse and the stolen godess.
After hours of flying, Loke reached the castle of Thjasse, and there he found Idun hidden away in a tall strong tower, looking pale and sad, and crying bitterly. Even Loke was then sorry for all the ill his cowardice had brought about. Luckily for Loke, that day Thjasse had flown away from the castle, wondering how he could make Idun tell him the secret of the magic fruit, for in spite of her fear, Idun still was safely guarding the gods' magical fruit and had refused to let Thjasse lay his hands on them.
Idun was delighted to see one of the gods of Asgard, even though it was the trouble making Loke, who had so sadly deceived her. She said however, that she could not escape from the tower because the stout door was bolted and locked, and the window was also strongly barred.
But Loke, with his magical power, changed Idun into a small nut, and, picking her up in one claw, and the golden casket in the other, he flew away from the grim towers of Thjasse, on towards the safety of Asgard.
As Loke flew away, Thjasse was returning to his castle, and he caught the glint of the golden casket that Loke was so firmly holding in one of his claws. As soon as he saw that glitter in the sun, he knew that one of the gods of Asgard had rescued Idun. On his strong eagle-wings Thjasse flew after Loke. Loke saw the shadow of the great bird chasing after him, and, small as he was, he made more and more speed in an attempt to reach the home of the gods where he knew he would be safe. But the great eagle steadily overtook Loke as he neared the walls of Asgard from where the gods were watching his homeward flight.
At last, with one last effort, Loke managed to reach the walls of Asgard, and to fly over them to safety, Idun and the magic apples were safe once morefor, although Thjasse tried to cross the walls,the great guardian flames that protected them were too fierce for him. Scorched and blinded, the dwarf enemy of the gods, Thjasse diguised as an eagle, fell inside the walls where Thor, with his mighty hammer, quickly slew him.
Ever after that, Idun was very wary of Loke, and she and the gods took even greater care of the magic casket than before. Soon the gods were refreshing themselves on the golden fruit, and all signs of advancing old age was removed from them. They were gods once more, not mere mortals.So everything was again well in Asgard. The wicked Loke, who had been the cause of all the trouble, had once more saved his reputation by being the person to put things right, but even Loke never forgot that frightful flight back from the tower of Thjasse, with the great eagle swooping after him in speedy and angry pursuit.

Previous                                         Home



Chapter 4:  "Balder the beautiful"


Notes:
The apples and Idun could have been modified by the Christians as in the "forbidden fruit" from the garden of Eden- often misrepresented as an apple. Apples are a cool climate fruit and would be unlikely to have grown in the Middle East, where in any case the Bible tells us the fruit was merely "forbidden fruit"  probably figs or the like,  not as is still commonly described in cartoon and prose as "apples", this may be the palimpsest of the Pagan past.
Brage- does our word to "Brag" come down from the tendency for travelling poets to talk themselves up?


Copyright ©  All rights reserved  T. & K. Midgley. Links revised July 2023.