Idunn: The Rejuvenating Goddess that Keeps Norse Deities Young

Idunn: The Rejuvenating Goddess that Keeps Norse Deities Young

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Idunn (Iðunn) is one of the most important goddesses in Norse mythology. 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.

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 Blomm ér.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Forgotten Viking Goddesses

Frigg was the Queen of the Viking pantheon, the wife of Odin, and the mother of the beloved god, Baldr. However, Freyja – goddess of magic, war, erotic love, and treasure – was probably the more venerated and popular female deity in the Viking Age. Never far from the Viking’s mind was Rán, the goddess of the sea. Many stories of these goddesses come down to us through the Eddic poems, the sagas, and the works of medieval lore masters like Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241).

Other goddesses have left us fewer stories but were still very important. There was Idunn, the blessed goddess of youth and spring. Lovers of Norse lore also know Sif, the beautiful wife of Thor, and how Loki replaced her stolen hair with locks of living gold.

Skaði (or Skathi / Skadi) was the snow skiing protector of the wild who was so fierce that even the gods paid her compensation rather than fight her. Skaði is alternately referred to as Öndurguð (Old Norse 'ski god') and Öndurdís.

But the Vikings had many other goddesses too. Unfortunately for us, Viking lore was an oral tradition, not a written one. By the time anyone wrote these stories down (starting in the 12th century), a lot of it had been lost. This article will look at the traces of information that remain about these forgotten Viking goddesses, who they were, and what clues they give us about the people that worshiped them.

How many Viking Goddesses were there?

So, how many goddesses did the Vikings worship? This seems a straightforward question, but it is not. Snorri Sturluson is our best source for answers because he was a prodigious lore master writing just a hundred or so years after the Vikings. Snorri wrote the Prose Edda, a sort-of handbook for preserving Norse poetry. He also wrote the Heimskringla (History of the Kings of Norway) and several other sagas. In the Poetic Edda, Snorri offers a list of 16 Aesir goddesses. But before his book is through, he mentions several others not included in his list.

Though Snorri is an excellent source, he is imperfect at times. He is not shy about introducing Christian slants to appeal to his medieval readers. He was also limited by time and distance. Writing in 13th century Iceland, he could not have always known who people were worshiping in 9th century Sweden, for example.

Another difficulty with Viking goddesses is that there is not always a clear distinction between a god/goddess and a Jötunn (plural, Jötnar). “Jötunn" is usually translated as "giant" in English, but the real meaning of the word was more like "titan," a supernatural creature that was usually – but not always – hostile to the gods. The Jötnar could be lovers, wives, or parents of gods. Some gods, like Skathi and Loki, were Jötnar that had been adopted into the Aesir tribe.

Like Viking society, the gods were divided into tribes – namely the Aesir and the Vanir. The Aesir and Vanir exchanged members to keep the peace, just as human tribes did. There may also have been some unaffiliated gods, such as Thor's mother, Jörð (the Earth Goddess, or at least an earth goddess).

The Viking world was a spirit-haunted place. There were other supernatural beings besides gods and giants. There were Norns (the spirits that governed or administered Fate) and Valkyries. There were the Disir (the female guiding spirits of the Ancestors) and the Fylgja (guiding animal spirits, similar perhaps to the Patronus in the Harry Potter series). There were elves, dwarves, trolls, and Väsen (earth spirits and creatures). Therefore, who was a goddess and who was not could be a tricky question – and probably not one the Vikings themselves would have spent time on. Vikings looked to all these spirits for help, and they held all of them in awe. They made offerings (called blots) to these various spirits, too, in appointed places and at specified times.

Who is God of What in Viking Lore?

Accustomed to Greek, Roman, or Egyptian myth, we usually think of ancient gods as presiding over one thing or another. Mars is the god of war, Venus is the goddess of love, and so forth. The gods and goddesses of the Vikings were not exactly like this, though. Norse deities were more like people – that is, they had personalities, relationships, and overlapping spheres of influence.

Even though there was a lot more to a Viking deity than being “the God of Thunder” or “the Goddess of Love,” we still might talk about them that way. This is simply because it helps us modern people learn the basics of their attributes as we become acquainted with them. In the case of these “lost goddesses" we will be looking at now, their basic features may be all the knowledge that really remains available.

The Lost Goddesses

In addition to Frigg, Freyja, Skathi, Sif, Jörð, Rán and Idunn, the Eddas tell of the following goddesses:

Saga is the second goddess Snorri speaks of after Frigg, which suggests that she is of very high status. But the Edda later says that Freyja is on par with Frigg. If this parity is so, Saga's placement on the list may suggest that she is third in the pantheon – though this could be an artificial construct or an erroneous conclusion. All we are told about Saga is that she lives in a grand mansion called Sokkvabekk. The word "saga" means "saying," and so Saga may be a poetry goddess. Since poetry was indispensable to the Vikings, this would account for her high rank. The most notable of the poetry gods (besides Odin) is Bragi. But we know that the Vikings did have female poets and skalds (bards), so we would not be surprised to find a poetry goddess, too.

Eir is the third goddess mentioned in this passage in the Prose Edda. Eir is the goddess of medicine and "the best of doctors.” Few specifics are known about Viking medicine. Based on impressions in the lore and in later Icelandic folk medicine books, it seems Viking medicine was laced with magic, prayers, and superstitions. But it is also clear from the literary and historical record that some Viking medicine was effective. Historical heroes like Harald Hardrada and saga heroes like Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue suffered from grievous wounds on the battlefield but made full recoveries. Saga heroes like Egil Skallagrimson demonstrate that medicine was not just a specialized skill but was a talent within the realm of any cultivated man or woman.

Gefjun and Fulla are mentioned next to each other, and both are given the distinction of "virgin goddesses.” In Norse (and other traditional) societies, this tends to suggest youth. Indeed, Fulla is mentioned as having her hair unbound flowing from a golden band around her head (a trait someone in that era would expect of a young teenager). Fulla is associated with Frigg and attends her as a servant or lady in waiting. She carries Frigg’s “ashen box” (no explanation of this is offered), looks after her shoes, and exchanges secrets with the Queen Goddess.

From what little information we are offered, Gefjun (“She Who Gives”) comes off as much more sober and mature than Fulla. “She is a maiden, and all those who die as virgins serve her.” This cryptic line seems to set out an alternate type of “Valhalla” for women and girls who died before their time or lived non-traditional lives. But as usual, any details are now unobtainable. Gefjun ( alternatively spelled Gefion) is mentioned in most lists of the Aesir, underscoring her importance in the pantheon.

In another section of the Prose Edda, Snorri gives a completely different account of Gefjun. In this section, Gefjun is a mother and a consort of a king who, through her supernatural powers, carves out the island of Sjaelland (Zealand) in Denmark. A common belief is that one of Snorri’s goals in the Prose Edda is to align Norse pagan lore with legendary history, and so it is unclear how much of this account of Gefjun is authentic. In the Eddic poem Lokasenna, Loki also accuses Gefjun as being anything but virginal. It is therefore not unlikely that either 1) there are at least two different traditions of this goddess, or 2) Gefjun’s role has been somewhat misunderstood. It may be more helpful to consider Gefjun as a creative goddess and goddess of giving rather than a restrictive goddess of chastity or innocence.

Love Goddesses

The Vikings had at least three love goddesses in addition to Freyja. The first of these was Sjofn, who “turned the thoughts of men and women towards love.” The second was Lofn (whose name means “Loving” and is almost certainly the source of the English word “love”), who was the goddess of marriage unions. Men and women would turn to Lofn in cases of forbidden love or when the object of their desire seemed impossible to obtain.

Var was a love goddess who held the oaths of lovers in sacred trust. She took vengeance on men or women who were untrue to these oaths. You can read more about romantic love in the Viking Age here.

Protector Goddesses and Goddesses of Wisdom

The Prose Edda then describes a series of protective goddesses of wisdom and cunning. The first of these is Vor, whose name means “Careful.” Vor is so wise and knowing and “inquires so deeply” that she misses nothing. Vor seems to represent “women’s intuition.” In Viking poetry and sagas, it is common to find women praised for wisdom, shrewdness, and judgment.

The next of these goddesses is named Syn, which means refusal. Syn is the goddess of locks, doors, and gates (in both the literal and figurative sense, most likely). Syn’s sphere of influence extended to courts of law. Law and litigation were passions of the Vikings (believe it or not) and account for much of the sagas' action. Syn's name became synonymous with defensive maneuvers in the legal battles in Iceland and Nordic frontier states.

Hlin (whose name means “Protector”) is the agent of Frigg who helps those blessed by that goddess to find safety and escape from their enemies. Hlin’s name became a synonym for ‘tranquility’ (hleiner) because she could help people rise above their problems.

Last but not least in this category is the goddess Snotra. Snotra is wise and courtly, strong of mind but deft with words. Snotra’s name was applied for the Old Norse word, “snotr,” which was an honorific term for a clever man or woman. Beowulf's author used the word snotra for 'wise' and 'prudent'.

Messenger Goddesses and Heavenly Beings

The messenger goddess is named Gna. Something like a Nordic female Mercury, Gna travels through the skies on errands for Frigg. She rides a magical, flying and sea-treading horse named Hofvarpnir (Old Norse: "Hoof Kicker"). Some have theorized that she is the 'goddess of fullness.' Seeing Gna could be an omen of dangerous or auspicious events.

Sol is the name of the Viking sun goddess. In most Indo-European paganism, the sun is male. But the Vikings thought of the sun as a goddess who sped across the skies in a blazing chariot, pursued by evil wolves. Sol’s chariot is made from sparks from Muspellheim (the World of Fire). Her horses are named Arvak and Alvsinn. It is implied (but uncertain) that Sol was originally a mortal woman but became a goddess.

Another such goddess is Bil, a girl child who follows the moon (the god, Mani). Bil and her brother Hjuki may refer to planets like Venus and Mars that are often seen near the rising moon, but this is never really elaborated on. Many ancient peoples hung their livelihoods on astronomy and astrology. The Vikings would have relied on such understanding for navigating and farming. However, no specifics have come down to us on Viking conceptions of astronomy – only clues buried within their poetry. Any detailed knowledge that may have existed is lost with the oral tradition.

Rán’s Daughters

The sea goddess, Rán, was married to Aegir, the Jötun ‘old man of the sea.’ They had nine daughters, who had charge over waves. The names of these daughters convey the awe the Vikings had of the sea, with all its thrill, challenges, and terrors. These goddesses included Blóðughadda (Bloody Hair), Dröfn (Foamy Sea), Hefring (Lifting Sea), Dúfa (Pitching), Uðr (Frothing), Himinglæva (Transparent), Kolga (Cold), Hronn (Welling), and Bylgja (simply, Wave).

Scholars have speculated that Rán’s nine daughters could be the same as Heimdalr’s nine mothers, meaning that mighty god was born of the waves. However, this is disputed.

Sigyn is the devoted wife of the notorious god of mischief and malice, Loki. She is the mother of at least two of Loki's children, named Váli, Nari, and/or Narfi - all of whom appear to be associated with the dead. However, Loki's far more frightening offspring - Fenrir the Wolf, Jormungundr the World-Coiling Serpent, and Hel, Queen of the Underworld - were not Sigyn's children but born from the fearsome Jötunn Angrboða (Sorrow Bringer). Sigyn's name means something like "Victory Companion" or "Victory-Lover," and so it is thought that Sigyn was a goddess of victory. However, like so many women who make a bad match, the fame and glory she may have once had were brought low by the misdeeds of her husband.

Loki earns the wrath of the gods by orchestrating the murder of the beloved god, Baldr. When the gods finally catch him, they transform one of Sigyn's sons ( Váli or Narfi) into a wolf. The werewolf then rips his brother Nari open, and the gods bind Loki with his son's entrails. The goddess Skaði (who hates Loki for a variety of reasons, and who once hoped to marry Baldr) then suspended a poisonous serpent over Loki's head. The serpent drips poison down on the bound god - but Sigyn stays by her husband, catching the drops of venom in a bowl so that Loki does not suffer. When the bowl fills, though, Sigyn must leave the cave of torment to toss the caustic liquid away. While she is gone, Loki receives his punishment, and shakes and screams in agony. The Vikings believed this was the cause of earthquakes and other seismic phenomena. The Eddic poem Völuspá says that Sigyn is miserable with this fate, though whether she is angry at the treatment of her husband or angry at him for deserving it (or both) is open to interpretation. Still, the image of Sigyn's tireless vigilance, loyalty, and self-sacrifice has inspired many artists over the last thousand years or more. Sigyn may be a goddess of victory, but she is a symbol of devotion.

Dark Goddesses

In the Saga of the Jomsvikings, Hákon Sigurdsson (not to be confused with Hákon the Good) defends his realm in Norway against a force of Danes and elite Jomsviking heroes. When the tide turns against Hákon, he tries to enlist the help of two goddesses, Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr (Thorgerdr Holgi’s-bride) and her sister, Irpa.

The name “Hölgabrúðr” does not only imply the wife of Holgi (the legendary founder of the province of Holgaland) but rather that Thorgerdr is the wife/protector of Holgaland/Hörðaland itself. Thus, Þorgerðr and Irpa are thought to be two local goddesses of protection, and plenty. We may even speculate they could have been Vanir, though this is never expressly said.

But then the story takes a turn for the worst.

When Hákon’s prayers and offerings do not work, he turns to a human sacrifice. When the human sacrifice also does not bring an omen of the goddesses’ favor, Hákon sacrifices one of his own children. Finally interested, Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr and Irpa give Hákon’s Norwegian Vikings victory in a sea battle over the Danes and Jomsvikings. The surviving Jomsvikings are captured, and face execution stoically in the climax of the saga.

Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr and Irpa are mentioned in several other sagas, often in association with Hákon. They are usually mentioned together, though sometimes Þorgerðr is mentioned alone. There are records of a temple in southern Norway (near Gudbrandsdal) where these two goddesses were joined by Thor. Unfortunately, not much else is known about them.

Human sacrifice was a feature of Viking and other pagan Germanic religions, however, it was usually reserved for extreme situations. Hákon’s sacrifice of his son, therefore, is plausible – but it may just be a dramatic trope in the action-oriented Jomsviking Saga. The Jomsviking Saga even calls Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr ‘Þorgerðr Hörga-troll’ firmly making this local goddess into a dark and bloodthirsty cheater of battles. In other sagas, this negative personification continues, with Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr becoming associated with death prophecies and necromancy. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know what is authentic and what is later bias. History is written by the winners, and so obfuscation and vilification are common when it comes to abandoned goddesses. That being said, the world of our ancestors was a hard place, where not every person (and not every supernatural force) would have been fair or kind.

Goddesses of the Dead

Vikings thought the dead may end up in various afterlife settings, including Valhalla (the Hall of the Slain, where Odin’s warriors resided) and Hel. Our English word “Hell” is derived from these same ancestral legends of Hel. The Viking underworld was simultaneously "north" and "beneath" in a realm that was forever out of reach until it was impossible to escape. Hel was not a place of punishment, though. Writing later, Snorri speaks of areas in Hel where the faithless and traitors suffered, but this could have been 1) Christian syncretism or 2) just one feature or location within Hel. Aspects of Hel are described in several Eddic poems, including Alvissmal and Baldrs draumar. In these poems, Hel seems like a melancholy place, but it vaguely parallels the world of the living.

The Queen of Hel is the goddess, Hel. Hel is the daughter of Loki, the notorious god of trouble, from his illicit affair with the Jötunn, Angrboda (Sorrow-Bringer). Hel has brothers, including the wolf, Fenrir, and the World-coiling Serpent, Jörmungandr. Hel is a complex character who merits her own article, which is forthcoming. Hel is fated to lead the forces of the dead against the gods at Ragnarok.

An overlooked goddess of the underworld is Nanna, the wife of Baldr and daughter or the otherwise unspecified cosmic being, Nep. Baldr was the most beloved of the gods. When he was murdered through Loki's treachery, Nanna's heart burst, and she was burned by his side in Baldr’s ship burial. Nanna later appears in Hel, drinking mead by Baldr’s side. After Ragnarok, Baldr is fated for reincarnation in the reborn world. Perhaps Nanna will be too. Until then, this gentle goddess is a symbol of the beauty of love lost to death, surviving on in memory.

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Idun (="ever young", "rejuvenator") is the Norse goddess of youth, but she is also associated with love, fertility, knowledge and death. According to ancient myths, she is married to her fellow god Bragi.

Idun is the custodian of the apples of eternal youth, which are said to keep the Norse Gods, the Aesir, forever young and powerful. According to myth, the giants once kidnapped Idun so that the gods would start to age and wither away, but Idun was rescued by Loki.

900 years ago, the monstrous Fenris the Wolf hatched a long-term plan to conserve his energies for the end of the world. He staged a reconciliation dinner for his enemies the Aesir and tricked them into eating pieces of his own flesh and drinking his blood, thereby storing his memories and powers in godly vessels. Idun was one such guest at the banquet. (According to Fenris himself, he did this to protect his essence from his own nature as a destroyer, to prevent himself from turning upon himself and devouring all of his own resources before it was time to launch his final attack on creation.)

In modern times when Fenris finally decided to launch his grand plan, he allied himself with two fellow malevolent deities, Abonsam of West Africa and Bet Jo’gie Etta Hi Ee of the Navajo. Through the trickery and deceit, Abonsam and Bet Jo’Gie Etta Hi Ee helped Fenris to find and devour his old enemies. Idun was lured to Earth by Bet Jo’gie and was then killed and devoured by Fenris.

Who was Idun?

Idun is the goddess of youth and was held in high regard as her apples kept the gods youthful and robust. She carries them in an ash box (no doubt connected to Yggdrasil). She is the only one who can deliver these apples, which earned her the name of the maiden to the gods.

Because of this connection, she is often considered a goddess of fertility, sexuality, and children.

You’ll find mentions of Idun in the Eddas, and historical archaeological burial finds have included apples and other symbols of eternal youth, which attests to this goddess’s popularity.

The name Iðunn means “ever young,” or “the rejuvenating one.” As modern English does not have the (ð) character, she became known as Idun.

The Giant Who Tried to Steal Youth from the Gods

Loki, unhappy at the turn of giant Thiazi taking more than his fair share of some cooked meat, decided that the giant needed to be punished for his greed.

Loki took a pole and started beating the giant (who at this moment was in the guise of a huge eagle).

The pole got lodged in the eagle’s talons, and Loki could not let go of the other end and got dragged along the ground and bashed into trunks of tree and jagged rocks till he was bruised half to death.

Thiazi refused to stop dragging him until Loki agreed to do something for him – rob the gods of their mortality, aka give the giant Idun and her golden apples.

Although he knew what consequences would be, Loki agreed.

Not long after, he came across Idun tending her golden apples. Seizing his opportunity, he casually tells her that he’d seem some even better-looking apples just outside the gates of Asgard.

No sooner than they had stepped out the gate, then Thiazi swooped down and took Idun away to Jotunheim (the world where the giants lived).

Without Idun’s apples, the gods began to age, and their hair grew white, and Idun’s husband could not compose poetry without her.

Iðunn and Eden – Comparing Norse and judeo-Christian Myths

Given that it is the season of fall, when apples fall from trees, I thought I would discuss one of my favorite myths, which is that of Nordic goddess Iðunn.

Iðunn is the keeper of Asgard’s apples, which keep the Gods youthful. Her name is said to mean “ever young”, “rejuvenator”, or “the rejuvenating one.” She is the wife of Bragi, and she is portrayed as a kind and beautiful goddess.

For some reason, she is a necessary part of the God’s retaining their youthfulness, as they need for her to hand out the apples. When she is lured from Asgard by Loki, the Gods quickly deteriorate, becoming old, weak, and gray, and only become youthful again when she is returned. An apple a day not only keeps the doctor away, it also wards off old age! The Gods of Asgard continue this ritual to survive until Ragnarok.

It appears Iðunn is very much a fertility goddess:

Some surviving stories regarding Iðunn focus on her youth-maintaining apples. English scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson links apples to religious practices in Germanic paganism. She points out that buckets of apples were found in the 9th-century Oseberg ship burial site in Norway and that fruit and nuts (Iðunn having been described as being transformed into a nut in Skáldskaparmál) have been found in the early graves of the Germanic peoples in England and elsewhere on the continent of Europe which may have had a symbolic meaning and also that nuts are still a recognized symbol of fertility in Southwest England.

Davidson notes a connection between apples and the Vanir, a group of gods associated with fertility in Norse mythology, citing an instance of eleven “golden apples” being given to woo the beautiful Gerðr by Skírnir, who was acting as messenger for the major Vanir god Freyr in stanzas 19 and 20 of Skírnismál. In Skírnismál, Gerðr mentions her brother’s slayer in stanza 16, which Davidson states has led to some suggestions that Gerðr may have been connected to Iðunn as they are similar in this way. Davidson also notes a further connection between fertility and apples in Norse mythology in chapter 2 of the Völsunga saga when the major goddess Frigg sends King Rerir an apple after he prays to Odin for a child, Frigg’s messenger (in the guise of a crow) drops the apple in his lap as he sits atop a mound. Rerir’s wife’s consumption of the apple results in a six-year pregnancy and the caesarean section birth of their son—the hero Völsung.

How is a people (a race) kept “young”? By continually having more children through the generations, continuing our bloodlines and traditions.

The apple does not fall far from the tree.

What is happening to the White race right now? We are growing old and gray, and fewer young White children are being born to continue the cycle of rejuvenation. We have lost the gifts of Iðunn’s apples.

“Fruit of the womb” is also mentioned in the Bible, showing the association of bearing children with the gift of fruit.

Let us now consider the story of Eden, which seems to be an obvious phonetic connection to the Nordic goddess. As we all know, Eve is “tricked” into disobeying the psychopathic deity Yahweh by the serpent who has wrapped himself around the tree, and she convinces Adam to eat the apples with her. (It should be noted that a serpentine dragon also guards Hera’s golden apples, which are tended by the Hesperides aka Seven Sisters.)

“You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die,” says the God of the Abrahamics. The serpent tells Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Who lied and who told the truth? Adam was presented the apple by his wife, a goddess in her own right, and did he die? No, he lived a long, long life, supposedly living to be 930 years old. A bite from the apple provided him with extreme youthfulness! Why would a good God not want to share this fruit with his Adam and Eve? Why would he want to withhold knowledge from them?

To this day, apples are still symbols associated with education and knowledge.

Which myth seems to fit better with a healthy worldview? The one in which a benevolent, beautiful goddess bestows the gifts of youth upon our people or the one in which an evil woman curses all future generations by giving her husband forbidden fruit?

Modern influence

Iðunn has been the subject of a number of artistic depictions. These depictions include "Idun" (statue, 1821) by H. E. Freund, "Idun" (statue, 1843) and "Idun som bortrövas av jätten Tjasse i örnhamn" (plaster statue, 1856) by C. G. Qvarnström, "Brage sittande vid harpan, Idun stående bakom honom" (1846) by Nils Blommér, "Iduns Rückkehr nach Valhalla" by C. Hansen (resulting in an 1862 woodcut modeled on the painting by C. Hammer), "Bragi und Idun, Balder und Nanna" (drawing, 1882) by K. Ehrenberg, "Idun and the Apples" (1890) by J. Doyle Penrose, "Brita as Iduna" (1901) by Carl Larsson, "Loki och Idun" (1911) by John Bauer, "Idun" (watercolor, 1905) by B. E. Ward, and "Idun" (1901) by E. Doepler.

The 19th-century composer Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen opera cycle features Freia, a version of the goddess Freyja combined with the Iðunn.

Idunn Mons, a mons of the planet Venus, is named after Iðunn. The publication of the United States-based Germanic neopagan group The Troth (Idunna, edited by Diana L. Paxson) derives its name from that of the goddess. The Swedish magazine Idun was named after the goddess she appears with her basket of apples on its banner.


The name Iðunn has been variously explained as meaning "ever young", "rejuvenator", or "the rejuvenating one".  As the modern English alphabet lacks the eth (ð) character, Iðunnis sometimes anglicized as IdunIdunn or Ithun. An -a suffix is sometimes applied to denote femininity, resulting in forms such as Iduna and Idunna.

The name Iðunn appears as a personal name in several historical sources and the Landnámabók records that it has been in use in Iceland as a personal name since the pagan period (10th century). Landnámabók records two incidents of women by the name of Iðunn Iðunn Arnardóttir, the daughter of an early settler, and Iðunn Molda-Gnúpsdóttir, granddaughter of one of the earliest settlers recorded in the book. The name Iðunn has been theorized as the origin of the Old English name Idonea. Idun, is also spelled Idunn, or Iduna, in Norse mythology, the goddess of spring or rejuvenation and the wife of Bragi, the god of poetry. She was the keeper of the magic apples of immortality, which the gods must eat to preserve their youth. When, through the cunning of Loki, the trickster god, she and her apples were seized by the giant Thiassi and taken to the realm of the giants, the gods quickly began to grow old. They then forced Loki to rescue Idun, which he did by taking the form of a falcon, changing Idun into a nut (in some sources, a sparrow), and flying off with her in his claws.

The golden apples

Once the trickster and troublemaker Loki got into a quarrel with the giant Thiazi. To stop the fight, he promised to kidnap Idun and give her to the giant. He managed to lure Idun into the forest, where the giant Thiazi was waiting. He took her off to Jotunheim, the realm of the giants.

Without Idun’s apples, the gods quickly began to age and their hair turned grey. When Loki was found to be the one behind all this, he had to choose between paying with his life or bringing Idun back home to Asgard again.

Loki borrowed Freyja’s magic cloak, which turned him into a falcon and he flew to Jotunheim to fetch Idun. When he arrived there, he changed her into a nut and flew back to Asgard with her in his claws. The myth fails to explain how he got the apples back, so that remains a mystery.

Now when the giant Thiazi, who had been out fishing, came back and saw that Idun was gone, he assumed his eagle form and flew like the wind to Asgard. When the gods saw Loki in falcon form approaching with the nut in his talons, they went out to the walls of Asgard and piled up a stack of wood shavings.

As the falcon landed safely inside the walls, the gods set fire to the pile of wood shavings. Thiazi in his eagle form was unable to stop and his feathers caught fire, bringing him crashing to the ground. Then the Aesir gods killed the giant.

But the story does not end there, since Thiazi had a daughter – the giantess Skadi. And she wanted revenge for the death of her father…

The connection with the life-giving fruit makes Idun a goddess of the erotic, sexuality and offspring.

Idun’s mythic tradition resides almost exclusively in the tale of her abduction by the shapeshifting giant Thjazi. One day, Odin, Hoenir, and Loki went journeying in the mountainous regions of Asgard. When the hungry travelers happened upon a herd of oxen, they slaughtered one and attempted to cook it. Every time they tried, however, a talking eagle used magic to prevent the fire from heating the juicy meat. The bird told the gods that if it did not receive its own portion, no one would eat. The gods agreed to share their meal, and the bird flew down to join them.

When the eagle came close enough to touch, Loki seized a branch and attempted to strike it. Loki was too slow, however, and the bird seized the branch (which Loki was still holding onto) in its talons and flew away. When Loki begged for release, the eagle revealed itself to be the giant Thjazi and demanded that Idun and her magical apples be brought to him. Loki agreed to retrieve her, and the giant-turned-eagle returned him safely to the ground.

When Loki returned home, he lured Idun into a dark forest by telling her it was the location of a rare and precious fruit. Instead of a fruit, however, Idun found Thjazi waiting in his eagle form. The giant seized the young goddess and flew away with her to his home in Jotunheimr.

Without the restorative powers of the apples, the Norse gods withered and grew old: “But the Æsir became straitened at the disappearance of Idunn, and speedily they became hoary and old,” the Skáldskaparmál reads. 1 Loki was the last god to be seen with Idun, and the gods began to question and threaten him for information. As their threats escalated, Loki told them that if they released him and lent him Freya’s falcon cloak, he would fly away and return with the abducted goddess.

With cloak in hand, Loki flew to Jotunheimr where he found Idun alone in Thjazi’s hall. He transformed her into the shape of a nut and flew away with her. Thjazi quickly discovered LokiÆs deception, and pursued the fleeing gods to the gates of Asgard. When the other gods saw Loki returning, they built a massive fire that reached into the heavens. Loki veered away from the fire at the last moment, but Thjazi was not so lucky. The giant eagle hurtled into the inferno before crashing into the ground as little more than a burning husk. “Then the Æsir were near at hand and slew Thjazi the giant within the Gate of the Æsir, and that slaying is exceeding famous.” 2

The name Iðavöll appears twice in Völuspá, just after major cosmic events. The first, in stanza 7, follows the meeting of the Æsir where they portion out time, naming the parts of day, and the year. Stanza 6 tells us that the Æsir met at “the thrones of fate”, while 7 starts with them meeting at Iðavöll Plain, and unlike stanza 6, they physically create things, rather than just naming them.

7.The Aesir met on Iðavöll Plain
They built altars and high temples
They set up their forges, smithed precious things,
shaped tongs and made tools.
60. The Aesir meet on Iðavöll
And they converse about the mighty Earth-girdler, [World-Serpent]
And they remember there the great events
And the ancient runes of the Mighty One. [Odin]
(Larrington’s trans.)

Both verses 7 and 8 show the Æsir busy and happy, first making the sorts of status tools and accoutrements that an aristocratic society would expect, then kicking back and playing chequers and not lacking for gold (were they betting?) until three giant maidens appear and seem to cast a shadow over the Æsir’s peace.

Stanza 59 tells us that the earth rises again from the water, and an eagle soars over it, looking for fish. (The eagle may be intended to remind us of the one that perched on top of Yggdrasil, or it may be a slice of normal life, like an establishing shot in a movie.)

Stanza 60 then shows us the gods meeting at Iðavöll again, and reminiscing about what they have just been through. Interestingly, their memories are balanced between the chthonic might of the World Serpent and the magical wisdom of Odin – perhaps the new world aims to reconcile them as Baldr and Hodr are reconciled in 62. Or perhaps they are no more, as stanza 61 mentions their golden chequers, but no disruptive giant maidens.

As usual, Snorri’s Prose Edda expands on this: High spoke:

‘In the beginning he established rulers and bade them decide with him the destinies of men and be in charge of the government of the city. This was in the place called Iðavöll in the centre of the city. It was their first act to build the temple that their thrones stand in, twelve in addition the throne that belongs to All-father. This building is the best that is built on earth and the biggest. Outside and inside it seems like nothing but gold. This place is called Gladsheim. They built another hall, this was the sanctuary that belonged to the goddesses, and it was very beautiful. This building is called Vingolf. The next thing they did was lay forges and for them they made hammer and tongs and anvil, and with these they made all other tools. After that they worked metal and stone and wood, using so copiously the metal known as gold that they had all their furniture and utensils of gold, and that age is known as the golden age, until it was spoiled by the arrival of the women. They were from Giantland. (Faulkes: 19)

High said: ‘The earth will shoot up out of the sea and then will be green and fair. Crops will grow unsown. Vidar and vali will be alive, the sea and Surt’s fire not having harmed them, and they will dwell on Iðavöll, where Asgard had been previously. Thor’s sons Modi and Magni will arrive bringing Miollnir. After that Baldr and Hod will arrive from Hel. Then they will sit down together and talk and discuss their mysteries and speak of the things that had happened in former times, of the Midgard serpent and Fenriswolf. Then they will find in the grass the golden playing pieces that belonged to the Æsir. (Faulkes: 56)

Snorri is obviously riffing off the passages in Völuspá, although he places Iðavöll in the centre of Asgard, and implies that Glaðsheimr and Vingólf are within it. In keeping with his euhermistic view of the gods, he describes them laying down earthly laws instead of naming the times of day and the year.

He does mention the three women from Giantland and their disruption of the Æsir’s peace, but not what they did to cause this. (There are several different theories about this.) He mixes together stanzas 6 & 7 of Vsp, since in 6 the Æsir went to their holy place to lay down the times, then relaxed at Iðavöll in 7. His account of the post-ragnarok world follows Vsp. closely, however, with the reconciled gods discussing old times. (Snorri adds in the Fenris Wolf, which breaks the symmetry of Odin and the Serpent, perhaps because the wolf killed Odin.) In this new, paradisiacal land, the giants and their monstrous leaders are only a memory.

Hedeager (151) thinks that the events in stanzas 6 – 8 show the gods learning to master the arts of making things. This leads to them having all they could wish for, including copious amounts of gold. Their hall, Glaðsheimr, was made entirely of gold. She connects the arrival of the giant maidens with the creation of the dwarves that follows, as if the women robbed the Aesir of the ability to make their own tools and smelt their own gold, so that they had to create the dwarves to do it for them.

It is significant that unlike many other Indo-European cultures, and indeed the nearby Saami, Norse myth has no smith god. The story of Volundr/Weyland is the nearest equivalent. Thus the Æsir face the end of a literal Golden Age. (At the end of Vsp. the new gods have a new hall at Gimlé, which is thatched with gold.)

Another theory, from Margaret Clunies-Ross, is that the giant women, like Skaði, are seeking marriage with the Æsir. This early attempt at forging a relationship fails, and she sees the creation of the dwarves and later humans as an attempt to ensure that the giants do not fill the cosmos. (Thor’s observation that without him the giants would crowd out everyone else fits in here.)

There are several theories about the name Iðavöll (although Orchard just has “splendour-field”). Simek (170) also mentions this as a possibility, and says that it fits with other names like Glaesisvellir, but doesn’t seem convinced.

He offers two more possibilities: 1) “field of activity” from iðja, activity, which makes sense, or 2) “continually renewing, rejuvenating field” from iðuliga, continual, and iðgnógr “more than enough” since Iðavöll is the new world after ragnarök.Lindow also mentions the “eternal” theory, as well as the possibility “shimmering”. He leans towards the first, as it outlasts Ragnarok, and the new gods meet there.

This raises a question: is Iðavöll connected to that eternal, renewing goddess, Iðunn? The words come from the same root, and both have a renewing function. Because of Snorri we tend to think of Iðunn’s rejuvenating power as coming from her apples, but the 9th-century poem Haustlöng describes her as “the maiden who undestood the eternal life of the aesir”, which is a very different proposition.

As Lindow points out (199): “the etymological meaning of her name – “ever young” – would premit her to carry out her mythic funciton without apples.” Apart from this, Simek mentions a further possibility, that the historical Idisaviso may be connected to the plain of Iðavöll. The name comes from Tacitus’ account of the battle between Arminius and Germanicus, and it means “plains of the Idisi”.

The First Meresburg Charm (Simek: 171) mentions the Idisi:

Once the Idisi sat, sat here and there, Some bound fetters, some hampered the army, some untied fetters: Escape from the fetters, flee from the enemies.

Apart from that, the word idis turns up in the Germanic languages as meaning a woman of status, something like the Roman matron. Because of this, Simek (171) and many others have connected them with the Germanic mother-cult recorded in Roman times.

Simek suggests that Iðavöll is possibly derived from Idisaviso. (170) This would connect it to the Idisi, who overlapped with the Matres. These goddesses, holding baskets of fruit or flowers, and sometimes a child (see Matrona) would connect to Iðunn and her “rejuvenating, renewing” power. Iðavöll symbolizes that same promise of renewal: a Golden Age in the past when the cosmos’ inhabitants were able to provide for all their needs, and gold was abundant, which will come again after a period of tribulation.

No wonder some think that Völuspá was influenced by Christianity. However, I think it this is a universal dream the idea of a fall from an easier, simpler time is universal, as is its correlate, the desire to regain it.

The Poetic Edda, Carolyne Larrington (trans.) Oxford UP, 1996
Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Anthony Faulkes, Everyman, London, 1987.
Clunies Ross, Margaret, 1994: Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse myths in medieval Northern society, vol. 1, The Viking Society Vol. 7, Odense UP.
Hedeager, Lotte 2011: Iron Age Myth and Materiality: an Archaeology of Scandinavia AD 400 – 1000, Routledge.
Lindow, John, 2001: Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs, OUP, New York and Oxford.
Orchard, Andy, 1998/2002: Cassell Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend, Cassell, London. Simek, Rudolf (trans. Angela Hall), 1996, Dictionary of Northern Mythology, D. S. Brewer, Cambridge.

Watch the video: Idunn Goddess of Immortality