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Idun: Goddess of Youth and Protector of…Apples?

Updated on April 15, 2017
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He is a former journalist who has worked on various community and college publications.

by kathamausl
by kathamausl | Source

There came a time in the land of Asgard when the ruling Nordic gods, the Aesir, faced a dire situation they couldn’t solve on their own. Their skin began to wrinkle and sag; their muscles and special magical powers (since they were gods) started to wane. Thus, the worst thing that can happen to this group of all-powerful deities was something humans could relate to --- that being the consequences of aging.

But the Aesir didn’t have to worry for long. One of their own had the answer and it was in the form of golden apples. Idun, the beautiful Norse goddess of spring fertility, youth, and death held a very powerful position among the gods. She also had apples that could reverse the effects of aging.

Thus, while the mighty Thor may have had his magic hammer, Mjöllnir, to fight evildoers, Idun had the golden apples; the weapon the gods wanted to help fight their own mortality.

Ageism, Norse-God Style

The ability to reverse aging is nothing unique in world mythology. Also, a god designated with this power was fairly common. In many respects, it reflected the hopes and dreams of mortal beings of finding a way to reverse the clock and to live in eternal youth. Aging was a frightening aspect of life, and nothing could stop it.

For the Germanic tribes, Vikings and other Norse groups, Idun was their champion in the war against aging. She was so important that in later interpretation of the mythological tales and sagas, she was elevated to the ranks of the higher order of gods known as the Aesir.

Due to her being a god of fertility and death, some scholars speculated she was once a member of the earthly gods known as the Vanir. No known source has been found to confirm this belief.

This cross-cultural belief in apples applied to Norse Mythology, giving rise to the notion that this may been a motif shared among ancient European and Middle Eastern cultures.

The Golden Apples

As with many mythologies, the golden apple was an object to be had. It was present in ancient Greek and Irish stories. And in nearly every case, some type of magical power was associated with them. This included immortality or vitality.

This cross-cultural belief in apples applied to Norse Mythology, giving rise to the notion that this may been a motif shared among ancient European and Middle Eastern cultures.

The Norse’s Golden Apple of Immortality (as it was called), had an obscure origin. All that was known was that it grew on a tree and was cultivated and guarded by Idun.

According to some accounts, she carried the apples in an eski – a wooden box made of ash wood. She was ready to hand out the apples to any member of the Aesir that needed it. For them, was one nibble and their youth would be restored.

Still, the Golden Apples also made Idun a target. She was under constant threat of being kidnapped by the dastardly giant gods, as well as some members of the Aesir (i.e. Loki).

Idun and Bragi from Nils Blommér (1846)
Idun and Bragi from Nils Blommér (1846)

The Goddess of Spring and Fertility

Idun’s role in Norse mythology was not just as a protector of magic apples. She was also a goddess of spring, fertility, youth and death. Also, she was the wife of Bragi, the god of poetry. As a partner to Bragi, Idun acted as a “muse” for poets who recited verses of beauty.

Still, her importance was what she gave the gods. This was made evident in the most important text on Norse mythology: the 13th century collection from Snorri Sturluson called Prose Edda.

The Prose Edda Reveals Idum’s Role

Prose Edda was made up of three books and a Prologue. Gylfaginning (The Tricking of Gylfi) is the first book. In this particular book, Idun was introduced in section 26. Much of the details in this section dealt with her carrying the eski that held the golden apples.

While the first book described her, the second book, Skáldskaparmál, contained the story so famously associated with her. In this book, Loki, the mischievous god of fire, arranged for the storm giant Thiazi (also known as Thajazi) to abduct Idun. Thiazi accomplished this task.

As a result of her kidnapping, the Aesir began to age rapidly. The wrath of the gods turned onto Loki. They threatened him and he relented to their pressure. He went off to rescue Idun by transforming himself into a falcon (he used a robe given to him by another goddess, Frejya). When he found Idun, he transformed her into a nut and whisked her away to Asgard. There, she restored the gods’ youth, saving them from certain doom to eternal aging.

She stood at 5’9, and weighed 370 pounds with not one ounce of fat on her slender body.

Marvel Comics Resurrects Idun

This would not be the last appearance of Idun. In 1965, Marvel Comics brought the goddess of youth back to life. Her appearance was brief (only one issue). She appeared in Journey Into Mystery #114 and was part of the Asgardian Universe – with Thor, Loki, and Odin - that would become a sub universe in Marvel Comic’s superhero universe. Several things stood out in this version of the Goddess.

For one thing, her name was followed by a title – and spelled differently. She was known as Idunn, Keeper of the Golden Apple. Her personal stat was impressive; she stood at 5’9, and weighed 370 pounds with not one ounce of fat on her slender body. Also, she was incredibly strong. She could bench more than 25 tons!

The Legacy of Looking Young

These days, Idun has been relegated to being a minor comic book heroine. Whether she ever turns up in another issue or get her own line of comics is hard to say. Still, she has a legacy in modern time, although it’s more for what she symbolized rather than the deity herself.

In many respects her legacy of looking young has been taken up by mere mortals who rush to the local drugs stores and buy as many wrinkle-free creams, cosmetics and other forms of beauty products. People want to look young and bask in vitality. In a sense, they still want what Idun was selling…even if it’s not in the form of some golden apples.

from Marvel Comics
from Marvel Comics | Source

© 2017 Dean Traylor

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