Iduna And The Apples of Immortality
There was a beautiful apple tree in the garden of Esegeard (Asgard). The apples that grew on that tree were bright and shining and anyone who ate them never grew old because these were apples of immortality. The apple tree was tended by IÞuna (Iduna) and only she could pick them which she did every morning. IÞuna never left her garden or the golden house beside it so that she could pick the bright apples each morning. Every day, the Guardians came to her garden and ate the shining apples she left for them in her basket. And they never grew old.
One day, Woden, Hoenir and Loki went on a long journey through mountains and wilderness. In time they became very hungry and looked for something to eat. In the valley below them, they saw a great herd of Oxen and they took one of these for their pot. But however long they cooked the meat over their roaring fire, it would not cook. As they sat pondering the reason for this, they heard a shrill voice in a tree above them saying that he was responsible for their predicament. Looking upwards they saw the Frost Giant Þiazi (Thiassi) sitting in the tree in the form of a great eagle.
Þiazi said to the Guardians that he would let the meat cook if they gave him a share of the meat. This they reluctantly agreed to. The eagle then flew in great circles around the fire, flapping his wings vigorously to make the fire blaze fiercely. The minute he took the meat off the roasting spits, it was cooked perfectly. “Now, my share”, screeched the eagle as it swooped down to the meat and devoured a great hunk in one go. It then seized another piece and then another, until it looked as though there would be none left.
This made Loki so angry that he picked up a roasting spit and stuck it in the eagle’s chest. But the eagle flew away with Loki hanging on to the spit, his body banging against trees and sharp boulders. The eagle flew over the river that separates the land of the Frost Giants from the world of men and Loki saw a terrible place of ice and rock below him. There was no sun to give light, just columns of fire thrown up from cracks in the earth or from the peaks of the mountains. The eagle hovered over an iceberg and then suddenly shook the spit from his chest, causing Loki to fall to the icy ground. The eagle screeched at Loki again that he was now captive and then flew away leaving him there. Loki was miserable on the ice berg, it was so cold.
The next day Þiassi returned, this time in his own form as a Giant. He taunted him, asking if Loki wanted to return to Esegeard. With tears in his eyes, Loki said he wanted to leave the iceberg. It was so cold. Then Þiassi told him that in order to leave the iceberg, he would have to pay a ransom. “You will have to get me the shining apples that IÞuna keeps in her basket.”
Loki, was miserable. He said that he couldn’t get IÞuna’s apples. “Well”, said Þiassi, “in that case you will have to stay on the iceberg!” And there he left Loki, the fierce, cold winds pounding over him like hammer blows.
When Þiassi returned sometime later, Loki told him again that there was no way of getting the shining apples from IÞuna. The Giant replied that there must be some way for someone as crafty as Loki.
“Although IÞuna guards the shining apples well, she is simple-minded,” said Loki. “It may be that I could get her to go outside the wall of Esegeard. If she goes she will bring her shining apples with her, for she never lets them go except when she gives them to the Guardians to eat.” Þiassi told Loki to do this and said that he would get the apples from her once she had set foot outside of the wall. He made Loki swear that he would carry out this plan and then let him go. Þiassi then changed back into the form of the giant eagle and carried Loki in his talons into the world of men from where he carried on his journey to Esegeard.
Woden had already returned and had told the others about Loki’s failed attempt to cook the enchanted meat. They had all laughed at how Loki had been left hungry despite his cunning. Then Loki came into Esegeard looking famished and they laughed at him even more. Still, they brought him into the great feast-hall and gave him the best food and wine out of Woden’s own cup. When the feast was over, they went over to IÞuna’s garden as usual.
IÞuna was sitting in the golden house that looked out onto her garden. She was so fair to look at, golden hair and bright blue eyes and a far off smile as though she was constantly thinking of all the lovely things she had seen and heard. The basket of golden apples was beside her and she gave them one apple each which they ate with relish, rejoicing that they would never grow any older. Then they left the garden, returning to their own bright homes in Esegeard.
All except Loki, who sat there in the garden watching the fair but simple IÞuna. After a while she spoke to him and said, “Why are you still here, Loki.” In reply, he said that he was looking at the apples and wondering if they were as bright as those he had seen yesterday. “There are no apples as bright as mine,” said IÞuna.
But the crafty Loki said, “The apples I saw were more shining and they smelled better too.” This troubled IÞuna, as Loki had meant it to, and her eyes filled with tears at the thought that there might be more brightly shining apples than hers. “This cannot be, Loki,” she said. There are no apples more shining or sweet tasting as those I pluck from my tree.”
“Go and see then,” said Loki. “Just outside Esegeard is the tree that has the apples I saw. You never leave your garden, and so you don’t know what grows in the world outside. Go and see for yourself.” “I will go, Loki,” said the fair and simple IÞuna. And so she went to the place where Loki had told her the apples grew. As she searched for them, she heard a great whirr of wings above her head and, looking up, saw a great eagle. And as she ran back towards Esegeard, the eagle swooped down to her and grabbed her in his mighty talons and lifted her up into the air. The eagle soared through the sky, away from Esegeard and Middengeard, the realm of men, towards the bleak snow covered land of Wyrmgeard. He flew through a crack in the mountains and dropped IÞuna into a large hall lit by columns of fire that sprang from the earth itself.
Then the eagle transformed back into the giant Þiassi and IÞuna saw who her captor was. “Why have you brought me to this place,” she cried. “So I can eat your shining apples,” came his reply. “That will never be,” said IÞuna, “for I will never give them to you. I can only give them to the Guardians.”
At this, Þiassi resolved to take the apples from IÞuna by force and grabbed her basket and opened it. But when he took the apples out of the basket he saw that they had shrivelled to almost nothing. He then realised they would be no good to him unless IÞuna gave them to him voluntarily. And so he told her, “You must stay here until you give me the bright, shining apples.”
At this, poor IÞuna became very frightened. She was frightened of the Giant Þiassi, frightened of the place she was being held in, but most of all she was frightened of the terrible things that would happen to the Guardians in Esegeard if she was not there to give them her apples.
The Giant Þiassi came to her again, but IÞuna still would not give him her bright, shining apples. She sat there in the cave, miserable and frightened as Þiassi came to her day after day trying to make her give him the apples.. Her dreams were of the folk of Esegeard going into her garden but not being given her apples and becoming aware of the changes coming over them. And this is exactly what was happening in Esegeard. Each day, they call went to her garden, Woden, Thor, Hodur, Balder, Tyr, Heimdall, Vidar and Vali with Frig, Freya, Nanna and Sif. There was nobody to pluck the apples from the tree and a change began to come over them. They no longer walked lightly, their shoulders became hunched, their eyes no longer bright as dewdrops. When they looked at each other, they could see the change. They were all getting older.
The time would come when Frigg would become old and grey, when Sif’s beautiful golden hair would fade, when Woden would lose his wisdom and Thor would no longer have the strength to throw his hammer. This made them sad and it seemed to them that all the light had left their bright citadel.
They asked themselves where IÞuna and her apples that would give them back there youth was. They searched high and low throughout the world of men. But they could find no trace of her. Until Woden, in his great wisdom, thought up a way to find out where she had gone. He summoned his two ravens, Hugin and Mugin who flew across the earth and the kingdom of Giants and so knew everything that had happened and which was to come. Each raven sat on one of Woden’s shoulders and whispered deep secrets to him. They told him of the Giant Þiassi’s desire for IÞuna’s bright apples and of how Loki tricked her into leaving Esegeard.
Woden told the Guardian’s Council what he had learnt. Then Thor went up to Loki, seized hold of him and threatened to throw Loki into a great pit beneath the ground for his deception of the fair IÞuna. Loki whimpered and promised the Guardians that he would return IÞuna back to Esegeard unharmed if only Thor did not throw him into the deep, dark pit. This they agreed and Loki set off for the land of the Giants.
Loki borrowed the coat of falcon feathers from Frigg and set off disguised as a falcon. He searched long and hard throughout the land of the Giants until he found Þiassi’s daughter Skadi. He flew right in front of her and let her catch him to keep as a pet. Many days passed and then one day Skadi carried him into the cave where IÞuna was being held.
When Loki saw IÞuna there, he knew this part of his quest was ended. Now he just had to get her out of this cave and carry her away to safety in Esegeard. And so, Loki the doer of good and evil, flew from Skadi and disappeared in the high rocks of the cave. Skadi wept for the loss of her pet and searched for him high and low, but to no avail. Eventually, she gave upo her search and went home. Then Loki flew to where IÞuna was being held and spoke comforting words to her. IÞuna realised that one of her friends from Esegeard had come to rescue her and she wept with joy.
IÞuna threw her basket of apples into a place the Giants would never find. Then Loki used his magic to change her into a sparrow and they flew off together to make their escape. Just then, Skadi came back to the cave to resume the search for her pet and saw the falcon and sparrow flying off. She cried out to her father as they made their get-away. Þiassi realised it was Loki disguised as the falcon and IÞuna as the sparrow and so turned himself into an eagle and flew off to Esegeard. Þiassi flew faster than Loki and IÞuna and had soon caught them up. The Guardians were watching from the walls of Esegeard, the falcon and the sparrow being pursued by a great eagle.
They knew that this was Loki and IÞuna being chased by Þiassi. They watched as the eagle gained ground on them, catching them up, closer and closer. They lit great fires on the walls of the citadel, knowing that Loki would find a way through the hot flames, bringing IÞuna with him, but that the frost Giant Þiassi would not. The falcon and the sparrow flew towards the fires. Loki went between the flames and brought IÞuna with him. Then Þiassi came to the fires, but could find no way through. He beat his great wings against the flames and then fell down from the wall, dead.
And so IÞuna was brought back to Esegeard and once again sat in her golden garden, tending her apple trees and handing each of the Guardians an apple every day. The Guardians walked lightly again, the brightness came back to their eyes and cheeks and their youth returned. There was once more great joy and happiness in Esegeard.