IDUNA AND HER APPLES:
HOW LOKI PUT THE GODS IN DANGER
In Asgard there was a garden, and in that garden there grew a tree, and on that tree there grew shining apples. Anyone who ate those shining apples never grew a day older, for eating them kept old age away.
The Goddess Iduna took care of the tree on which the shining apples grew. They would not grow on the tree unless she was there to look after it. No one but Iduna could pluck the shining apples. Each morning she plucked them and left them in her basket and every day the Gods and Goddesses came to her garden so that they could eat the shining apples and so stay young forever.
Iduna never left her garden. All day and every day she stayed in the garden or in her golden house beside it, and all day and every day she listened to Bragi, her husband, tell a story that never had an end. But a time came when Asgard lost Iduna and her apples, and the Gods and Goddesses felt old age approaching.
Odin, the Father of the Gods, often went into the land of men to watch over them. Once he took Loki ,the doer of good and evil, with him. For a long time they went traveling through the world of men. At last they came near Jötunheim, the realm of the Giants.
It was a bleak and empty region. Nothing grew there, not even trees with berries. There were no birds or animals. As Odin, the Father of the Gods, and Loki, the doer of good and evil, went through this region they became hungry but in all the land around they saw nothing that they could eat.
Loki, running here and there, at last came upon a herd of wild cattle. Creeping up on them, he caught hold of a young bull and killed him. Then he cut up the flesh into strips of meat. He lighted a fire and put the meat on spits to roast. While the meat was being cooked, Odin, the Father of the Gods, sat thinking about the things he had seen in the world of men.
Loki made himself busy putting more and more logs on the fire. At last he called to Odin, and the Father of the Gods came and sat down near the fire to eat the meal.
But when the meat was taken off the cooking-spits and when Odin went to cut it, he found that it was still raw. He smiled at Loki for thinking the meat was cooked, and Loki, troubled that he had made a mistake, put the meat back, and put more logs upon the fire. Again Loki took the meat off the cooking-spits and called Odin to the meal.
Odin, when he took the meat that Loki brought him, found that it was as raw as if it had never been put on the fire. “Is this a trick, Loki?” he said.
Loki was so angry at the meat being uncooked that Odin saw he was playing no tricks. In his hunger he raged at the meat and he raged at the fire. Again he put the meat on the cooking-spits and put more logs on the fire. Every hour he would pick up the meat, sure that it was now cooked, and every time he took it off Odin would find that the meat was as raw as the first time they took it off the fire.
Odin realized that the meat must be under some enchantment by the Giants. He stood up and went on his way, hungry but strong. Loki, however, would not leave the meat that he had put back on the fire. He would make it be cooked, he declared, and he would not leave that place hungry.
The dawn came and he picked up the meat again. As he was lifting it off the fire he heard a whirr of wings above his head. Looking up, he saw a mighty eagle, the largest eagle that had ever appeared in the sky. The eagle circled round and round above Loki’s head. “Can’t you cook your food?” the eagle screamed to him.
“I cannot cook it,” said Loki.
“I will cook it for you, if you give me a share,” screamed the eagle.
“Come, then, and cook it for me,” said Loki.
The eagle circled round until he was above the fire. Then flapping his great wings over it, he made the fire blaze. A heat that Loki had never felt before came from the burning logs. In a minute he drew the meat from the spits and found it was well cooked.
“My share, my share, give me my share,” the eagle screamed at him. He flew down, and seizing a large piece of meat instantly devoured it. He seized another piece. Piece after piece he devoured until it looked as if Loki would be left with no meat for his meal.
As the eagle seized the last piece Loki became angry indeed. Taking up the spit on which the meat had been cooked, he struck at the eagle. There was a clang as if he had struck some metal. The wood of the spit did not come away. It stuck to the chest of the eagle. But Loki did not let go of the spit. Suddenly the eagle rose up into the air. Loki, who held onto the spit that was stuck to the eagle’s chest, was carried up with him.
Before he knew what was happening Loki was high up in the air and the eagle was flying with him toward Jötunheim, the kingdom of the Giants. The eagle was screaming out, “Loki, friend Loki, I have you at last. It was you who cheated my brother of his reward for building the wall round Asgard. But, Loki, I have you at last. I, Thiassi the Giant ,have captured you, Loki. You, who are the most cunning of the inhabitants of Asgard.”
Thus the eagle screamed as he went flying with Loki toward Jötunheim, the kingdom of the Giants. They passed over the river that divides Jötunheim from Midgard, the World of Men. Loki saw a terrible place beneath him, a land of ice and rock. There were great mountains and light didn’t come from either a sun or a moon, but by columns of fire thrown up now and again through cracks in the earth or out of the peaks of the mountains.
The eagle hovered over a great iceberg. Suddenly he shook the spit from his chest and Loki fell down on the ice. The eagle screamed out to him, “You art in my power at last Loki, most cunning of all the inhabitants of Asgard.” The eagle left Loki there and flew in through a crack in the mountain.
Loki was indeed miserable on that iceberg. The cold was terrible. He could not die there, for he was one of the inhabitants of Asgard and death could not come to him that way. He might not die, but he felt bound to that iceberg with chains of cold.
The next day his captor returned, not as an eagle this time, but in his own form as, Thiassi the Giant.
“Do you want to leave this iceberg, Loki,” he said, “and return to your pleasant place in Asgard? Do you enjoy life in Asgard, even though only one half of you belongs to the Gods. Your father, Loki, was the Wind Giant.”
“If only I could leave this iceberg,” Loki said, with the tears freezing on his face.
“You can leave it when you are ready to pay a ransom to me,” said Thiassi. “You will have to get me the shining apples that Iduna keeps in her basket.”
“I cannot get Iduna’s apples for you, Thiassi,” said Loki.
“Then stay on the iceberg,” said Thiassi the Giant. He went away and left Loki there with the terrible winds pounding like the blows of a hammer.
When Thiassi returned again and spoke to him about his ransom, Loki said, “There is no way of getting the shining apples from Iduna.”
“There must be some way, cunning Loki,” said the Giant.
“Although Iduna 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 Asgard. If she goes she will bring her shining apples with her, for she never lets them go except when she gives them to the Gods and Goddesses to eat.”
“Make it so that she will go beyond the wall of Asgard,” said the Giant. “If she goes outside of the wall I shall get the apples from her. Swear by the World-Tree that you will lure Iduna outside the wall of Asgard. Swear it, Loki, and I shall let you go.”
“I swear it by Ygdrassil, the World-Tree, that I will lure Iduna outside the wall of Asgard if you will take me off this iceberg,” said Loki.
Then Thiassi changed himself into a mighty eagle, and taking Loki in his talons, he flew with him over the stream that divides Jötunheim, the kingdom of the Giants, from Midgard, the World of Men. He left Loki on the ground of Midgard, and Loki then went on his way to Asgard.
Odin had already returned and he had told the others in Asgard of Loki’s attempt to cook the enchanted meat. All laughed to think that Loki had been left hungry despite his cunning. Then when he came into Asgard looking so famished, they thought it was because Loki had had nothing to eat. They laughed at him more and more. But they brought him into the Feast Hall and they gave him the best of food with wine out of Odin’s wine cup. When the feast was over the inhabitants of Asgard went to Iduna’s garden as usual.
Iduna was sitting there in the golden house that opened onto her garden. Had she been in the world of men, everyone who saw her would have remembered their own innocence, seeing someone who was so fair and good. She had eyes as blue as the sky, and she smiled as if she were remembering lovely things she had seen or heard. The basket of shining apples was beside her.
To each God and Goddess Iduna gave a shining apple. Each one ate the apple given, rejoicing to think that they would never become a day older. Then Odin, the Father of the Gods, said the words that were always said in praise of Iduna, and then they all left Iduna’s garden, each one going to his or her own shining house.
All went except Loki, the doer of good and evil. Loki sat in the garden, watching fair and simple Iduna. After a while she spoke to him and said, “Why do you still stay here, wise Loki?”
“To have a better look at your apples,” Loki said. “I am wondering if the apples I saw yesterday are really as shining as the apples that are in your basket.”
“There are no apples in the world as shining as mine,” said Iduna.
“The apples I saw were more shining,” said Loki. “Yes and they smelled better too, Iduna.”
Iduna was troubled at what Loki, whom she thought so wise, told her. Her eyes filled with tears at the thought that there might be more shining apples in the world than hers. ” Loki,” she said, “it cannot be. No apples are more shining, and none smell so sweet, as the apples I pluck off the tree in my garden.”
“Go and see then,” said Loki. “Just outside Asgard 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. Go outside of Asgard and see.”
“I will go, Loki,” said the fair and simple Iduna,.
Iduna went outside the wall of Asgard. She went to the place where Loki had told her that the apples grew. But as she looked this way and that, Iduna heard a whirr of wings above her. Looking up, she saw a mighty eagle, the largest eagle that had ever appeared in the sky.
She ran back toward the gate of Asgard. Then the great eagle swooped down; Iduna felt herself lifted up, and then she was being carried away from Asgard, away, away over Midgard where men lived, away toward the rocks and snows of Jötunheim. Iduna was carried across the river that flows between the World of Men and the kingdom of the Giants. Then the eagle flew into a crack in a mountain and Iduna was left in a cavernous hall lighted up by columns of fire that burst up from the earth.
The eagle loosened his grip on Iduna and she sank down onto the ground of the cavern. The wings and the feathers fell from him and she saw her captor as a terrible Giant.
“Oh, why have you carried me off from Asgard and brought me to this place?” Iduna cried.
“So that I can eat your shining apples, Iduna,” said Thiassi the Giant.
“That will never be, for I will not give them to you,” said Iduna.
“Give me the apples to eat, and I shall carry you back to Asgard.”
“No, no, that cannot be. I have been trusted with the shining apples and I can only give them to the Gods.”
“Then I shall take the apples from you,” said Thiassi the Giant.
He took the basket out of her hands and opened it. But when he touched the apples they shriveled. He left them in the basket and put the basket down. He realized that the apples would be no good to him unless Iduna gave them to him with her own hands.
“You must stay with me here until you give me the shining apples,” he said to her.
Then poor Iduna was frightened. She was frightened of the strange cave and frightened of the fire that kept bursting up out of the earth and she was frightened of the terrible Giant. But above all she was frightened to think of the evil that would fall upon the inhabitants in Asgard if she were not there to give them the shining apples to eat.
The Giant came to her again but Iduna still would not give him the shining apples. She stayed there in the cave, with the Giant troubling her every day. She grew more and more fearful as she saw in her dreams the inhabitants in Asgard go to her garden, and not being given the shining apples, feel and see a change coming over themselves and over each other.
It happened exactly as Iduna saw in her dreams. Every day everyone in Asgard went to her garden—Odin ,Thor, Hödur ,Baldur, Tyr , Heimdall, Vidar and Vali, with Frigga, Freya, Nanna, and Sif. There was no one to pluck the apples from the tree. And a change began to come over the Gods and Goddesses.
They no longer walked lightly; their shoulders became bent; their eyes were no longer as bright as dewdrops. When they looked at one another they saw the change. Age was coming on everyone in Asgard.
They knew that the time would come when Frigga would be gray and old; when Sif’s golden hair would fade; when Odin would no longer have his clear wisdom, and when Thor would not have enough strength to raise and throw his thunderbolts. They were saddened by this knowledge, and it seemed to them that all the brightness had gone from their shining City.
Where was Iduna whose apples would give them back youth and strength and beauty? The Gods had searched for her through the World of Men. They couldn’t find any trace of her. However, Odin, saw a way to find out where Iduna was hidden.
He summoned his two ravens, Hugin and Munin, These two ravens flew through the earth and through the kingdom of the Giants and that knew everything that was past and everything that was to come. He summoned Hugin and Munin and they came, and one sat on his right shoulder and the other on his left shoulder and they told him deep secrets. They told him of Thiassi and of his desire for the shining apples that the Dwellers in Asgard ate, and of Loki’s deception of Iduna, the fair and simple.
Odin told the Council of the Gods what he had learnt from his ravens. Then Thor the Strong went to Loki and seized him. When Loki found himself in the grip of the strong God, he said, “What do you want with me Thor?”
“I would like to throw you into a chasm in the ground and strike you with my thunder,” said the strong God. “It is you who is responsible for Iduna leaving Asgard.”
” Thor,” said Loki, “do not crush me with your thunder. Let me stay in Asgard. I will try to get Iduna back.”
“The judgment of the Gods,” said Thor, “is that you, the cunning one, should go to Jötunheim, and by your cunning get Iduna back from the Giants. Go or else I shall throw you into a chasm and crush you with my thunder.”
“I will go,” said Loki.
Loki borrowed the dress of falcon feathers from Frigga, the wife of Odin. He put it on and flew to Jötunheim in the form of a falcon.
He searched through Jötunheim until he found Thiassi’s daughter, Skadi. He flew in front of Skadi and he let the Giant maid catch him and hold him as a pet. One day the Giant maid carried him into the cave where Iduna, the fair and simple, was being held.
When Loki saw Iduna there he knew that part of his quest was ended. Next he had to get Iduna out of Jötunheim and away to Asgard. He didn’t stay with the Giant maid, but flew up into the high rocks of the cave. Skadi wept for the loss of her pet, but at last she ceased searching and left the cave.
Then Loki, the doer of good and evil, flew to where Iduna was sitting and spoke to her. When Iduna knew that one of her friends from Asgard was near, she wept with joy.
Loki told her what she hadto do. By the power of a spell that was given to him he was able to change her into the form of a sparrow. But before she did this she took the shining apples out of her basket and threw them into places where the Giant would never find them.
Skadi, coming back to the cave, saw the falcon fly out with the sparrow beside him. She cried out to her father and the Giant knew that the falcon was Loki and the sparrow was Iduna. He changed himself into the form of a mighty eagle. By this time the sparrow and falcon were out of sight, but Thiassi, knowing that he could fly faster than them, flew toward Asgard.
Soon he saw them. They flew with all the power they had, but the great wings of the eagle brought him nearer and nearer to them. The inhabitants of Asgard, standing on the wall, saw the falcon and the sparrow with the great eagle pursuing them. They knew who they were—Loki and Iduna with Thiassi in pursuit.
As they watched the eagle coming nearer and nearer, those in Asgard were fearful that the falcon and the sparrow would be caught and that Iduna would be taken again by Thiassi. They lighted great fires on the wall, knowing that Loki would find a way through the fires, bringing Iduna with him, but that Thiassi would not find a way.
The falcon and the sparrow flew toward the fires. Loki went between the flames and brought Iduna with him. Thiassi, coming up to the fires and finding no way through, beat his wings against the flames. He fell down from the wall and died.
Thus Iduna was brought back to Asgard. Once again she sat in the golden house that opened onto her garden, once again she plucked the shining apples off the tree she tended, and once again she gave them to the inhabitants of Asgard. Those gods in Asgard walked lightly again, and brightness came into their eyes and into their cheeks; age approached them no more; youth came back; light and joy were again in Asgard.