IN ANCIENT TIMES, THE Norse people considered apples essential for the continuation of life. Associated with the resurrection, containers of these sacred fruit were placed in graves, perhaps to nurture mortals as they journeyed from one life to the next. The Norse also believed that a soul could be passed from body to body, contained within the flesh of an apple. Many European folktales tell of infertile women who miraculously conceive a child after eating an apple.
Not surprisingly, the Norse credited the apple with granting eternal life to their deities. They honored Iduna as the goddess responsible for growing this fruit, which was eaten by the gods and goddesses to retain their youth and beauty. Iduna grew the golden apples of immortality in her enchanted western garden named Appleland; in the stories of King Arthur, Appleland was called Avalon—the idyllic country of immortal life.
Iduna was renowned for her youthful beauty, and was married to Bragi, the handsome god of poetry. As keeper of the golden apples, she was reponsible for the well-being of the Norse pantheon. Though she did her best to protect the gods and goddesses from harm, the mischievous fire god Loki nearly undermined their immortality.
Loki was always getting himself into trouble requiring the gods’ intervention. One day, he was kidnapped by an eagle, who promised to free him if the god gave him Iduna in exchange. Since Loki lacked any scruples, he quickly agreed, and tricked Iduna. He told the goddess that he had found an orchard of golden apples, similar to the ones she grew. Naturally, Iduna was curious, so she followed Loki—and was promptly snatched by the eagle, who took her far away from her beloved Appleland.
Without Iduna’s apples, the gods’ and goddesses’s immortality was an illusion—they soon began to whither and age. Fortunately, Fortunately, they were able to convince Loki to rescue Iduna; the goddess Freya even volunteered her magical falcon skin, which enabled the wearer to fly through the sky. To escape the eagle, Loki turned Iduna into a walnut, which he successful hid as they flew away. And so Iduna, goddess of youth, was restored to the gods and goddesses along with their youth.
The Book of Goddesses: Expanded Anniversary Edition