Learning From The Trickster: Idun's Apples
All Hail, Trickster!
The story of Idun's apples and Loki's part in Her abduction are often viewed as proof that He, or any Trickster God for that matter, is essentially evil. After all, what kind of nice God would lure an innocent out into the woods? Vow that would cost Him His life or no vow? It's very easy to shift all the blame to Loki and see His actions as evil.
But the Trickster's job is, among other things, to help us grow. While the other aspects of our beloved God wouldn't dream of causing us anguish, He steels Himself for the task ahead, knowing that growth is often painful. And He knows this because He willingly suffered these lessons before us.
So perhaps in this case it is more useful to see Loki the Trickster as a God who undergoes first His own initiation, but can only complete it by initiating another. And once fully grown, the Trickster Himself can complete Idun's training, by bring her home, no doubt getting an earful for a long time afterwards. But the Trickster won't explain His lessons if we miss them.
Keep in mind this Hub only represents my view, and no offense is meant. Take what you need and leave the rest behind.
Wisdom Comes At a Price
From Fool To Trickster
Loki is often feared for being a Trickster but as the myths of many cultures tell us, Tricksters only come into Their full power after a painful initiation of their own. They often start out as Fools. Fool meaning an unlearned one just starting out, too carefree and sure of Himself to pay much attention to the world around Him. It's not for nothing that the Fool dances near a cliff's edge on some Tarot cards, He just doesn't know any better.
Take the story of Idun and her golden apples. Loki, still in his carefree Fool state, is on a hunting trip with Odin in Midgard at last settles down to a meal of fine roasted beast. He's cold and tired and very ravenous. Odin, just as hungry at last tries the meat to find it ice cold. Naturally, Loki is puzzled, and a voice from above taunts the Gods. A giant eagle rests in the tree above them and tells them that without his fair portion he won't let the meat cook.
Now, for whatever reason, the Gods agree. Maybe they couldn't undo his magic, maybe they were just too tired. Maybe they felt kindly towards him, but agree They did. And sure enough the game then roasts beautifully. The eagle comes down and pretty much takes the whole meal, no doubt grinning through his beak and Loki has had enough.
It isn't bad enough that He, the Trickster (in His own mind) has been tricked in front of his blood brother. As a God about to face His own trail of Godhood He still too immature to realize Odin is in the same position. It isn't bad enough that he's tired, cold and hungry. Not being a fully mature God, He can't yet set aside His own discomfort to think clearly. But now this greedy beast is taking all the meat? Enraged, he picks up a stout branch and strikes the eagle, no doubt intent on roasted eagle flesh.
And so the Trickster realizes He is instead the Fool and His own initiation begins. Even the God, we are told, had to learn and grow, and many Gods face painful initiations into full Godhood, just as young boys must face frightening ordeals to become men. Loki's ordeal is no different. He is caught fast to the branch and though he begs and pleads, the eagle refuses to let him go, instead dragging Loki over rocks, and into trees, intent on breaking Him both literally and figuratively.
Only when Loki is so broken as to promise anything in return for His ordeal to end does the eagle agree to free him, and it is interesting to note that the eagle makes Him swear first, as if he is sure Loki will refuse. So by reputation at least, we see that even the eagle, actually a frost giant in disguise, knows that not even Loki would betray the sweet Idun. Love her or hate her, He'd have known enough to know the other Gods would kill Him as the golden apples the eagle also demands are the only thing keeping Them all young and artificially immortal.
So the eagle, actually the frost giant Thjazi in disguise, calls for a high price, as do all initiations. Here is where things get interesting. Loki is forced to swear, and swear He must or the first stage of initiation will never end.
The newly initiated God must now turn around and initiate Idun, putting her through her own initiation by promising her even finer apples then her own. Innocent and trusting Idun goes with Him, apples in hand. And although Loki may seem cruel, He didn't just point Idun in a general direction, but traveled with Her, keeping Her safe until Idun reached the place of Her testing. She is carried off, and Loki has yet another test to pass.
He must now rescue Idun from the clutches of the giant He was powerless against in the first place. Keep in mind that even Odin had been powerless to fight the eagle's magic, and Loki, in His initiation, was not let free until the first stage was complete. And this time, the newly matured God does not rely on rage and brute force, but uses His cunning to rescue Her, realizing now too that He must rely on the other Gods to help.
Loki, by going through His own initiation of pain and not being rescued by Odin (Odin may well have been in on His initiation for all we know), is now powerful enough to see Idun through Her own trails that while frightening, She is rescued from, to hopefully emerge a wiser and more wily Goddess. We aren't told what happened during Her time of capture, but we can imagine.
And although it may seem cruel, there's such a thing as too much innocence and too much trust. A young girl has to learn who she can trust, to rely on Her own power, and not be easily swayed by others. To be a woman, she must know her own self worth and limits. As the other Gods were unwilling to teach Her street smarts and how to become a woman in Her own right, Loki had to. Although it seemed cruel, it was a painful growth period for Idun, and one every young woman must face.
Like Rabbit, Idun Was a Student of the Trickster
No One Loves A Trickster
Settle down, you know what I mean. It is easy enough to love the Trickster when He is amusing us, but Loki is also known as The Closer. Why? All the messiest jobs the other Gods would rather not touch fall to Him. Now Idun was beloved by all. She wasn't a baby or overly coddled, but being sweet and innocent She was never pushed into full maturity either.
And while it's entirely possible to go through life not fully mature, to live in a cocoon of comfort and be protected, Idun had some growing up to do and the lot of teaching Her fell to Loki. We must remember here initiations were often brutal by today's standards, but for a young person's own good. If captured by the enemy or separated from the group, a young man or woman had to know enough to survive.
Poor Idun, kept too innocent of the ways of the world out of love, wouldn't have even found her way to meet the eagle had Loki not led her there. And we can be fairly sure she didn't say: "Oh, boy, my own initiation into womanhood, yay!" No, She likely screamed for Loki to help Her, and Loki had no doubt screamed to Odin for help and wondered why He didn't rescue Her at once.
Loki would have known He was in for it, and whether He returned on His own or was frog-marched back to Asgard, He came up with the rescue plan. Despite, of course, finding it vastly amusing that the Gods were now aging and drooling on Themselves. But how to beat an opponent who even Odin hadn't challenged? And in the meantime, Idun was carried away by the eagle, who then locked his prize away.
She must have been terrified, and having been so loved and protected, she must have been dismayed and frightened by Her betrayal. But to Her credit, Idun found Her inner strength. When Loki arrived to the rescue She wasn't feeding slices of Her golden apples to the eagle. She didn't give in, as evidenced by Her being a prisoner and not the wife or consort of the frost giant.
No, She suddenly stuck to her guns and no doubt gave Loki an earful after Her rescue. She'd learned self-reliance, to stick to Her principles, and to not give in, even when She had to be terrified out of Her mind.
And She must have been a changed Goddess afterwards. A little wiser, a little less willing to just had over Her golden apples (self worth, abilities, self determination) or be coaxed away from safety. We've all had to learn this lesson, and for Wiccans it is the Trickster who leads us into them, and back out again. We can curse all we like, but until the lesson is learned, we, like Idun, will stay trapped in a mess of our own making, even if we can blame others for luring us into it.
Who is Idun?
One thing I dislike intensely is that in most retellings Idun is treated as softheaded or softhearted, as if any moron could grow such important apples. Try growing apples and keeping the tree healthy and you'll see it's no easy task. Idun is the Goddess who maintains the golden apples that literally keep the Gods alive and not aging. So She is the Goddess of youth and immortality for the other Gods. As apples are often connected to wisdom She needed to grow into Hers, though she was a little too loved and probably angry that no one would let Her do things for Herself.
Having grown, She must have set the Gods straight about a few things as well. For example, had the Gods been allowing Her to fully mature, She wouldn't have fallen for Loki's ruse. And, had the Gods not kept the apples to themselves (you'd think they'd want an orchard in many places to cover crop failure) such a finite good was easily lost. Not to mention that putting all the pressure on one Goddess, Idun, to provide them was unfair to say the least.
Had they ever shared with humans or anyone else these precious gifts, there would likely have been no abduction. Though you have to wonder if it wasn't all a long initiation set up on Her behalf. After all, once the apples were gone what could and ice giant expect Idun to do? Grow a new tree in the frozen wasteland that was his home?
Norse Myths with Loki: The Theft of Idun's Apples
The Trickster accepts nothing less from us than our best. If there is room to grow He can coax us, or give us a free ride in the clutches of an eagle, but we are going to grow. He can seem evil at times like this, much like the hated teacher who always assigned too much homework, but once the lessons are learned we look back and realize the gift we'd been given.
The Trickster can use both our strengths and weaknesses against us. I love Idun to pieces and won't hear a bad word said of Her, but how did the lure of even better apples work? Was She so sweet she wanted to help even more, meaning giving away too much of Herself? Was She, as a Goddess a bit perplexed that mere Midgardians had even better apples? Or did She simply need to grow as it should have been obvious to any Goddess free to mingle with humans that we've never exactly been immortal?
A lot of the tales leave us free to take away our own lessons, and every one of us takes away our own. But the lessons here are not Loki is evil, Idun is innocent, but a complex web of many lessons to be had. Not the least of which were Loki's lessons learned.
The trickster can be tricked, the powerful made powerless. Cunning and strategy can all go a long way and when we work together we can accomplish the seemingly impossible.