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Searching for Idunn’s Apples: The Secret to Eternal Youth

Searching for Idunn’s Apples: The Secret to Eternal Youth

It’s Hel getting old.  As one who is now considered “middle aged” (assuming I live to 100), the quest for Idunn’s apples in the form of immortality, or at least eternal youth, interests me.  It probably interests you too, even if you’re young and have many years ahead of you.  After all, we can’t enjoy life if we’re dead.  Funny, scientists have that very same opinion.  I just wish they’d work harder at it, seeing as we’re not getting any younger.

Do We Really Have an End-By Date?

I read a piece in the New York Times recently about a study that suggests that humans haven’t reached the top end of their expiration date. They studied a bunch of really old people (older than me!) who lived in Italy.  The researchers found that the death rate increases up to the age of 80 (duh!), decreases until 105 (what?), and then plateaus after 105.  This contradicts the announcement made by scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that the human lifespan is fixed and that the upper level is 115.

The reason why this new study suggests that we have an end-by date further than 115 years, if we indeed have such a date, is the plateau in the death rate after 105.  If there was really an expiration date of 115 years, we should see an increase in deaths as people get closer to it.  That doesn’t mean that people don’t die; it just means that the percentage is stable.

That Which Does Not Kill Us…

Never mind that the scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine are a bunch of killjoys with their prediction, I tend to think that they may be close to the truth.  Human experience suggests that we all have an expiration date of some variety, although what kills us is purely up to conjecture. If tomorrow we were to eliminate all disease, how long people would actually live before they simply fell apart?  And then, the question remains is — do we really want to live longer if we’re infirm or decrepit?

Aging and Telomeres

The problem with getting older is that we’re not just “shorter of breath and one day closer to death,” as Pink Floyd so aptly put it.  The problem is we’re not as robust as we were when we were younger.  We don’t bounce back quite as quickly.  Living a long life is great — if you have the youth to live it. Otherwise, you could spend your last years in a nursing home getting fed through a tube.

But could we actually stop aging?  Scientists are getting closer every day to unraveling the secrets.  We know that at least part of aging is due to the length of the telomeres in our DNA. Telomeres are the little end caps on our chromosomes. The longer the telomeres, the younger our cells remain. The shorter the telomeres, the more aged our bodies become.  People can lengthen their telomeres through diet, exercise, and other healthy habits and can shorten them by doing unhealthy things like smoking.  Some pills are purported to increase the telomere’s length by increasing telomerase (an enzyme), but there may be some serious side effects.  Basically, telomerase may be Idunn’s apples, but like Idunn’s apples, we don’t know if she needs to pick them and hand them to everyone to get the full effect.

Let’s Talk About Idunn’s Story

Everything ages in our world.  Our gods would age too, if it weren’t for Idunn (Iðunn) and her apples.  Loki the master trickster was tricked by the Jotunn, Thjazi  (Þjazi), to steal Idunn and her apples for him.  Loki obliges, but also rescues Idunn from Thjazi.

Some experts believe that the apples are the symbols of fertility, given that apples show up elsewhere in Norse and Celtic stories as just that.  To add more to this theory, Loki turns Idunn into a nut during his rescue (he’s in falcon form) so he might carry her safely.  Nuts were often a symbol of fertility in Anglo-Saxon England.  Eternal youth could easily be linked to fertility, because, let’s face it, younger people do fuck like rabbits. So, it’s not a surprise that Idunn would be linked to fertility as much as Freyja is.

So, is this a story about the stealing of fertility and the recovery of it?  Or is this the story of the loss of youth and the recovery of it?  Maybe it’s both.

I look at Idunn’s apples now as the telomeres in our chromosomes. Thjazi steals them away with time, but maybe, like Loki our scientists will figure out a way to increase our telomerase  and get back Idunn and her apples.

 

Hail the Goddesses and Gods of Spring

Hail the Goddesses and Gods of Spring

As we approach the vernal equinox, winter starts to lose her icy grasp and  spring slowly slips in. Spring for me means mud season, which isn’t  something I or my livestock particularly enjoy. One of my goats gave  birth on the Ides of March to a lovely buckling.  I had to come up with  makeshift quarters for them and bring the kids inside at night due to  the cold and predators.  I’m now on kid watch for the last pregnant doe  of the season, which means checking on her every couple of hours.  Yay  me.  Hence the lateness of the blogs.

Here up  north, we’re still in Skadi’s grasp, although the winter goddess is  slowly relenting to the gentle hands of the spring goddesses and gods.   These goddesses and gods are powerful in their own right, and while we  may not know everything about them, I think we can make some good  assumptions about them.  Let’s look at them.

Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

Eostre or Ostara

If you want to start up an argument between  Heathens or between Heathens and Christians, mention Eostre, the Anglo  Saxon goddess of spring and rebirth. (In German, it’s believed to be  Ostara.)  A goodly portion of recons think that Eostre was simply the  name of April and St. Bede suggested it was the name of a goddess when  it wasn’t.  Christians will accuse you of trying to undermine Easter if  you mention it.  Nevertheless, if you wish to enjoy a feast day to  Eostre, do it. I have a whole post dedicated to Eostre and why I think she was probably a real goddess.

In Urglaawe, practitioners believe in the goddess  Oschdra (Ostara?) who  gives the Oschter Haws (Easter Rabbit) the  ability to spread color throughout the world in the spring. The Oschter Haws was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers where the Easter rabbit laid colorful eggs.

That  being said, if you’re an Eostre believer,  celebrate with candy,  colored eggs, bunny rabbits, and chicks. (The candy, incidentally, is a  later addition of more modern times.)  Have fun and enjoy yourself.   Make an offering to Eostre for the spring.

Idunn

Idunn, of the golden apples fame, is the goddess of spring,  renewal, and immortality, is certainly a terrific goddess to honor in  the springtime. She’s interesting not only because she’s a powerful  goddess, who keeps the gods young, but she wasn’t born into the Aesir or  Vanir (though you can make a case for her being Vanir, being a goddess  of fertility.)  She hails from alfar blood, making her one of the Elves.

She’s  particularly important because without her, the gods would grow old and  die.  Her apples bring youth to those gods who do age.

Freyja

When talking about spring, I feel that you simply must  include Freyja.  Freyja is a Vanir and a fertility goddess.  Without  Freyja we would have no beginnings when it comes to new life. She is  literally the conception of life, and my own UPG suggests spring is  indeed her time. As such a powerful goddess, she has many roles: goddess  of war, love, beauty, seidr, and death.

Freyr

If Freyja one of the quintessential goddesses of spring,  Freyr is one of the gods of spring. One could make the argument  (successfully, I might add), that he is a summer god.  But Freyr also  has the duty of gestation and growth.  He is the male god of fertility,  but he is often associated with germination. It just makes sense he is a  fitting god for spring.

If you think about Easter  celebrations, you’ll note that a traditional Easter meal is a ham.  No  surprise there.  I’ve read that Christianity was happy enough to  incorporate the pagan traditions of eating ham at Easter when ham was  originally eaten in honor of Freyr. As Heathens, having a traditional  ham dinner is certainly a great way to celebrate spring and Freyr.

Thor

On first blush, Thor seems out of place in the list of  deities having to do with spring. But the thunderer is certainly  considered a god who brings the rains which helps the fields to grow.   Little wonder that he is married to Sif, who is a spring/summer goddess  in her own right. Thor presides over the wind, rain, and even the  crops.  It makes sense that he is considered a major god and one who  presides over spring and summer.

Sif

If Thor brings about  rain to the crops, it is Sif, his wife, who receives the rain. She’s  definitely a fertility goddess and an earth goddess.  The story about  how Loki cuts her golden hair and must find a substitute for her is a  suggestion that her hair is the wheat crops. (Incidentally, cutting a  woman’s hair was a sign that she was unfaithful — something to think  about when reading that Loki found his way into her bedroom and cut her  hair while she was sleeping.)  But, I digress here.  Sif is certainly an  earth goddess and spring and summer is her time.

Honoring the Gods and Goddesses of Spring

Springtime  is a transition time. As modern day Heathens, we acknowledge that the  equinox is the first day of spring.  However, in ancient times, our  ancestors looked at spring differently.  Spring was believed to maybe start with Grundsaudaag or Groundhog’s Day in Urglaawe tradition.  The groundhog replaced the badger or bear in German tradition.  While,  we’re well past Groundhog’s Day, we can hold a feast in honor of spring  and our spring gods and goddesses.

Sigrblot usually comes in April and is celebrated with offerings to Freyr and Freyja.  Most pagans consider May 1st as a celebration time of spring which  includes Walpugisnach.  While it may be a more modern interpretation of  the Heathen calendar, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy it. Unless  you’re a member of the recon rabble, there’s no reason why you can’t  adopt Heathen and pagan traditions your own holidays as you see fit.

I  mentioned coloring eggs and rabbits as part of the Eostre celebrations.  Even if there wasn’t an Eostre, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take our  older Heathen traditions that survived and changed, and make them in  honor of the spring goddesses and gods you do wish to venerate.  I think they will be pleased.

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