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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.

 

The Meaning Behind the Death of Baldr and the Summer Solstice

The Meaning Behind the Death of Baldr and the Summer Solstice

One of the most iconic stories in Norse mythology is the death of Baldr.  It is probably the best known among Heathens and often recited by the anti-Lokeans as a way to justify why the Rokkatru are wrong to even consider venerating Loki and his ilk.  While I’m not Rokkatru (although I suppose someone can point to me being a follower of Skadi as being a Rokkatru), I do have a deeper analysis of why the story of Baldr’s death is more than face value.

The Story of Baldr

If you know the story of Baldr’s death, you can safely skip this section. Or, you can read it and pick my version of it apart. The story goes that Baldr, the son of Odin and Frigga, was the most fair of all the gods. So much so that he was beloved by everyone.  Everyone, of course, except Loki, who was mighty annoyed at so much love and reverence being passed out to Baldr.

Baldr had nightmares of his death.  Odin therefore went to Niflheim to consult a dead seeress to find out what was the cause of Baldr’s nightmares.  The seeress told Odin that that Baldr would die by Hodr’s hand (Hodr is the brother of Baldr).

Terrified of the prophecy, Frigga made it a mission to get every rock, stone, weapon, plant, and creature in the Nine Worlds to promise to never hurt Baldr.  Everything agreed to her satisfaction, so when it proved that nothing could harm him, the gods decided to make a game out of it.  They threw things at Baldr and the stones and spears would turn aside and not harm him.  Weapons would not cut him.  So they all gathered around and laughed while throwing things at him.

The Death of Baldr

Loki despised this, and so he went to Frigga disguised as an old woman.  He struck up a conversation with Frigga and asked about Baldr’s invincibility.  In the course of their conversation, Frigga admitted that she hadn’t asked the lowly mistletoe to swear an oath to not harm Baldr because it was weak and too young.  Loki then knew he had his weapon.  He left and fashioned a dart out of the mistletoe.

When he came back to the game the gods were still playing, he noticed that Hodr, Baldr’s blind brother, was not throwing things.  Loki offered to guide Hodr’s hand so he could throw something.  He put the mistletoe into Hodr’s hand. Hodr threw and the dart pierced Baldr’s heart.  Baldr fell dead.

Baldr went to Hel’s domain.  Odin sent his son, Hermod, to rescue Baldr from the dead.  Hel told Hermod that if everything truly wept for Baldr, she would release him.  Everything did, except the giantess Tokk, who was Loki is disguise.  Tokk told the messengers that Hel should keep what she has.  So, Baldr stays in Hel and it is the beginning of Ragnarok.  Baldr survives Ragnarok and is once more alive.

What Does the Death of Baldr Mean?

We can look at the story of the death of Baldr at face value, or we can look at it as a metaphor.  I prefer to look at it as a metaphor since our gods are clearly aligned with nature.  Even though they have distinct personalities, they are still gods of natural phenomenon.

The story of Baldr is the story of the seasons and the natural cycle of life.  Our northern ancestors revered the sun and its life-giving heat and warmth.  We know the summer solstice was a holy time for northern pagans — especially those who built monuments to the sun during the neolithic age. Baldr is clearly associated with the midsummer sun — the sun at solstice.  It is no surprise that his blind brother, Hodr (winter) slays him with the help of Loki (who is a chaos god) which brings about renewal (Ragnarok).  Baldr is the renewal of life and all the beauty associated with it.  Hodr is the old age and the impending death.  Loki (chaos and entropy) brings these changes about.

So, What Does this Have to do with the Upcoming Solstice?

You may be wondering why I bring this up with the summer solstice just around the corner.  Baldr is at his greatest power at that time, since we have the most daylight on that day.  While it is officially summer by meteorological terms, it is also the beginning of the end of increasing light.  Once the summer solstice has passed, the amount of daylight begins to dwindle until we reach the winter solstice, when the sunlight starts increasing again.

But the high point of the sun is the beginning of the end of the growing season, just like Baldr’s death is the beginning of Ragnarok.  Sure, we have plenty of growing and maturation of plants to come, but the waning light signals the end of spring and the beginning of maturation.  Maturation will culminate in the end of the growing season and the beginning of harvest.  The Northern Hemisphere marches toward darkness once more.

Sunshine and Mistletoe

It’s little wonder why the mistletoe is a symbol of the winter solstice, since it is the symbol of Baldr’s death.  But the winter solstice is also the symbol of the return of life.  We know that the days will grow longer again after December 21st, just as we know the days will start to grow shorter after June 21st.  So, this summer solstice, raise a horn or glass of mead to the god of rebirth and renewal.  Because we know that Baldr may “die” with the oncoming winter, but he will be reborn once again. (And the Christians thought that they were the only ones with a god who dies and is reborn?)

Let me know about your own insights into the death of Baldr and how you plan to celebrate the summer solstice.

 

 

Why Loki Exists (Not Your Standard Arguments)

Why Loki Exists (Not Your Standard Arguments)

Loki is a bit of an enigma when it comes to the Northern pantheon. No god causes such turmoil among Heathens when it comes to our gods. Did Loki really exist in the pantheon? Was he worshiped? Was he a creation of Snorri? It’s almost as if the trickster intentionally caused this entire debate–which would suit him just fine.  Read more of this premium content for just $1 and gain access to all my premium content.

Why Loki as a Chaos God is One of the Most Powerful Gods in Your Life

Why Loki as a Chaos God is One of the Most Powerful Gods in Your Life

As a follower of Tyr, I have a grudging respect for Loki.  So much so that I even have a place for him on my altar. Loki as a chaos god shows up constantly in my life — and probably your life, too.  And despite all the naysayers claiming that no one ever worshiped Loki, I suspect ancient Heathens did acknowledge him at blots and other religious functions.  And I believe that people did worship him as much as other gods.  Let me explain why.

Loki’s Bad Rap

Loki as a chaos god has without a doubt gotten a bad rap from the whole death of Baldr thing and leading the forces of chaos at Ragnarok. The fact that he had monstrous children with Angrboda seems to confirm it too. Both Fenrir and Jörmungandr are indeed dangerous beasts. Hel, while her followers would argue against her being a monster, some Heathens certainly considered at least frightening, if not a demon-like creature. Seeing a woman half skeleton and half flesh is, after all, pretty creepy in most contexts.

Loki as a Catalyst for Change

That aside, Loki is the gods’ catalyst for change.  He plays tricks on them — some tricks not so nice — but in the end, most of his behavior benefits the gods.  Cutting Sif’s hair is a prime example.  First, you have to wonder what Loki was doing in Sif’s bedroom (something mentioned in Loki’s Flyting). Once the gods caught Loki, he not only repaired the damage by giving Sif new hair, but gained other treasures for the gods.

Loki is the prime mover and shaker in Asgard.  If he did not constantly get into trouble, the Aesir and Vanir would have stagnated.  They wouldn’t have gotten Asgard for free.  Odin would not have Slepnir. The gods wouldn’t have Skadi within their midst.  Thor would not have Mjöllnir, Freyr wouldn’t have Skíðblaðnir and Gullin-börsti, and Odin would not have Gungnir and Draupnir.

Loki as a Malicious God

Loki shows his malicious side both in the death of Baldr and in Lokasenna (Loki’s Flyting). It’s interesting that he isn’t bound because he caused Baldr’s death, but because he insulted the gods and goddesses at a feast.  As an aside, does anyone else see a disparity here?  Sure, he kills Aegir’s servant, but that’s not why his children are killed and he’s tied up with a venomous snake dripping poison overhead. Granted, the punishment may be for all his troublemaking and this might be the last straw, but seriously?

Loki is punished because he speaks the truth, albeit twisted to hurt.  But sometimes the truth hurts, and it shows the foibles and failings of even the mightiest of gods.  So, even though his actions aren’t justifiable, it fits perfectly for Loki as a chaos god.

Is Loki Good or Bad?

At this stage, you may be wondering if Loki is good or bad.  If you take the simplistic route, you look at everything bad Loki has done.  Loki killed Baldr through Hodur.  He disallowed Baldr to return to Asgard.  He sired three creatures which will bring about Ragnarok. Loki then killed Aegir’s servant and insulted the gods.  The list goes on and on.

If you’re a Lokean, you might argue that Loki has done good things as mentioned in this post above. You might point out how the Fenrir was set up and that Ragnarok happens because the gods’ actions caused it. Furthermore, you might point out that the Aesir and Vanir brought Ragnarok on them because they threw Loki’s children under the proverbial bus.

So, which side is right?

Loki as a Chaos God

Actually, both sides are right and wrong at the same time.  The reason is that Loki is a complex being, although obviously a chaos god and a trickster.  He is the archetypal trickster who metes out both good and bad through his love of causing chaos wherever he goes. He takes joy in shedding light where everyone else wants the situation in the dark, and he hates the status quo, whether it is good or bad.  He stirs the pot, because that’s what he does.  Even if the pot suits everyone else, it tastes bland to him.

Loki can be almost demonic when he is looking for vengeance, due to whatever slight he sees, real or imagined.  Ragnarok is as much his doing as anything else.  Why?  Because it is change.  It will destroy what was and will replace it with something else.

Capricious beyond belief, this consummate troublemaker is one that can’t leave well enough alone. He is happy to hand out good and bad, as long as it suits him.  With that kind of behavior, you have to wonder if he’s worth bothering with, but ignoring him is the worst thing you can do.  He’ll make it a point to stir up trouble.

Not Evil, Just Misunderstood

Oddly enough, I’ve discovered that if you stay on good terms with Loki, he will aid you whenever he can. But his aid is often fraught with chaos, and your life will take a turn toward the surreal should you decide to make him your primary god. It has been my and others’ experience that Loki will help you when he can, but chaos will linger with you as a type of payment.  For every good thing, you may have a bad thing happen.  In most cases, Loki will help you, but don’t be surprised is there is a catch.  (With most of the Northern gods, there is always a catch somewhere.)

My god, Tyr, is pretty much the opposite of Loki.  Where Loki is a force of chaos, Tyr is a god of law.  It’s interesting because Tyr recognizes that while they are opposites, you can’t have one without the other.  Tyr was the only god who took care of Fenrir and paid the sacrifice of his hand to the wolf when the gods decided that Fenrir must be bound. Like Loki, Fenrir is a force of chaos.  You can’t have law without chaos.

Did Our Ancestors Worship Loki?

The question of whether our ancestors worshiped Loki is somewhat academic.  We don’t have archaeological proof that Loki was worshiped, but then, we don’t have a lot of evidence that certain goddesses such as Eostre existed either.  We can speculate that Tyr’s consort was Zisa, but there isn’t really anything that backs it up.

I suspect that because Loki was considered one of the Aesir, he was worshiped in some fashion.  After all, many kings traced their lineage back to Jotunn, so Rokkatru isn’t far off from that.  At the very least, I suspect that he wasn’t ignored so that he wouldn’t cause trouble.

Isn’t Loki Still Tied to the Rock with a Serpent Overhead?

How can we have people worshiping Loki and Fenrir when both are bound up?  This is an interesting point, and I have four possible suppositions as to how Loki and Fenrir can exist bound and yet unbound.  Here are my four possible conclusions:

  1. The Loki killing Baldr, the Lokasenna, and the binding of Fenrir stories are prophetic and have not come to pass.  (Unlikely)
  2. The stories are metaphors for things that have happened already and when talking about binding, it may suggest a controlling of power — or in Tyr’s case, a loss of power — rather than an actual physical binding.
  3. Ragnarok has already happened at least once.  That means that our gods exist, but in newer forms.
  4. The gods are many faceted and capable of being in several places at once.  This, oddly enough, works when you consider quantum theory.  So, Loki may be tied to a rock in one place and free in another.  (Yeah, quantum theory is fucked up.)

Seeing as I’ve had dealings with the god of chaos, I can say that he is very much around.  Plus, we have plenty of chaos in our world — binding him did no good on that score.

Why Loki is a Powerful God

Why is Loki a powerful god?  Think about it.  He controls chaos and randomness. Without him, the universe would not work the way it does.  When things happen by chance — good or bad — that is the domain of Loki.  When we think about suddenly finding money on the road while walking, or missing a bus or plane because something held you up, or getting in a car accident when you were not at fault, that’s Loki working in your life.

Loki is the god of entropy as well.  That means that as chaos and randomness continues, so order breaks down.  That is, in essence, what many scientists predict will happen to our universe as it ends.  It goes cold as it dies as everything breaks apart.  A powerful god, to be sure.

A Poem to Loki

I found this on the Interwebs and thought I’d share it with you.  Not my work, but I do have permission to use it.

Full Cycle

The cave is dark, as the one where he bested Andvari.
The gold he got freed the Aesir from bonds.
Now he lies fettered himself.
He remembers

Pranks and jests
– dangerous, granted –
Showing them life
without masquerade of youth,
or jewels, or hair.
Drip.

They took his gifts
but they never learned
his secrets of change
and looking at unpleasant truths.
Drip. The bowl fills.

How they put everything
they could not deal with
out of sight, or life:
Ymir. The giants. His Ironwood-get.
Drip.

They could not face death.
Even some humans did better.
The bowl fills to the brim,
surface taut as a bowstring-
Drip.
Poison flows
Balder´s blood
rushing
tears of nine worlds
gushing
the stream where they caught him
Snake spit burns
like Asgard´s curses,
not this!

Tormented, he strains
to break bonds
with prophecy´s force
Midgard trembles
– maybe this time? –
Sigyn hurries
Will she return…?
Relief.
Now it´s just the cave, and the darkness,
and three stones cutting his back,
and the memories they share.

Drip.
A tear Sigyn sheds.

— Full Cycle Poem © 2007 Michaela Macha. This work (entitled Full Cycle) by Michaela Macha (www.odins-gift.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License.

Pervasiveness of the Gods, or How Loki Tries to Take Me Off Point

Pervasiveness of the Gods, or How Loki Tries to Take Me Off Point

My last blog was about trying to do too many things all the time. When I looked at it while it was still scheduled (I write these things ahead of time and set the date for publication), I realized that Loki led me off on a tangent again.  This becomes infuriating after a while, but understandable. The trickster god is constantly looking for ways to throw my life into chaos — some good, some bad. And sometimes he’ll do it in a heartbeat when I’m trying to write a blog post.

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Do All The Things!

Do All The Things!

One thing I don’t seem to have gotten over very well is my Catholic need to martyr myself.  (I can just see Tyr shake his head in exasperation when when I do this) — if the Lord of Swords thinks it’s folly to overextend myself, I suspect it is folly.

But the holidays are a great time to overdo everything, including overextend oneself.  But as Loki constantly reminds me (and yes, somehow Loki pops in to remind me to self-care– more on that some other day), there’s no way I can possibly care for anyone else if I don’t care for myself first.

(At least, if you’re going to have psychoses, have useful ones where the gods talk some sense into you to do things that are good for you and those around you.)

Anyway, Back to the Holidays…

My mom used to put on a big shindig every Thanksgiving and Christmas.  When my ancient Mother-In-Law moved to our town, I channeled my mom and tried to put together celebratory meals. The reality was far from wonderful. My husband and I hunt and hunting season chews up Thanksgiving handily. While I am grateful to Skadi and Ullr for our meals, hunting takes up a lot of energy. Having Thanksgiving later than the prescribed day helped, but by the end of it, I was channeling my inner bitch.  I was exhausted, overworked, and feeling overwhelmed.

Loki reminded me to self-care.
I threw something at him.

Sick Critters, and Life Intrudes

To make matters worse, the weather got evilly cold. The Jotun were here to plunge us into temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.  Skadi granted us more opportunities to hunt. A bunch of my livestock got sick and no matter what I did, they remained sick.  So, I finally got a veterinarian out. Blood draws and plenty of medicine.

Then, there was the little matter of butchering the deer we got the week before. Usually I would have it all cut up, but with the amazingly brutal weather, the quarters froze right up.  So, I could thaw them out and butcher them at a slightly more leisurely pace.

I still need to take care of the skins, even though they’re salted.
I have writing work and other work to do. My plants in the greenhouse are questionable now.  I finally get around to watering them anyway.

Got a bunch of food that needs to be preserved still.  Managed to get the dehydrator full with squash.

Loki reminds me to self-care.
I whimper.

I have this blog and three others to write. I have assignments to get done.  I have to make money somehow…

To Drag this Back on Point…

The problem that we as humans deal with is what society constrains us when it comes to things we must do. Sometimes, we take what we perceive as obligations when in fact, they’re simply man-made constructs. We do things because we were taught to do them, whether or not it makes sense for our lives.  As much as I love Tyr, he has enough control over my life with physics, the laws of nature, and the laws of men. Chasing after some perceived societal norm around holidays when it stresses me out isn’t healthy.  Hence, Loki steps in and whines about my lack of self care.

That’s why when my husband pointed out that doing a dinner thing wasn’t working for me, I needed to step back and rethink what I was doing.  I was trying to follow my mom’s style, which isn’t mine. Holidays, as wonderful as they are, need to be something that aren’t done “just because that’s how we do them.”

Whether celebrating Thanksgiving/Harvest or Yule/Christmas, we as humans must make them joyous occasions and not stressors in our lives. Loki reminds me that being human means being fallible.  That means that sometimes we can’t do “all the things, all the time.”  Tyr agrees.  Which suddenly has reduced the stress in my life.

I still have all the other things to get done, but somehow, the gods make them a little less frenetic. Probably because they don’t judge me on what I accomplish in the minutiae of my daily life. Not like the Christian god purportedly did.

Thanks, and hopefully this rambling post made sense to you.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll listen to your inner Loki and remember self care as well.