1898 Howard Isidore Stern
The Gods of Our Fathers:
A Study of Saxon Mythology

  A Summary of Hrafnagaldur Óðinns 
Understood as Forspallsljóð:
The Preface to Vegtamkviða (Baldrs Draumar)



An Excerpt from Chapter IX:  The Second Act Of The World-Drama — Ending In Baldur's Death:

There is another myth, however, belonging to this second Myth place, which stands related to the plot of of Iduna. the World-year. It was probably recomposed from the original myth as a sequel to the Wöluspa.
It is one of the most mysterious in mythology. Erik Halson, a learned Icelander of the seventeenth century, studied it for ten years without obtaining satisfactory light. It is not the only time that the unimaginative scholar has burrowed in the luminous cloud of symbolic language as though it were the compact earth of technical terms. The office of poetry is not precise designation, but large intimation, which requires the unfolding of our wings. We have seen that various kindred figures are interchangeably used to describe the same thing. Odhrarir's Drink, Urd's Well, and Iduna's Apples, all three mean spiritual rejuvenescence.
The first is the wine of inspiration, the second keeps the world-ash green, the third is the ambrosia of immortality.
Perhaps the deepest attraction in Nature is her possession of the magic of transfiguration and renewal, which we lack. The loss of Iduna, following that of innocence, indicates the ethical conditions of the problem.
The myth relates that the gods are alarmed by evil forebodings about the safety of Odhrarir, which has been intrusted to Urd's keeping. Of course, the water of Urd's well is meant, since it is also the drink of immortality. The water has lost its refreshing power, and the decay of the world-ash has set in. Therefore, Odin's raven, Hugin, is  sent forth to obtain the prophecy of two wise dwarfs as to the issue. Their answer is described as darkly, mutteringly dream-like, howbeit unmistakably unfavorable. Hugin is Thought or Reflection. The simple meaning of the passage therefore is that the brooding anxiety of the gods results only in more certain anxiety. Other symptoms of the waning vitality of Nature are then enumerated.
Finally Iduna is introduced in her own name as the youngest daughter of the dwarf, Iwaldi. The dwarfs are not merely the arch artificers and mechanics in mythology, but, as we have seen, the subterranean productive energies of Nature. " The youngest daughter of Iwaldi" would consistently indicate the verdure of the latest year. She is said not to have been overpowered and carried away by Thiassi, as in the other myth, but to have sunk down from the crown of Yggdrasil into the vale of Nörwi's daughter beneath the trunk of the world-tree.
Nörwi, or Narfi, is a giant, and his daughter is Night; sometimes conceived as a relation, sometimes as the synonym of Hel. So far the poem appears to contemplate the autumnal fall and burial of the leaves only, but both the circumstance that it is the foliage of the symbolical world-tree, that sinks into the grave, and the sequel of the tale remove the process from the annual to the cosmical sphere.
"The melancholy days have come, the saddest of the year."
For the tiding over of our hearts across the gloom of the ordinary winter, " Hope, that springs perennial," is sufficient, but who can bear to view the darkening and fading of a world with the horrible fear that there will never be another spring? This is the mood of the Asen, as they meet for consultation. The bleakness of Nature is reflected in the care-drawn lines and aging gray of their faces. Heimdall, Loki, and Bragi are sent by Odin to visit the unhappy goddess in her living tomb to ask her what her misfortune bodes to the destinies of the world.
There is a profound poetical fitness in the choice of this deputation. Their mission is without result. In reply to all their questions about her own welfare and their own she only weeps in silence. She seems in a semi-unconscious, somnolent condition, that condition of removal beyond our interests which is more appalling and heart-wringing than the spectacle of the greatest suffering, when, with the tenderest terms of endearment and with the beseechings of despair, we call upon the loved one to recognize and answer us, and she only stares at us for a moment with lacklustre eyes and then relapses into the awful power of another world. The embassy returns, all but Bragi, the husband, who remains to guard his beloved. This Orpheus does not return with his Eurydice. What a picture of Saxon devotion and fidelity is this his staying! Thus the singer disappears after his spouse, the charming dispenser of verdure and youth. When Heimdall and Loki reascend to Walhalla, the song of the birds and the lay of the bards are over. The gods are sitting at their banquet, but it is a joyless repast, which is not enlivened by the report of the two emissaries. However, All-father seeks to cheer the company with hope for the morrow, exhorting all not to let the night pass in inactivity, but severally to think upon plans meet to remedy the situation. When the moon sends her silver beams into the hall, Odin and Frigga arise from the board and dismiss the other Asen with heavy hearts. The night arises, the daughter of Nörwi with her thorny wand touches the nations of the earth, and mortals sink into sleep. Even the gods feel the power of her drowsy reign. Heimdall, the ever-vigilant, who needs less sleep than a bird, nods at his post. It is as though Loki had mixed an extract of poppies or some other subtle narcotic with their drink. But Odin does not succumb. All night long he has brooded over the fate of his dynasty. Who can fathom the thoughts of the god during that night? The poet who could do it would have to be a god, vaster in conception, finer in execution than Isaiah, Milton, or Goethe. Nevertheless, for the encouragement of the coming Teuton poet, it should be pointed out that in this night, if not before, Odin has suffered a shrinkage in his province. He has become a dissolving view of a theophany merely, a "broken light" of the Ever mind. All the knitting of his Olympian brows, all the excursions of his wanderer soul are those of an eagle in a cage, beating his breast against the wires here and there. Having forfeited his self-determining freedom, the flexible conditions crystallize and solidify into unyielding boundaries. He can no longer hew his way whithersoever he listeth, but is reduced to the expedient of consulting through the bars with the denizens of the shadowy beyond. The myth describes the dawn of the new day with the same poetical beauty as it described the coming of night. At the first glimmer of light, the Thursen and Gygien, or Giantesses, the dwarfs and black elves and other rovers of the night flee to their holes, and the gods arise from their beds. Here the myth of Odin's "Raven Charm" abruptly ceases, like a croak from the bird of evil omen. Iduna's fate is left undetermined. As there is no further allusion to her, we are constrained to conelude that she does not return. In one of the strophes of the song she has been cited by the name of Nanda, just as in the beginning by that of Urd. Nanda is a refinement of Iduna, as Iduna is of Urd and Gerda.
As the inexorable decadence proceeds the terrestrial correlatives of light grow more and more abstract and exquisite, as one after another they yield to fate. Verdure and youth having followed wisdom and rejuvenation, the quintessence of bloom and her wedded lord, light, pure and simple, must take their turn.
When the gods arise from the uneasy slumbers of that night, which, at Odin's behest, they were to employ in plans for Iduna's rescue, the march of the tragedy had advanced another step, and they were confronted with a new and graver misfortune, which constitutes the climax of the drama.
This is the subject of another saga, the "Wegtamskwida," or "Journey of the Wanderer." It is an older song than that of the "Raven's Charm." The latter has probably been written as a prelude to the former.
When the gods assemble in the morning it is to deliberate, not about Iduna, but about Baldur, in regard to Whose fate they have had the most disquieting dreams. Odin does not await the close of the conference, but, leaving the hall, he flings the saddle upon Sleipnir and gallops away to consult the enchantress, Wala, in the Netherworld. It is like Saul's resorting to the Witch of Endor, the same narrowing clutch of fate, the same irresistible working out of sin. Only in this instance it is Wala herself that is conjured up from her grave, and who penetrates the disguise of the questioner. The "Wegtamskwida" is, in turn, an imitation of a yet older song, the "Wafthrudnismal," in which Odin engages in a question bout with the omniscient Jotun Wafthrudnir with reference to primal and final knowledge. We are less concerned at this place with these prophetic catechisings than with the actual events of the drama. The most suggestive lesson of this riding to and fro is the pitiable desperation. "The Spirit of the Lord has departed from this king," and now he must resort to ghosts and oracles.