History of Apples
One of the most common and easily accessible fruits on Earth, apples have a long history in both the magick and mundane world. Although these unassuming sweet fruits are often overlooked due to their availability, their contribution to mythology, legend, and cultural symbolism is unrivaled. Today we will explore the apple’s appearance in history and literature, and delve into its magickal properties associated with love, emotion, and the otherworldly realms.
Origins of the Apple
Apples are old. Really old. It seems that they have been around since the dawn of human history, originating in the Tien Shan mountains in Kazakhstan. Our modern apple is the amalgamation of four different strains of wild apples, which existed more than 10,000 years ago. It is believed that “ancient megafauna” (large land mammals, usually weighing over 100 or 1000lbs) first spread the seeds of the wild apple, followed by an even larger spreading through process of trading on the Silk Road. This later process resulted in hybrid apples, which eventually produced a ‘modern’ apple.
One interesting fact about the ancient apple is that before the last Ice Age, apples had evolved to attract these ancient megafauna – this is how apples were propagated and reproduced several million years ago (before humans). However, once these larger land mammals died out, apple trees became isolated. It wasn’t until trading on the Silk Road and human migration that the fruit began to develop and spread again. According to the Max Planck Society, “the apple in your kitchen appears to owe its existence to extinct megafaunal browsers and Silk Road merchants”. Interestingly, the wild ancestor of our modern ‘domestic apple’ can still be found in the Tien Shan mountains.
The Word “Apple”
The word “apple” derives from Old English “æppel”. This comes from a Proto-Germanic word “app(a)laz”. The confusing part about this is that originally, this word simply referred to any kind of fruit or fruit in general. There were many related words such as Old Norse “eple’, Old Saxon “appel”, and Old High German “apful”, all of which just meant fruit. In fact, up until the 17th Century, an apple referred to any fruit or nut, excluding berries. The online etymology site gives the example of “appel of paradis” (banana) or “fingeræppla” (finger-apples = dates).
All of this becomes important when you start to consider some of the most famous and influential associations with apples, and how those ‘apples’ may have actually been other fruits. It’s quite unfair actually, as the scientific name for the apple tree is Malus domestica. Any words beginning with the prefix “mal” are considered ‘bad/evil’, therefore this (possibly false) association with evil in, for example The Bible, actually had an impact on the apple’s scientific name!
In addition to this, Latin borrowed the word ‘melon’ (fruit) from Greek, turning it into mālum, which was extremely close to mălum, which meant evil, and was used in the Vulgate translation of the Bible. You can easily see how these translation errors (or possibly intentional puns) led to this association as well.
The Forbidden Fruit?
One of the most recognizable and influential roles apples play in cultural symbolism and mythology is that of the forbidden fruit. The apple as a symbol of temptation, evil, and sin has permeated much of western culture due to the fact that the King James Bible (1611) was the most widely published works in human history. The scene in which Eve eats the “the fruit of the tree” (Gen 3:3) reads, “she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat” (Gen 3:6). Because in this time period apple = fruit, and because the word apple started to refer to what we think of as an apple, the image of an apple became the fruit in the garden.
But it isn’t just the story of Adam and Eve’s fall that is associated with the apple. In the Greek myth The Garden of Hesperides, an orchard of golden apples came be associated with temptation, argument, and knowledge. The Apple of Discord, which started the Trojan War, supposedly came from this orchard, furthering the idea of humanity ‘falling’ or destroying itself.
Continuing this theme are fairytales, such as Snow White, which features the same apple motif. In this story the apple is seductive enough to tempt Snow White despite the dwarves’ warnings, and also carries the poison meant to get rid of her.
Love, Sensuality, and the Otherworld
Despite the apple’s association with ‘evil’, it has also been connected to energies of love and sensuality. Sacred to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, apples were tied to love. If you wanted to declare your love, you could throw an apple at them, and if they caught it, it was assumed they liked you back.
Aphrodite makes an appearance with her apples in the myth of Atalanta and Hippomenes. In this tale, Atalanta challenged all of her suitors to a race because she knew she could outrun them all. Hippomenes is gifted three golden apples from Aphrodite and uses them to distract and slow down Atalanta during a race. He ends up winning her hand because of this tactic.
In the Bible, the sensuous Song of Solomon uses apples to, uhhh, refer to some sexual happenings between the king and his new bride. Of course we know that the original Hebrew or Aramaic may have referred to another ‘fruit’, but apple was used in the KJV. Check out this line: “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (SOS 2:3) and “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit. May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples…” (SOS 7:8). Bow-chicka-bow-wow.
In the Prose Edda, a 13th Century Norse poem, apples are connected to eternal youthful beauty and immortality, and in other Norse mythologies apples connect to fertility, with one story resulting in a six-year pregnancy after eating an apple (yeesh). In addition, archeological finds dealing with ancient German pagan cultures have found evidence that nuts and apple seeds have a connection with fertility and the dead.
The apple has also been associated with the magic, mystical, and otherworldly realms. Much of this is seen in Celtic cultures from the British Isles. In the Arthurian legends, Avalon, the mysterious island of the fairies means something similar to “the isle of fruit/apple trees”, and Merlin often worked in a grove of apple trees, whose fruit gave him prophetic powers.
In Celtic lore, apples were tied to the concept of rebirth. In fact, the 10th letter of the Ogham alphabet is ‘ceirt‘, which seems to be associated apples and rebirth, healing, and youthfulness. In Ireland, apples were made into wine, cider, and juice, and used as an important source of food. They were known as one of the seven “Nobles of the Wood“. The apple tree itself was symbolic of creativity, purity, and motherhood, and the wood from its branches was sometimes burned during fertility festivals. One Irish myth is that of Connla and the Fairy Maiden, which features an apple that replenishes itself, obsessive love, and a land of the ‘Ever Lasting’. Another is The Silver Branch, which features a silver apple branch that transports a character to an otherworldly realm.
Random Apple Facts and Idioms
There are so many fascinating facts and pieces of folklore surrounding apples that it’s hard to decide which to include in this post. Below are some short pieces of info about apples that you may find interesting.
- The genome of the Golden Delicious apple has about 57,000 genes, about 27,000 more than the human genome
- Apples are associated with Autumn and the fall harvest celebrations (Samhain and Allantide to name two)
- Wassailing is a practice done in southern England where cider is poured on the roots of an apple tree to bless the new year
- Apples were brought to North America in 1607 in order for the colonists to make cider
- Thomas Jefferson cultivated the ‘Ralls Genet’ apple, which was eventually crossed with the Red Delicious = Fuji Apple
- Johnny Appleseed was a real man – John Chapman who traveled throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois for 40 years planting apple tress
- There are approx. 8000 varieties of apples
- Early N. American orchards didn’t produce fruit because there were no bees – bees were shipped to the new colonies in 1622 and were called “the white man’s flies”.
- Court records from 1640 noted for rent to be paid in “two bushels of apples every yeare…the same to bee of the best apples there growing…”
- “Comparing apples to oranges”
- “How do you like them apples”
- “She’ll be apples”
- “Apple of my eye”
- “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch”
- Adam’s apple
- The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
- Don’t upset the apple cart
- The Big apple
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away
In Magickal Workings
We’ve finally arrived to the magickal energies of the apple. As we have seen, apples are most often associated with the following kinds of magick:
- Love, beauty, romance, fertility work
- Fairy magick
- Magick relating to otherworldly realms or experiences
- Magick to invoke wisdom, truth, or illumination
- Spells or rituals for Mabon/Autumn Equinox and Samhain
Have fun with apples and use them in the ‘traditional’ ways during fall – make apple cider, visit an apple orchard, or even bob for apples. You can eat an apple on Samhain and look into the mirror to get a glimpse of your true love. Leave apples as an offering to fairies or otherworldy elements, or use apples in Mabon and Samhain rituals. If you can get a hold of apple blossoms, you can use them in charm bags to attract love. Share an apple (infused with your intention) with a loved one to ensure happiness in the relationship. Cut an apple in half and meditate on the image of the pentacle you will see therein- visualize yourself in an apple orchard and connect to the mystical and magickal energies that apples have held for thousands of years.
You can also try my Mabon Blend enchanted herbal tea, made with dried apples as a tasty replacement for apple cider and to connect to these fall, apple energies.
Right, so apples are kind of used all the time in the kitchen. What’s a better way of getting in tune with the apple than picking it up and eating it whole? But of course, I’d like to share a recipe here that is a little different and a little fun, so I’m going with the following recipe to help you tune into the abundance, sensuousness, and beauty exhibited by this extraordinary fruit.