Jana is an amateur everything when it comes to space, nature and science. She loves exploring mysteries, both classic and new.
In The Beginning was the Crab Apple
A rather looked-down-upon creature today, the crab apple tree was central to many past legends and rituals. One of the first fruit trees to be domesticated, it can be enjoyed today in countless varieties. These days, the apple tree has become commercialized and is relegated to orchards and gardens. Few of these trees are seen as anything other than a source of food and shade. While one can argue about its looks (some find it pretty, while others find it so uninteresting, they can hardly describe it when asked), the history surrounding the apple tree is remarkable.
Please note that this article deals with the concepts of magic and religion. However, this is to accommodate the tree's past role. Undoubtedly, some of the beliefs persist today, especially symbols connected to the apple. In the end, this is not a tome to teach apple magic with promises of love and fertility. However, if you are interested in esoteric history or perhaps that apple tree that's been in your garden forever, read on.
Malus domestica or pumila is the catchy Latin name for our tree of the day. Dull fact: It belongs to the family Rosaceaue that includes pears, strawberries and apricots among others. Drop-your-jaw fact: The apple is related to the rose, which also falls into the Rosaceaue group. The two may seem worlds apart but the similarities exist in their flower petals and the apple-resembling rose hip which forms when a rose is allowed to go to seed. Viewed as the fruit of the rose, many claim it has healing properties as well.
The apple is a small to medium tree, wrapped with brown bark. It sprouts oval leaves with serrated edges and beautiful blooms emerge with flowering season. Each has five petals and range from pink-tinted to pure white in colour. They are romanced by insects in spring, produce apples in the summer which are then ready to pick in autumn. Hello, apple crumble.
A Fruit of Good and Evil
Religious and esoteric references concern both the fruit and the tree itself. Perhaps the most well-known is the Biblical story of Eden which describe the fall of Adam and Eve. Poor Eve was convinced by the snake in the tree to sample its fruit and share some with Adam – which caused their expulsion from the Garden. Though the harvest is never identified in any passage, subsequent art by great masters always portrayed it as an apple. In Christianity, it stands for sin but also knowledge and immortality.
Apples And Girls
The Sensual Feminine
In the world of symbols, women are apple flavoured. In this instance, the fruit's meaning range from love and fertility to the more steamy representations of certain lady parts. Not surprisingly, the deity connected with this crunchy fruit is Venus – the goddess of love. In China, apple blossoms stand for female beauty. On the flip side, the apple has also been used against women who live in fairy tales and myths. Snow White bit into one and keeled over from poison. In Greek legend, Hippomenes didn't bother with romance. He tricked the beautiful athlete Atalanta into marriage with golden apples. The three goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena almost came to blows over another golden apple thrown into their midst, supposing to show which of them was the most beautiful. When Paris was appointed to choose the fairest, Aphrodite bribed him with the love of Helen of Troy – and sparked the Trojan War. Yes, Aphrodite got the apple.
A Sacred Druid Tree
The tree's Celtic connection runs deep. The Celts burned the wood during ceremonies and festivals, especially when fertility was the occasion. The flowers decorated the inside of a couple's bedroom for the same reason. Druids preferred to cut their wands from either the apple or yew tree. Some speculate that the druids entered their altered mental states thanks to fermenting apples, which was then consumed as a hard cider. Apart from the usual symbols, Celtic meaning also included truth, peace, honesty and remembrance. The tree itself stood for motherhood and the branches were symbolic of a large and healthy family.
A Bottomless Symbol
As a symbol, the apple tree is a remarkably complex concept. It comes with seemingly endless meanings and variations within legends. If you follow the apple pip trail, you'd soon realize the apple shows up in nearly every belief system for as long as anyone can remember. The roots grip the religious, the artistic and the deepest human emotions of bygone days. A single article can never cover the enigmatic maze that is the apple tree, but many have tried.
The next time you catch the neighbourhood kids scrambling between the branches of your tree, don't scold them. Give them a lecture on apple esoterica. They'll either consider you a fruit yourself or a graduate of Hogwarts. If you prefer a more normal but still flavourful conversation, ask them...
Did You Know?
- Your Adam's Apple is called thus because there is a legend that claims Adam choked on the forbidden apple, with a piece visibly stuck in his throat.
- Thousands of apple varieties are extinct.
- Only the crab apple is native to the United States.
- There are 7,500 varieties worldwide.
- If you scream fearfully every time you see an apple, you suffer from Malusdomesticaphobia.
- You can bob for apples because 25 percent of the fruit is air. This ensures both that apples floats and a lot of wet faces at Halloween.
- Apple seeds contain a deadly toxin. Called Cynaide, it's troublesome only if a large amount of pips or cores are consumed. Luckily, the poison is not easily absorbed.
- The famous Johnny Appleseed was an American missionary who raised apple orchards across the frontier in the 1800s. Often, he is credited with establishing the edible apple. Some claim the truth is different. The trees he planted produced a terrible fruit that could only be turned into cider. In effect, he spread booze, not apple pie. Others say he spread the most delicious varieties around.
- The mouth puckering Granny Smith apple was “invented” by accident in 1868. Maria Smith from Australia found a seedling where she habitually discarded French crab apples (these came from Tasmania). Since she enjoyed raising baby apple trees, she took it home and in time it bore a light green fruit that was excellent for baking and cooking. Granny Smith was an avid farmer and soon cultivated the apple that would later adopt her name.
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit