Friday, November 30, 2012

Tree magick ~The Apple Tree

Scientific Name: Malus Domestica
Other Names : Apple, Pomme
Attributes: Healing, Colonization, Truth, Prophecy
Deities: Apollo, Pomona
Colors: Red, Green, Golden Yellow Animal
Links: Snake (Dragon), Robin

The Apple is one of those trees that are absolutely everywhere, yet people generally do not know much about it. Where did it come from? What is its history? The answer is that no one knows for sure where it came from. Some say it came from the Near East or far east as the wild variety (malus sieversii) still grows wild there. This is hardly proof as wild groves of apple may be hacked down to be replaced by domesticated varieties. Others think it came from the British Isles as there have been impressions of apples found from Neolithic times. It remains a mystery.

What is not a mystery, though, is our fascination with this fruit bearing tree. The domestic variety has flourished alongside mankind. It is a small deciduous fruit bearing tree ranging from 5 to 12 meters of height. The leaves are oval and have some serrations. In the spring it produces 5 petaled flowers, generally white with a tinge of pink. These flowers grow into the fruit that we love in the fall generally a 2 or 3 inches in diameter, but on occasion getting up to a half a foot in diameter. The fruit of the apple tree is a useful thing, especially in northern climates. The apple, if stored in the cold, can retain its edible state for months and months. It is for this reason that the apple was one of the first trees to be cultivated. And of course, it can also be turned into yummy cider...another bonus to this fantastic fruit. No one knows who first cultivated apples. They were known to be cultivated in the Near East, Greece, Egypt, Rome, the British Isles, etc. But what we do know is if it weren't for the Romans, the cultivation would not have spread to as many parts of the world as it did. Indirectly, you can thank the Romans for bringing the apple tree to the New World, as it wasn't native here. Remember, I said indirectly. Everyone knows the story of Johnny Appleseed who spread apples and their trees around the New World. Apparently, there was such a fellow. His name was John Chapman, and he cultivated apple trees all over the place in the eastern states.

Everyone knows the phrase 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away'. Although they originally said this as they noticed that those who ate fruits were sick less (no Canada food guide back then) and apples were the most plentiful fruit, it actually is true. Eating apples actually strengthens your immune system, reduces the risk of heart disease, prevents some cancers, aids the digestive process, reduces fever, and reduces high cholesterol. Green apples will actually act as a cleanser for the liver and gall bladder. In addition to this, eating raw apples actually cleans your teeth. The best nutrients of the apple are located just under the skin. It is a good source of Vitamin C, folic acid, and potassium. A average apple has about 81 calories. In short, it's the perfect food. Except that it contains a trace amount of cyanide in its seeds. There is a reason for this as well. When animals eat it, the seed is deemed indigestible because of this and passes through the system. It is quickly deposited in a steaming pile of fertilizer, which is the perfect environment for growing a tree.

The word apple is a very old word and is common to many of the Indo-European languages. In fact, it is a known fact that the word apple may be the most ancient Indo-European word that is still recognizable in its modern form. Directly, the word apple comes from the old English word Aeppel. The Welsh version of the word is Afal, which is pronounced 'Aval'. This word gives rise to the name for Avalon or 'Island of Apples'. The French word 'Pomme', can be seen in the Roman Goddess Pomona to whom apples were sacred. The scientific name is Latin (Malus), which comes from the Greek word 'melon'. The Greeks were nutty with the word melon though and named many things this including lemons, tomatoes, potatoes, melons, avocados, pomegranates, pineapples, peaches, etc. In fact, in the ancient world it is often tough to tell what fruit they are discussing when they mention apple (melon) because of this.

There are countless myths involving the apple. In the bible itself, you don't need to think farther than Eve and the snake. Or do you? Apparently, this is subject to the same mistranslation of 'melon' and historians actually believe it was a pomegranate that was referenced and not an apple. Hmmm...a girl being enticed to eat a pomegranate by the lord of the underworld.. ..hmm...perhaps this myth was lifted from the Persephone myth. In British myth, of course, apples are associated with the island of Avalon. It is a sun kissed land of warm breezes and healing. In fact, the theories that bring the apple tree from the British Isles (Hyperborea) originally also bring with it the name for the sun god, Apollo. Avalon, Abellon, Avalock, and even Belenus are Celtic variations of Apollo...or perhaps more correctly Apollo/Apollon is a Greek variation of Avalon. In Ireland, the faerie folk who would entice mortals off to their realm would often carry an apple branch as enticement. After killing Lugh's father, Cian, the sons of Tuirien were sent on a many quests to penance. One of these was to bring back three magic golden apples from the blessed isle which would heal all wounds and diseases and never be diminished. In Scottish mythology, Thomas the rhymer was taken to the land of the faerie folk. While he is not permitted to eat any other fruit while there, he is allowed to eat an apple which gives him the gift of truth. This is another link back to the god of truth, Apollo, and the Irish myths of being lead to the faerie world with apples. He returns to his own world, where 7 (Apollo's number) years have passed, and he returns with the gift of prophecy and music, which are also traits of Apollo. In Norse myth, apples are the food of immortality and healing of the gods. Greek myth is steeped in apple mythology, but it is also subject to scrutiny due to the use of the word 'melon'. The island of the Hesperides was a golden island with apple trees that Gaia gave to Hera as a wedding gift. There are many that think these golden apples are actually describing lemons. Remember the word 'melon'. Is it any coincidence that lemon is an anagram of melon :). I tend to think of them as apples as the island has a certain parallel with Avalon. Perseus quested for the Hesperides and Hercules quested for these apples as one of his labours (sounds a lot like the sons of Tuirien). Eris, goddess of discord, was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. As revenge for this snub, she rolled a golden apple into the wedding, which was inscribed with 'To the prettiest one'. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all claimed it because of this and started bickering. Zeus sent them to see Paris in Troy to solve the dispute and as we know, that lead to the Trojan War. In the Aenid, Sibyl tells Aeneas that he can only enter and return safely from the underworld is to carry the fruit of the golden bough, an apple. This sounds similar to the Irish and Scottish myths of the faerie folk. Even Jason and the Argonauts quest for the Golden Fleece may have been a quest for an apple of the Hesperides. Sounds strange? Well remember that wonderful word 'melon', well it can also mean sheep. So a golden 'fleece' can also mean a golden 'apple'. All this mix-up with the word for apple. Many goddesses in Greek and roman myth are considered associated with the apple due to this mix-up, including the goddess Hekate. In truth, it is supposed to be the pomegranate that is associated with her, not the apple (due to 'melon'). The only Greek/roman gods/goddess concretely associated with the apple are Apollo and Pomona.

There is much folklore associated with the apple as well. If, on Christmas day, a farmer could see the sun (Apollo) shining through the branches of an apple tree, then he would have a healthy crop next summer. To ensure the success of this, he would put a piece of cider soaked toast in the fork of two branches in the tree. The toast would attract Robins, which were considered the good spirits of the tree. The robins would then mystically protect the tree. In reality, the robins would likely nest in the nice cider tree and as such remove twigs for their nest. Removing the twigs would allow for the sun to shine through. People would gather to scare evil spirits from their apple trees and pour cider on their roots. These activities would be accompanied by song and dance and are know as 'Wassailing' . Apple wood is one of the several woods traditionally used for divining rods.

The Apple is such an interesting tree, with its long history entwined with mankind. It seems that if your interest in the apple is mythical, magical, or practical it will continue to fascinate you through the ages.

~Written by RavenDreamer

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