The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
"I am the ancient Apple Queen,
As once I was so am I now.
For evermore a hope unseen,
Betwixt the blossom and the bough.
Ah, where's the river's hidden Gold!
And where the windy grave of Troy?
Yet come I as I came of old,
From out the heart of summer's joy."
William Morris - Pomona
The Silver Bough, token of the Queen of the Fae herself, the apple tree – Malus domesticus – and the Crab Apple - Malus sylvestris - are steeped in legend, myth and magic.
Native crab apples were found in the remains of a bronze-age burial – and cultivated varieties were brought with the Roman ships – the types growing and pollinating together, gradually becoming the apples familiar to the kitchens and apothecaries of medieval BritainThere’s a really comprehensive ‘History of Apples’ from pre-historic to the new millennium online here.
The many varieties of apple tree seen commonly in our orchards (especially here in Kent) have been cultivated over centuries from native Crab Apples and ancient Wild Apple (Malus Sylvestris), which has a larger fruit. These grew in hedgerows and on the open edge of woodland.
Sadly, most of the old apple orchards, with their stands of naturally growing 30ft trees, amongst grass often grazed by a flock of sheep, are gone. We no longer see the old apple ladder propped against the branches at harvest time.
They’ve been replaced in the last couple of decades by commercial dwarf-grafted apple stock which is severely pruned and kept in check, no higher than a man, so that each apple may be picked standing.
To do well, apple trees need plenty of light and sunshine and at least five frost-free months – but they don’t flourish in warmer climates since they need a month or two of very cold nights while they lie dormant over winter. They want pruning regularly to keep the centre open and airy, and some natural insecticide early spring as they're very susceptible to pests.
In spring, oval, slightly toothed, deciduous leaves break from the buds, followed in May by wide, scented blossom. The delicate petals are strikingly pretty with their colouring of white, blushed and tinged with pink.
Through the summer months, after mature trees (from about four years) have been pollinated by bees and other insects, the fruit begins to swell. Shiny, red and green apples, now crisp and juicy, are ready for harvesting from September to October.
It's the fruit of the apple which is mostly prized, for eating raw and cooking. Crushed and pressed, they yield quantities of fresh juice, bottled and sold as a refreshing soft-drink. The smaller and more bitter varieties make the ever popular cider to put in your half-pint tankard. The oil from apple-blossom is extracted for use in perfumes and cosmetics, and wonderfully scented apple logs are always in demand for open household fires.
from Robert Graves' version of 'Cad Goddeu' -'The Battle of the Trees' See my Ogham Intro page.
Apple Healing and Medicine
Apple – a healing gift of the Gods, an age-old symbol of eternal youth, long life and renewal. Used and respected by wise, traditional healers from Scandinavia to North America.
As so often happens with the cures used by the old ones, modern research has proved the medicinal worth of the apple. In 2000, work done at the University of California showed that apples contain a powerful anti-oxidant.
Oxidation causes aging in body tissues. It’s now believed that the use of anti-oxidant flavenols can slow this inevitable process.
So, the Greek legend of Iduna and her apples (see below) had a definite ring of truth, not to mention that Edwardian saying about eating an apple a day!
I enjoyed reading what John Gerard’s 1597 herbal has to say about apples - though it’s interesting that he recommends they should be not be eaten fresh and raw! Mind you – they make a gorgeous and healthy pudding baked in the oven , perhaps sweetened with honey and dried fruits and cinnamon, just as they’ve been for centuries past.
'The Apple Gatherer'
from the illustrated London news, 1881
“ Roasted apples are always better than the raw, the harm whereof is both mended by the fire, and may also be corrected by adding unto them seeds or spices.
Apples be good for an hot stomach: those that are austere or somewhat harsh do strengthen a weak and feeble stomach proceeding of heat.
Apples are also good for all inflammations or hot swellings but especially such as are in beginning if the same be outwardly applied.
The juice of apples which be sweet and of a middle taste, is mixed in composition of diverse medicines, and also for the tempering of melancholy humours, and likewise to mend the qualities of medicines that are dry (as are …etc).
There is likewise an ointment made of Apples and Swines Grease and Rose Water, which is used to beautify the face and take away the roughness of the skin, which is called in shops Pomatum, of the apples whereof it is made.
Apples cut in pieces and distilled with a quantity of Camphere and butter-milk, taketh away the marks and scars gotten by the small pockes.”
The village wise-woman was curing warts right up until the 20th century by rubbing the cut side of half an apple (centre star showing) over the skin, then burying it - warts fading as the apple rotted down.
Native American Indian healers made wide use of crab apple bark poultices and tea infusions, both as washes and drinks. They were used for eye rinses, sore gums, and skin wounds. for laxatives and diuretics, even for gallstones. Leaves were boiled and chewed as a digestive tonic.
Nowadays, fresh apples, pressed juices and apple preparations are considered beneficial as anti-oxidants, to detoxify and cleanse the system, aid digestion and help lower cholesterol. Eating one a day can help raise resistance to germs and viruses as well as clean teeth and massage gums. They are full of fibre and can prevent constipation.
Many claims for health benefits are made for Apple Cider Vinegar. This is a special vinegar fermented from cider, used by the early Egyptians and recorded as being given by Hippocrates to treat his patients in 400BC.
. One tablespoon in a cup of hot water, sweetened with honey daily, or if suffering from a digestive complaint, with meals. It is delicious. The detoxifying effect of the concentrated, fermented apples it thought to relieve the symptoms of rheumatism and could aid weight-loss through raising the metabolism.
The vinegar can be bought easily at most supermarkets and health shops, or click on picture for online, organic source.
Apple Myth, Spirituality and Folklore Tradition
Element: Water Ruling Planet: Venus Gender: Feminine
"The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun."
Such famous words from 'The Wandering Aengus' by W.B.Yeats - encompassing and echoing the 'Silver Bough' from Celtic mythologies, and the 'Golden Apples' of Greek and Norse legend.
The Gods of Ancient Greece had plenty of business with apples, in their myths ‘The Golden Apples of the Sun’ occur frequently.
'The Garden of Hesperides'
Frederick Lord Leighton 1891
Lady Lever Gallery, Liverpool
‘The Apples of the Hesperides’ is one of the best known and shows the importance of the fruit amongst the Gods.
It concerns the hero and anti-hero Hercules. Procuring three of the fruits for his cousin the King Eurystheus is one of his twelve labours of service to the King - undertaken as a penance for slewing his own chidren.
The apples were originally a present from Hercules' grandmother, earth-goddess Gaia to his mother Hera, to mark her wedding to Zeus.
'The Hesperides' from Milton's 'Comus'
illustrated by Arthur Rackham
Hera planted the apples in her hidden garden of bliss. She set the three Hesperides, apple nymphs – or nymphs of evening - to guard them and the trees that later grew there – along with Ladon, an immortal serpent-like dragon, who in some versions of the myth has a hundred heads.
After many adventures and trials, Hercules gained three apples and returned to the court of the King. Eurystheus hadn’t expected Hercules to succeed and knew that the law of the Gods insisted that the apples must remain in the garden of Hera. He consulted with Athena, and she managed to replace the apples without making the other Gods angry.
The most famous of the Norse legends concerning apples is again from an epic saga - the Poetic Edda. This time concerning the mischievous Loki and the Goddess Iduna, keeper of the Apples of Youth. In reality it's a long tale, but in brief ....
'Idun gives Apples to the Gods'
J. Doyle Penrose 1890
" In Asgard, dwelling of the Gods, there was an orchard garden with apple trees, tended by Iduna the Fair.
She never left the garden but the Gods came to her, each to receive an apple which alone could keep them young and strong and beautiful. The magic worked only if Iduna herself gave them a fruit from her basket.
When the great God Odin was busy with affairs in Midgard, land of mortals, he came near to Jötunheim, land of giants. Loki was with him and he was having trouble cooking meat for their meal - even with the hottest fire Odin found the meat raw. A huge eagle circled above and called to Loki that he would roast the meat in return for a share - but he was the powerful giant Thiassi in disguise and carried Loki off to an icebound wastleand where he kept him prisoner.
'Brita as Iduna'
Carl Larsson 1901
I love this painting - one of Larsson's eight children, dressed up for a celebration.
Thiassi agreed to release Loki in return for three apples from the garden of Iduna. Loki's plan was to trick Iduna to go outside the walls of her Asgard and the giant let him go. Believing what Loki told her of superior apples that he knew, poor Iduna ventured out to see, with her basket over her arm.
The giant Thiassi, transformed as the eagle, carried her off to Jötunheim. He took an apple from her basket - but it turned to ashes. For weeks he tried to make her give him an apple from her own hand, but she steadfastly refused.
Meanwhile, the Gods were gradually withering in stength and beauty without their apples. Odin called his two ravens, who saw and knew all things, and they explained what Loki and the Giant had done. The Gods at Council were furious, took hold of Loki and sent him back to reverse his mischief.
Loki managed this by disguising himself as a falcon and Iduna as a sparrow. He lured the giant into a firey wall set around Asgard where he was burnt to death. The Gods were once more revived by their daily apple, given from the fair hand of Iduna." vcs
This story is mirrored in Celtic legend ...
King Lugh demands a ransom of several things as atonement for the killing of his father, to collect each object will entail much danger and adventure.. Among them three apples .. ..
"This is the way of it then," said Lugh. "The three apples I asked of you are the three apples from the Garden in the East of the World, and no other apples will do but these, for they are the most beautiful and have most virtue in them of the apples of the whole world.
And it is what they are like, they are of the colour of burned gold, and they are the size of the head of a child a month old, and there is the taste of honey on them, and they do not leave the pain of wounds or the vexation of sickness on any one that eats them, and they do not lessen by being eaten for ever."
From ‘Gods and Fighting Men - The Story of the Tuatha De Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland’ translated by Lady Augusta Gregory 1859-1932.
In Celtic and British myth, from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Britainy and England, many heroes, kings and knights of old were lured away from their earthly realms by fairy-women or sometimes by the Gods of the Race of Fae. These immortals carry a key to the Otherworlds – a silver apple branch, with magical powers - usually with little silver bells and perhaps a golden apple or two.
One such Irish tale, which appears in ‘The Book of Ballymote’ concerns Cormac, The High King, who was lured away to the promised land – the kingdom under the sea. He was taken by none other than the God of the Tuatha De Danann (the faery peoples) Mannanan Mac Lir - also said to have been a Druid.
Cormac was given a branch with golden apples by Mannanan, disguised as an aged warrior, in promised exchange for anything the God desired. ....” A branch of silver with three golden apples on his shoulder. Delight and amusement to the full was it to listen to the music of that branch, for men sore wounded, or women in child-bed, or folk in sickness, would fall asleep at the melody when that branch was shaken.” From ‘The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries’ W.Y.Evans_Wentz
An old print of the ruins of Cashel Rock, Ireland
showing King Cormac's Chapel - built in the 1127 -
still wonderful to visit today.
Over time he took first Cormac’s daughter, then his son and wife. Each time, Cormac was able to still the grief and anger amongst his people by waving the silver branch. Eventually, Cormac himself obtained a time in ‘The Land of Promise’. There he was given both wisdom, by drinking at the five streams and the well with the hazel trees, and the Golden Cup of truth and justice. Cormac was returned to rule Ireland with his family.
In 'The Voyage of Bran',
Bran was lured away over the sea after years of an odyssey by a fairy-woman with a silver branch of apple blossom. He too meets Manannan, goes to lands over the water, and returns to Ireland, perhaps as a spirit after centuries have passed.
Mentioning two more, Ossian was lured away by a fairy with a golden apple, and in Breton tradition, the beautiful knight Lanval rode into fairy-land behind her, mounted on a white horse.
The English tales take us with King Arthur, going at his death into Avalon (Affel – the welsh word for apple).
American and British tradition has the apple playing a large role in Samhain (Hallowe'en) celebrations. They are used as decorations as well as entertainment - ducking for apples and biting the apple from a string: as food - roasted apples, baked apples with custard, toffee apples and as drink - apple juice and hot spiced cider.
The Wassail Ceremony
at Rye Foreign in Sussex - January 2011
Wassailing the apple trees on twelth night (near January 6th) was once a very necessary custom in many parts of England, to ensure the health and abundance of the crops, particularly in the cider-making counties
. A huge fire is made, a 'wassail cup' of hot, spiced cider is passed from hand to hand. Some is poured into the roots of the trees, and some is soaked into toast and placed in the branches. Pans and metal rods are banged and often fireworks let off so that the devil and any evil spirits abroard will be frightened away and the trees will not be harmed.
Happliy this custom hasn't died out and is also undergoing revivals in many places. See more about the Wassail Custom on my diary page entry for Jan 17th 2011 - here.
Apple Magic, Charms and Beliefs
Apple blossom is a symbol of love and suitable for a love charm. Be careful what you ask for though – as you know, never ask for the love of a particular person – that person might be so wrong for you – rather simply ask for love.
1924 postcard pub. Faulkner
* A love charm to make: Put a small piece of rose quartz, seven apple pips and a carefully written note with your intention addressed to the apple Goddess of Love, Pomona, or the Celtic God Aengus (or indeed the Lord or Lady of the Greenwwod) in a bag. Tie it with a pink ribbon by moonlight to the blossoming branch of an apple tree.
* For a passing in the Spring, place a sprig of apple blossom in the coffin and this will ensure the restoration of youth and joy to the soul now free from its body. (An ancient Welch custom)
* At Samhain (All Hallows Eve – October 31st) you may contact the spirit of a loved one who has passed over during the year, by sticking twelve new and shiny pins into an unblemished apple just as the clock finished striking midnight. Throw the apple into the Samhain fire and call the person’s name.
* Pixie-hoarding ………. when harvesting apples, always leave a few on the ground for use by the faery folk. Remember, and apple grove or orchard may be used by them as a place for a Faerie Meet .
* To discover the name of your future lover, peel an apple with the skin in one piece. Hold it in your right hand as you say:
St. Simon and St. Jude, on you I intrude,
By this paring I hold to discover,
Without any delay, to tell me this day,
The first letter of my own true lover.
Turn around three times and toss the apple peeling over your left shoulder. It should fall in the form of an initial, but if it breaks, you will stay unmarried.
Medici Society Postcard
by Molly Brett
* In apple blossom time, catch a falling petal to bring you good luck. If you can catch twelve (or thirteen) you will have an entire year of fine chances in the beneficial things that you wish for.
* Apple Wand - pick by moonlight, having first asked permission of the tree - preferably the first crescent of the New Moon in any month from May to October. The length of the wand is best if it reaches from the tip of your middle finger to the crook of the elbow.
You may choose to leave the wand natural, or peel it and annoint it with oil. If you want to augment it with crystal, use rose quartz. Save the wand for workings to do with love or healing.