life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Apple Folklore and Magical Properties

So, apples.

They’re versatile, inexpensive, and delicious. You can use them to carve stamps, prepare stuffing, or make a pie. Got an apple core? Feed it to worms or toss it in compost. They’re a delightful package of deliciousness, nutrition, and fiber.

They’re also pretty prominent in the religions of the areas from which they come. Eris tossed a golden apple and started the Trojan war. I├░unn’s golden apples give the gods youth, immortality, and vigor. Manann├ín┬ámac┬áLir tempted Cormac mac Airt with a branch covered in nine apples of red gold. Emain, the otherworldly Plain of White Silver, had silver boughs with white apple blossoms.

We don’t have magic apples here, though I feel like Chehalis apples come close. I was drawn to their colors, ranging from emerald green, to golden yellow, to a pale, almost ethereal shade somewhere between the two. (I’ll just be happy if I get to eat one of these apples without the birds and wasps getting to them first!)

An apple ripening on a tree.
One of the little Chehalis apples on the tree in the back yard.

But apples are more than just magical symbols of the Otherworld, anyway. They’re also an indispensable ingredient in kitchen witchery, and even herbal healing.

Apple Folklore

Teasing out the folkloric significance of apples is more challenging than it might seem. Up until the 1800s, the word “apple” was used not just for apples, but also for as a generic term for fruits other than berries. This is why we have “oak apples” (a plant deformity caused by gall wasps), “earth apples” (cucumbers or potatoes, depending on who you ask), “love apples” (tomatoes), or “May apples” (a low-growing relative of barberry).

Ethnobotanists have made some compelling arguments for apples being used as a symbolic substitution for fly agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria), an entheogenic fungus. This is an interesting bit of information to keep in mind as you read through the rest of the folkloric and symbolic significance of apples.

The fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Christian mythology is often said to be an apple. This is particularly interesting when you consider the effect of that apple and Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory of humanity’s development. This widely-criticized theory holds that entheogens (specifically Psilocybe cubensis) are responsible for much of the progress of humankind. If Adam and Eve’s apple could be viewed as an entheogenic fungi, then the Christian story of the fall of man would be an allegory for entheogens leading to the development of clothing, agriculture, and more.

The larynx, which is usually (though certainly not always) more prominent in male humans, is called an “Adam’s apple” because of a bit of folklore that claimed that the prominence was created by the fruit sticking in Adam’s throat.

In later Christian mythology, Jesus Christ is portrayed as holding an apple. Here, the apple transforms from a sign of the fall of humanity, into a sign of redemption. Considering that this redemption leads to eternal life, this apple is somewhat akin to the apples of I├░unn.

In the Norse Prose Edda, the goddess I├░unn is said to carry an ash wood box in which she keeps golden apples. When the Norse gods begin to grow old, they eat her apples and become young again. The gods, then, depend very heavily on I├░unn’s presence and good will in order to maintain their youth and strength.

Apples weren’t always associated with youth and life, however. In the Hei├░arv├şga saga, the poet speaks of the “apples of Hel.” These appear to be the antithesis of I├░unn’s apples — the food of the dead.

In Greek mythology, Eris felt insulted when she wasn’t invited to the wedding of┬áPeleus┬áand┬áThetis like the other gods were. As revenge, she tossed a golden apple inscribed with the words “to the fairest” in between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. They immediately began arguing over who deserved it, and asked Paris to mediate. Aphrodite promised him the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world if he chose her, so he did. Unfortunately for everyone, that woman was Helen of Troy, and Paris’ decision kicked off the Trojan War.

The island of Avalon, the mythical, mystical place of Arthurian legend, is the Island of Apples. The name “Avalon” is thought to stem from the Welsh word “afal.”

In Cornwall, Kalan Gwav (Allentide) is a time for giving shiny, bright red apples to friends and family as tokens of luck.

In the Irish Echtra The Voyage of Bran, Bran mac Febail sets out on his adventure when he receives a silver apple bough brought from Emain, the Plain of White Silver.

The Irish sea god Manann├ín┬ámac┬áLir’s golden apples emitted a kind of magic lullaby. This could soothe people afflicted with injuries or illnesses to a healing sleep. The name of his paradisical home, Emain Abhlach, comes from the Old Irish “Ablach” (“of the fruits” or “of the apples”).

Apples, fresh flowers, and sheet music on a wooden table. One of the apples has been cut in half to expose the seeds. An ornate knife sits nearby.

In the mythology of the people from the North Caucasus, there is a tree that groows magic apples capable of guaranteeing a child to whoever eats them.

During the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, people dip apples in honey and eat them to bring in a sweet year ahead.

Wiccan lore views apples as a sacred symbol. This is because, when cut in half horizontally, their seeds and core form a pentagram.

An old bit of boat builder’s lore holds that it’s bad luck to make a boat from apple wood, since apple wood was used to make coffins. Doing so was believed to doom the sailors to an early grave.

A common bit of marriage folklore says that, if an unmarried woman peels an apple in one long, continuous piece, then throws it over her shoulder, the peel will fall in the shape of the first letter of her future spouse’s name.

Wassailing is an old English folk practice performed to bless the trees and bring in a big crop in the next harvest season. (I went to a wassail ceremony earlier this year, and it was a ton of fun!)

The Magical Uses of Apples

Apples are a common autumn food and addition to altars for autumn and winter holidays. This is because they’re in season during autumn, and tend to keep very well if they’re stored properly. Apple sauce, apple cider, dried apples, and carefully-stored fresh apples were vital additions to the western European diet during the cold months.

An apple bough with buds, flowers, ripe fruit, and unripe fruit is said to mark a door to the Otherworld.

In general, apples are magically associated with love, fertility, protection, and prosperity. The flowers are excellent additions to charm bags, the fruit is great for kitchen witchery, and the leaves can bring fertility and prosperity to one’s home or garden.

Using Apples in Magic

Apples are possibly one of the easiest and most convenient magical ingredients. Since apples are pretty sturdy and edible when raw, they’re often used as a kind of edible “package” for magical intentions. Hold an apple in your hands, visualize it filling with your intention, whisper your intention to it, and eat.

If you have access to apple leaves (either pruned or fallen — please don’t pick fresh leaves from the tree), bury thirteen of them in your garden. This is said to increase its productivity for the next year. I’d argue that you could also add these leaves to compost, or bury pruned or fallen apple wood in your h├╝gelkultur mounds.

Apple blossoms are great ingredient for love magic. Their action is said to be gently seductive. They are also used for peace, contentment, and success. This suggests that they’d be a useful addition to any spell for attracting happiness into one’s life.

Apples are also said to be protective. Apple cider vinegar can be a useful (and pungent) addition to jars and bottle spells for protection against both one’s enemies and malevolent energy.

Another small Chehalis apple ripening on a tree.
Another little Chehalis apple.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for apples this year. The springtime apple blossoms were incredible, and I check on the ripening fruits with excitement every day. Here’s hoping you can find ways to incorporate these magical fruits into your meals, rituals, and daily practices.

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Time to prune the @#$% out of this apple tree.

I am not many things. An arborist is among them.

Unfortunately(?), with this house, I have become responsible for a smallish apple tree. I was excited to discover that it was a fruit tree when we first toured the place — there were a few sour greenish apples clinging to the scraggly branches. I didn’t know anything about apple trees, but this still seemed like a positive development.

I have since learned that apple trees are basically livestock.

I bought it a friend, a little Chehalis apple tree, so it could produce more fruit. I watered and fed it.

Like sheep, apple trees also need to be trimmed. Branches cross, or grow from weird, narrow angles, or jut straight up in the air. They weaken the tree, which sends its energy reserves to put leaves and buds on these branches that will inevitably snap in the wind and never bear fruit. They’re a source of illness, insects, and injury. In the event of some kind of apocalypse, it won’t take very long before it’s no longer fruitful — fruit trees as we know them have developed alongside humans, and we rely on each other for survival.

So that’s how I ended up on the internet looking up how to beneficially injure a small tree.

Narrow branch angles. Crossed branches. Watersprouts. I memorized what each one looked like, and how to best cut them. (At an angle, as close to the branch collars as possible.) Then, armed with a set of hedge clippers and a pair of saws, I trudged out to go sort shit out.

A dwarf apple tree that hasn't been pruned in years. It's winter, so the branches are bare.
Depicted: Fruit chaos.

I should note that I was not prepared for how much work it’d be. I figured it was cold out, so I dressed warmly — winter boots, my wedding sweatpants, a flannel, et cetera. Within minutes, I was stripping down.

The actual pruning process wasn’t too intimidating. The tree’s a dwarf, so it was easy enough to navigate the branches. I left some that I know I shouldn’t’ve, just because they were providing support for a wild grape vine that I’m hoping will return next year. Others, I either snipped with the clippers, or carefully sawed through while muttering apologies through clenched teeth.

If anything, the toughest part of the process was the anxiety. What if I cut something wrong, or that’d make it grow all weird? What if my tools weren’t clean enough, and I introduced some kind of disease into the soft, green wood? What if I was doing more harm than good?

When you’re climbing around under a tree and trying not to get cracked in the skull or speared through the eye with falling branches, it’s not the best time to start losing your nerve. I was projecting a lot of my own anxiety on the tree — I’ve been in a position where someone held me down and injured me, insisting it was for my own good, I know exactly how that feels — but maybe this wasn’t it. So, I did the tree-hugger thing.

I put my non-dominant hand on a robust branch and let myself fall into the xylem and phloem, breathing with the slow, wintry pace of the circulating sap. What I felt surprised me. There wasn’t really fear, though there was some pain. If I really had to describe it, it felt like what I imagine the cows in those hoof-trimming videos feel like. (If you haven’t fallen down that rabbit hole yet, you’re welcome.) Tension and relief. The acknowledgement that something is wrong, and fixing it won’t be fun, but the result will be worth it.

I’ll probably have to go back and do some more pruning, but I’ve got the bulk of it done. The problematic parts have been removed, so now everything else is just shaping and ensuring that the branches have enough space around them.

The end result remains to be seen. Hopefully, there’ll be plenty of apples next year!