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. Iðunn’s golden apples give the gods youth, immortality, and vigor. Manannán mac Lir 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!)
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.
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 Iðunn.
In the Norse Prose Edda, the goddess Iðunn 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 Iðunn’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 Heiðarvíga saga, the poet speaks of the “apples of Hel.” These appear to be the antithesis of Iðunn’s apples — the food of the dead.
In Greek mythology, Eris felt insulted when she wasn’t invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis 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 Manannán mac Lir’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”).
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 hügelkultur 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.
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.