Apple trees – their wood and fruit – have had meanings in the folklore and mythology of many cultures for centuries.
In Norse tradition, the apple is the tree of immortality. The Goddess Idunn was the keeper of the apples, which she fed the Norse Gods and Goddesses to keep them forever young. Apple wands were also used in Norse love rituals as apples represented long life, wisdom, and love.
JK Rowling seems to have borrowed from Norse folklore in her Harry Potter series. The applewood wand holder is described as being “well-loved and long-lived.” Since apple tree branches are knobbly and twisted, a wand made from an apple branch is not likely to be perfectly straight, but rather would have twists.
The apple (or similar fruit) plays a big role in the Bible story of Adam and Eve and represents knowledge. Fairy tales, such as Snow White, use apples symbolically. Sir Isaac Newton was said to have had gravity revealed to him by an apple that fell on him.
The symbolism of the apple varies but in many cultures, it has symbolized knowledge, prosperity, love, jealously, and temptation.
In mythology, Kore/Persephone’s sacred fruit is the apple. When an apple is cut through its equator, both halves will reveal a near-perfect pentagram shape at the core, with each point on the star containing a seed.
Pagans and Roma cut apples to show the pentagram and sometimes refer to the core as the Star of Knowledge. The pentagram is one of the most widely used religious symbols in the world and has been used by Wiccans, Pagans, Israelites, and Christians.
A pentagram is a five-pointed star with one point aligned upwards (when surrounded by a circle, it’s known as a ‘pentacle’) and its name derives from the Greek words penta (five) and gamma (letter).
Pentagrams were used symbolically and had magical associations in ancient Greece and Babylonia. Today they are used as a symbol of faith by many Wiccans, much in the way that the cross is used by Christians. Christians once commonly used the pentagram to represent the five wounds of Jesus. The pentagram has been used in Judaism since at least 300BCE when it first was used as the stamp of Jerusalem and to represent justice, mercy, and wisdom.
The pentagram is featured on the national flags of Morocco and Ethiopia.
The pentagram was originally a symbol of the goddess, Kore, who was worshipped thousands of years ago from the British isles to Egypt by different names (Cara, Ceres, Carnak, Core, Car, Karnak, Persephone).
Five is an often significant or magical number. In Ireland, there are five great roads, five provinces, five paths of the law and the fairy folk count in fives and wear fivefold cloaks.
Wiccans use the pentagram for healing circles and wear the symbol. They interpret the five points as the five elements- earth, air, water, fire, and spirit. Some see the five as the four directions plus the direction of the spirit.
Apples are also used for divination, especially in matters of love. Some use a count of the apple pips (seeds) which vary from five to less than ten. To divine who a girl might mary, pips are each given a potential man’s name and then burned watching to see the first to explode in the fire. You could also throw an apple peeling over the left shoulder to see what initial of an individual it forms when it lands. Putting an apple under your pillow supposedly allows you to dream of your sweetheart.
Shamans and magicians have used apples when undergoing transformations or Otherworld journeys. When I studied the Arthurian legends I learned that one of these Otherworlds is Avalon. It is the Apple Vale, a mythical paradise where hills were clothed with trees bearing flowers and fruit together. Merlin told Arthur about it and an orchard that was brought there by the Enchanter.
The Ogham system connects the apple to the unfearing spiritual warrior. The warrior journeys to the Otherworld which can cause madness and returns. In Celtic society, madness was believed to be a gift and a rare ability and it could link them to the Otherworld knowledge and insights.
Earlier, I wrote about Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire in which he used John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) to illustrate how the apple’s sweetness and its use in making an alcoholic cider made it appealing to settlers moving west. That brought the apple tree West. (Pollan also points out that our manipulation of apples has made the modern varieties require more pesticide than any other food crop.) I also wrote about a local apple-based alcoholic brew – Laird’s 100 proof apple brandy and Applejack which is 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirits. That’s not necessarily spiritual, but it is spirits.
The Noble Apple
The Botany of Desire
Applejack and Jersey Lightning