In some cultures, trees were considered Earth phalluses, while fruit trees were associated with the goddess, the feminine principle. But according to Robert Graves, apples are “chieftain trees.”
Our apple crop is excellent this year. Too excellent, considering that I have no patience for labor-intensive canning, drying, preserving. Happily the birds and my neighbors enjoy the fruit, too, so it won’t go to waste. Friends come and pick as much as they want and in return give us a jar or two of whatever wonderful concoction they’ve made. It works a bit like Tom Sawyer’s whitewashing party.
In my Ohio father’s hometown, there was a man who pressed cider, rendering the fruit into a tawny juice and pouring it into gray glazed jugs. Some we drank right away, slightly warm, and some was put into small wooden barrels to harden in my grandmother’s storm cellar. I still have one of those jugs.
Apples aren’t grown or enjoyed as readily outside North America and Europe, where they are loved and revered like no other fruit. Whenever my mother found apples at the embassy commissary, it was a grand day for her and my father, who loved apple pie and apple fritters above all fruit. Not having grown up here, my brother and I were fairly indifferent, indeed befuddled by all fuss over an apple.
Much of the myriad folklore about apples is concerned with romance, prettifications of the apple’s original bawdy reputation as a symbol of fertility and aphrodisiac. An apple hidden under a girl’s pillow will cause her to dream of her sweetheart. The peel of an apple, cut into one long strip then thrown over the shoulder, will form the initial of a maiden’s future husband. Flicking the pip in the air and watching where it lands, indicates the direction of the future lover’s home. That apples are related to rose is an added romantic bonus.
Pippin, pippin, paradise
Tell me where my true love lies.
North, south, east, west,
Tell me where my love does rest.
It wasn’t all good news for the apple. In Hessen, Germany, to eat an apple on New Year’s Day meant you would be plagued with sores and itches, maybe a reference to Eve’s illicit apple consumption in the Garden of Eden. (Some cultures hold that it wasn’t an apple Eve ate, but a fig. Nowhere in the Bible does it specify.)
In Celtic mythology, the Apple Woman was another version of the destroyer goddess. She meted out life and death like the great Indian goddess, Kali Ma. The Apple Woman was a goddess of the land, and where she walked, flames ignited her footsteps. Apples, like rowan berries were seen as flames, the tree’s vitality that invigorated the partaker … “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away.”
The Welsh goddess Olwen was also associated with the apple and her tracks are the white flower of the trefoil, the clover, which blossomed wherever she stepped.