There are many plants that are associated with the art of witchcraft. Sadly, most associations are of the plants with more nefarious qualities, such as wormwood, blackthorn, deadly nightshade, and of course, the lethal hemlock.
However, if any one plant has become synonymous with both witchcraft and the occult, it would have to be the apple. From biblical folklore portraying the apple as the forbidden fruit that the serpent tempted Eve with, to the poisonous fruit that the evil queen (disguised as a hag or pedlar woman) gave to poison Snow White in the infamous Grimm’s fairy tale.
The apple has also become a symbol of hidden and occult knowledge. After all, if you cut an apple width ways, it reveals the hidden pentagram within, and if we look back to biblical folklore, we know that it is only when Adam and Eve eat from the fruit that knowledge of all good and evil are revealed to them. Hence why they both realise their nakedness.
But did you know that the bible never actually names this forbidden fruit as an apple? We don’t actually know what this fruit was.
It is entirely possible that the apple became associated with the forbidden fruit of the Garden Of Eden purely because European pagan beliefs held the apple in great reverence, after all England’s very own Avalon (Ynys Affalon/Ynys Avalow) means ‘The Isle of apples’.
As well as this, apple has long been held to be both a tree of fertility rites and one of death omens (should the blossom bloom out of season or be brought in to the house).
England and the Celtic Isles also boast of Wassailing traditions and apple features as ‘quert’ within the Druidic Ogham system.
This week we will be looking at the apple as it appears within the ogham, the plant, folklore, beliefs and customs surrounding the apple, as well as some examples of how the apple, along with it’s blossom, seeds and branches can be used within magick!
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The Apple And The Ogham.
The Ogham is known as a both a Druidic tree alphabet system and of course, as a divination tool. There has also been some suggestion that the Ogham may have been a secret system of sign language, though I admit that as someone who uses both British Sign Language and Makaton, I’m not entirely sure how this Ogham sign language system would work, nor am I convinced that it was an old Celtic form of sign. When it comes to the Ogham’s divinatory system, it works by having each of the twenty ogham carved upon a stave ( a stave that is usually marked upon it’s corresponding wood. So apple/quert carved upon apple, blackthorn/straiph upon blackthorn, and so on). Each Ogham stave has a different meaning and can be interpreted singularly or when combined with other staves. Similar to how one would use the Runic system.
Here, I must make clear, that we are talking about the Tree Ogham only. The Ogham is a system of mnemonic marks as well as a writing system and it was said that there were many Oghams that encoded ancient knowledge with the Tree Ogham being the one most widely known today.
Quert within the Ogham appears as the tenth stave, with five strikes pointing to the left of the central line.
Quert represents abundance, celebration, joy, an open heart, love and fertility. When Quert appears in a reading it is usually a sign that the querant is surrounded by everything they need in life and are open to receiving that and more! Depending upon the reading, and any other staves that appear around the Quert, it may also be asking us to surrender things that are holding us back physically and emotionally, so that we can receive more freely and move on to bigger and better things.
Likewise, the apple may also be heralding a journey to be taken and knowledge to be gained, especially the hidden knowledge of both spirit and the occult. Quert’s energy can be harnessed by those seeking to shamanically travel to the Other World or Annwn. In fact, when I first started learning to journey when I was in my 20’s, I often found myself stood in the apple orchards at the bottom of Glastonbury Tor.
For those who have a strong resonance and alliance with the apple, it is not uncommon to either buy or make a wand from apple wood and then carve the Quert symbol upon the wands handle. Apple wands however are often heavily associated with fertility work, due to the trees abundant and fertility qualities, so it is not uncommon to find both wands and staffs with a phallic tone to the tip or head of the tool.
The Apple, Love And Fertility.
There is a strong association between the apple and fertility and there could be several reasons for this. Firstly, there is the biblical aspect, that it was only after Eve ate the forbidden fruit was she cursed to experience pain in childbirth and that she and Adam had a son, Cain. Secondly, the apple within much of European folklore is a symbol of fertility because it is a hugely abundant tree! This would have been even more noticeable due to the lack of other fruit (of any size) bearing trees in European climes, and especially in colder regions where trees like pears will often do less well.
It blooms around Beltane and scents the air with an intoxicatingly beautiful fragrance. It is said that many women who married around Beltane would wear apple blossom in their hair to promote true love and a ‘fruitful’ union.
In the late summer and early autumn, apple provides a long lasting fruit crop that, if stored or preserved properly, can feed people throughout the entire winter! As well as feeding, it can also make the delicious drink of cider. One that many would sup around the midwinter fire while stories were told, songs were sung and the celebrations of the winter solstice took place!
It is from this midwinter ready drink that we get our tradition of wassailing!
However, it was not just the Celts who saw the apple as a sacred tree associated with fertility. To the ancient Greeks, the apple was also a symbol of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, as well as this it is said that the earth goddess Gaia gifted Hera, wife of Zeus, the golden apples of Hesperides as a wedding gift.
In some old Irish customs, garlands of dried sliced apples would be made to decorate the wedding receptions in order to bring about long lasting love, the preservation of marriage (Presumably a form of sympathetic magick as the apple was preserved by drying) and demonstrate celebration. As well as this, it was believed if the Bride kept some or all of the apple garland and hung it above her bed, she would conceive a healthy baby.
In some local Lancashire folklore, it is said that:
“In order to ascertain the abode of a lover, the anxious enquirer moves round in a circle, squeezing an apple pippin between her finger and thumb, which, on pressure being employed, flies from the rind in the supposed direction of the lovers residence. The following doggerel is repeated during the operation:
Pippin, pippin, paradise.
tell me where my true love lies;
East, west, north or south,
pilling brig or cocker-mouth.
That the reply may be corroborated, the inquirer afterwards shakes another pippin between the crossed hands, and, on ascertaining the direction of the point of the pippin to the point of the compass, the assurance is supposed to be rendered doubly sure, if the charm works as desired, but not otherwise.”
A Dictionary Of Plant Lore, By Roy Vickery.
As well as the above divination game, the apple has a rich history of being employed by love sick girls to find the identity of their true love for hundreds of years.
In Dorset, it is believed that young girls would test their lovers fidelity by throwing apple pips into the open fire. If the apple seed popped in the heat of the flames, it was assured that the young mans love was true. However, if the seed was consumed by the flames and did not erupt, it was a sure sign of infidelity.
A Halloween custom from various regions, both here in the UK and Ireland and also in the US, tells that to peel an apple above a barrel or bowl of water will show you the first initial if your true love. That as the peel hits the water, the shape it forms will indicate a true initial.
Another Lancashire custom (From the 1980’s) tells of the belief of twisting off apple stalks to reveal a true loves first initial. One would twist the stalk of the apple and for every twist, a letter from the alphabet would be recited. whatever letter the stalk broke off at was to be the first letter of your spouse’s name.
An apple that blooms out of season is said to be harbinger of death within the family. This possibly stems from the fact that flowers destroyed by frost will not fruit and if a tree flowers in winter there will be no further flush of flowers again in spring and ergo a lack of harvest to be had.
The custom of Wassailing appears all over the British Isles, and despite suffering a decline in the 20th Century, it is now making a thriving comeback! In part due to the revival and adoration of British Folk music. A genre of music that played a huge part in the wassailing tradition as one custom saw local villagers go door to door wassailing and singing wassail songs!
The term wassail is thought to originate from the old Norse salutation ves heill or waes hael meaning ‘be of good health! Presumably brought over during the various Viking and Saxons raids and subsequent colonisation of what is now Britain. The term was regularly used as a drinking toast and to wish others well and for whoever toasted a wassail, it was tradition to reply with drinc hael. This toast and pledge developed over the centuries to form various Wassail traditions, usually happening around the midwinter period, and then later, more specifically, during the twelve days of Christmas. However, despite having strong midwinter links, wassailing would happen any time between All Hallow’s eve/Allentide (October 31st) right the way to around february first, when groups of wassailers would go and ‘wake-up’ the orchards to secure a bountiful crop for the year ahead. Allantide giving the name to Allan Apples in the Cornish tradition where by large red apples were polished and gifted to grant good luck; these were known as Allan apples.
There are three main types of wassailing, and all involve either the drinking of cider or the ceremonial waking up of the local apple orchards.
One of the first forms of wassailing appears in the upper classes of medieval societies, where they would gather in the great halls of their homes and celebrate midwinter by drinking mulled apple drinks from wassail bowls and then toast a good health to all there.
The second version comes from the more working class folk ways of going door to door wassailing. Wassail carols would be sung and the inhabitants would offer the wassailers food, drink, or money, and the wassailers would share their cider or mulled apple from their large and portable wassail bowl! This is one of the possible roots of our modern trick or treating customs that fall on Halloween, or the aforementioned Allentide in Cornwall.
It is entirely possible that these traditions happened around both the apple and midwinter because apple is a long lasting fruit (when stored properly), is versatile in it’s uses, and many residents depended on apple crops for not only their financial security, but as a staple food source. Not only was the apple a staple food source for many people, and a source of income to most pub and inn owners, it’s fruit also signalled the end of the agricultural year. A time of harvest and the coming of winter. This is likely why the apple has such a strong association with Halloween, Allentide, ghosts and divination. In Cornish customs, it was believed to be very bad luck for a child to not be gifted an apple, or have one left beneath their pillow on Allan’s eve. This presumably stems from the belief of if you had no apples to spare to share on Allentide, you likely didn’t have enough food stores to last the winter, and for rural communities, this was the difference between life and death.
The final Wassailing tradition sees groups of people going to local orchards to ceremonially awaken the orchard. This would include the circling of apple trees, pouring libations of cider from the previous years harvest upon both the tree and the ground, and gently tapping the trees with fertility wands, or wassail sticks, in order to ensure the tree was awake and ready to be fertile and abundant. All of which are powerful forms of folk ways and sympathetic magick.
Attached here is a Pathe video showing a group of men participating in an orchard wassail ceremony in 1927.
I attended a wassailing ceremony in Ipswich, Suffolk (February 2017) with my then young daughter. It was a fantastic day! The children were given crafts to create highly decorative wassail sticks (complete with ribbons!) and were then encouraged to first circle the entire orchard, before circle individual trees so that they could tap their wassail sticks upon the tree and gleefully shout “Wake up Mr and Mrs Apple tree!”. The adults, the poured libations of cider upon the orchard, toasted as “Wassail!” and “Drinc Hael” before singing traditional Wassail carols.
It was a wonderful day and comforting to know that these old traditions and folks ways are not dying out.
Apple Witchcraft And Charms.
Apples have a wide variety of uses and application within traditional witchcraft, folk magick, or folk ways. They range from love spells and healing, all the way to curses.
Listed below are three apple workings, however please feel free to check out one of my previous blogs titled “By Apple, Clove, Horse Shoe & Hoop” A Folk Witches Healing Working which details another apple working.
A truth spell.
If a person has lied and you need to expose the truth, take an apple and cut it width ways to reveal it’s hidden star – thus revealing the hidden truth of the apple.
As you cut the apple, say aloud;
“The truth shall be released.
(names) untruths shall be revealed and the innocent will be set free.
As this apple withers and rots, so too shall (name) lies and influence.
(name) flee from us, go run and hide!
Your lies I cannot abide”.
Next, take the apple to some place in nature where it can be allowed to rot and wither away, but before you leave the working, surround it in a circle of rosemary for protection. So that the liar will not be able to find out who cast against them, nor expand their lies to include you.
An apple garland for health, wealth and luck.
For this working, you shall need to source windfall apples, ideally from sacred space. On one occasion, I was lucky enough to be given permission to pick up some of the windfalls from Glastonbury Abbey. It is also advantageous to have access to a dehydrator, in order to dry the apples. However, If you do not have one of these, can can either air dry or smoke your apples.
- Once you have collected the needed apples, carefully cut the apples width ways to not only reveal the star in some of the slices, but to also make it easier to thread once dried.
- Once the apples are sliced, carefully remove the seeds and place them to one side.
- Using either a dehydrator, or some other method of choice, dry the apples thoroughly. If you do not, the apple will rot and this will likely have a negative impact upon the working.
- While the apple is drying, prepare yourself a long cord of red wool. This wool can be braided by hand by plaiting or you may like to use a tool such as a braiding star. The cord will need to be long enough to hang above your front door, and also some extra length to account for knots you make between each slice of apple.
- Once the apple is dried, begin to thread them in such a way that they are equally spaced along the red cord. knotting the cord on either side of each slice of apple.
- As you create each knot, say aloud “One knot for wealth, then an apple for health, and another knot for luck, and keep puck from our door”.
- Once the apple cord is made, you can hang it above your front door as a charm to ward off illness, and invoke luck, health, wealth and protection.
The charm can remain above the door for all of the autumn and winter, but must come down before Beltane, when the apple begins to blossom.
An Apple curse.
One working I was told about (well, overheard while I was attending a moot) when I lived in London was that if one wanted to curse another, they must place pins in the grave of someone who had been dead for less than a year. Once the pins had been left overnight, the pins were to be collected again and then pieced through an apple multiple times. When the apple held as many pins as possible, the apple was to be buried beneath a yew tree with a piece of paper that held the intended persons name. Quite a nasty working, and not one I myself have used.
I hope you enjoyed this weeks blog and that it has inspired you to look into the magick and folklore of apple in much more depth. We will return to the apple later this year when I write a full detailed blog about the custom of wassailing and how you could even start your own wassail traditions. In the meantime…
From the time, mists and distance between us, blessings from me to you.