(For those of you who only want to see my Pagan Blog Project posts, and don’t care about my other daily blatherings, I created a Pagan Blog Project category which you can access through the drop down menu over there in the sidebar. You’re welcome. Now on to the first post!)
At the edge of the property I used to live on, an old apple tree grew crookedly out of a hillside, tangled together with a hazel tree and a gnarled, stunted oak. We never picked its fruit or trimmed its branches; though someone had planted it there on purpose at some point, the tree was decidedly feral. Further into the center of the homestead, there were other apple trees that were slightly more domestic, who gladly shared their fruit with us–but even they had been mostly neglected, and were neither well groomed nor entirely civilized.
Perhaps it’s my relationship with these barely tame trees, but when I think of apples I don’t tend to think of love spells or Greek mythology or healing magic.
Apples get along well with humans and thrive best with a lot of intervention from knowledgeable caretakers–but bite into an apple and you can still sense a kind of wild sweetness that will never belong wholly to the domestic sphere. Conversely, encounter an apple tree in the wild when you are lost and hungry, and you will feel immediately more at home, comforted by the familiar. Apples easily cross the borders between the cultivated and the wild, and it’s this aspect of their personality that seems most magically significant to me.
Apples feature prominently in the festivities of Samhain, and are often interpreted as food for the dead. To me this seems like an oversimplification. Samhain is typically viewed as a time when the dead come back to visit, and we pagan types often attempt to enter the otherworld, or at least get a look inside. Apples are, to me, part of the magic that allows the dead to walk briefly in the world of the living, and allows us to cross to the other side and come back safely. They are an in-between food, a food for those who travel out of their element.
Consider also the tale of Snow White. The “poisoned apple” is often described as causing her death. She does seem dead after biting into the fruit–no pulse, no breath–but she doesn’t decay or age. Whatever the wicked stepmother’s intentions, in affect the poison apple is a powerful spell that suspends Snow White between life and death until the conditions are right for her to be reborn to the life she was meant to live. (I’ll save discussions of how Snow White’s destiny of marriage to a handsome prince fails the feminism test for another day.)
There is a strong physical element to this characteristic of apple’s personality. Apples are one of the fruits that reach their peak late in the harvest cycle, sometimes clinging to the trees into the winter months. Many varieties of apple last in cold storage for months. Our grocery-store-and-long-haul-trucking culture doesn’t fuss too much about foods with natural storage capabilities, but food that keeps well on its own is nothing short of miraculous in a world without refrigeration and preservatives. Apple trees helped our ancestors walk through the shadows of death–also known as winter–year after year. And they still help non-human animals survive the cold months.
Those of us fortunate enough to live with plenty year round can still work with apple’s sustaining energies. We can work with apple when we need to step out of our comfort zone and operate in a context that doesn’t feel like home. We can work with apple to balance our inner and outer worlds, so that we remain fully grounded in the physical world even if we spend a lot of time contemplating the unseen. Conversely, apple could help if you experience difficulty entering the right frame of mind for meditation or vision work by giving you a sense of safety as you learn to work in unfamiliar territory. Whenever we need to enter a world that isn’t our own–literally or figuratively–apple can help us thrive there.
And perhaps most importantly, apple can help us see beyond simplistic ideas of black and white, good and bad. She can help us reconcile apparent contradictions and understand how apparently contradictory truths can sometimes inhabit the same space–or the same person.
To work with apple, the simplest technique–and the best place to start–is to go hang out with an apple tree for a while and see what we learn. But it IS January, and plenty of us live in apartments–in which case the simplest technique is to eat an apple with deliberate focus, during ceremony or in sacred space. The key here is attention and intention; start with that and see what happens.