Apple Tree Symbolism and Lore

The apple tree seems to have been regarded as holy or magickal from very early times, and in almost every country in which it grows.

In ancient Ireland, it was one of the three things that could only be paid for by living objects, the others being a hazel bush and a sacred grove.

For Celtic people, the apple tree symbolized the World Tree, the axis of the Universe. They considered the apple the most magickal of fruits, a fruit of immortality and prophecy.

It grew in the Celtic Paradise, where the hills were clothed with trees that bore fruit and blossom together. The mysterious land to which King Arthur was taken for the healing of his wounds was the Vale of Avalon, the Apple Vale. The mythical Isle of Avalon, meaning orchard (from afal, the old Welsh word for apple) is the resting place of Celtic kings and heroes, and one of the places where King Arthur is meant to wait until he is needed to rise once more to protect his people.

The apple tree is a tree of the Underworld, a tree of immortality, and sacred to Apollo.  At Samhain or Halloween, the time of the apple harvest, the fruit has a large part to play in the rituals and celebrations, including divinatory practices.

Old laborers in Herefordshire regarded the destruction of an apple orchard as an almost sacrilegious act. It was commonly said there that if an orchard was destroyed to plant a hop yard in its place, the latter would never pay the cost of cultivation.

At that time there was also a custom whereby, if a man wanted to enclose a piece of common land, he had to plant an apple tree on it. The lord of the manor preserved his rights over the enclosed land by extracting an annual tribute of the fruit.

Many omens and charms are, or were, associated with apple trees. Here are some of them:

  • If the sun shines through the trees on Christmas morning (or in some districts on Easter morning) is is a sign of a good crop to come and a prosperous year for the owner of the orchard.
  • The fruit must be blessed by rain on St. Peter’s or St. Swithin’s Day, and in some districts it is said to be unfit to eat until after this has happened.
  • Blossoms appearing in autumn is a death omen for someone in the owner’s family, and especially so if the flowers come while there is still fruit on the branches.
  • A well known couplet says:

A bloom on the tree when the apples are ripe
Is a sure termination of somebody’s life.

If, when the fruit is picked, an apple is left behind and hangs there until Spring comes round again, a death is foretold.

There was, however, a Yorkshire variant of this belief. In his Folk-Lore of East Yorkshire (1890) John Nicholson tells us that it was sometimes thought unlucky to strip the tree completely. An apple or two, even if only the deformed or inaccessible fruit, should be left for the birds. This was the explanation given in his time but, as he points out, the gift may originally have been intended for the fairies, and some even older spirits.

Collected from various sources.

 

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