One of the primary symbols of Avalon are magical apple trees that produce luscious fruit year-round, representing healing and rebirth (the latter likely a reason the fruit is also associated with burials).
Wild apples in Britain were bitter and closer to crab apples, rather than the snack food that we associate them with today (the Romans brought over additional varieties that were sweeter). They were more likely to be fermented into cider rather than baked into a pie or sliced up for lunch.
Apples, Christianity, and the Faerie Realm
Falling asleep under an apple tree is said to bring an encounter with the faerie realm.
In a popular legend, Connla meets a fairy who asks him to come away with her, promising eternal life. Enticed by her beauty, he is about to comply, when his father pleads with Coran the Druid to prevent it. The druid’s spell prevents the fairy from being seen, but she manages to throw a magical apple to Connla before she disappears from the mortal realm.
When he bites into the apple, Connla is overwhelmed with love for the fairy, and for a month he is sustained by the self-replenishing fruit. The fairy is able to reappear, and calls to him again, this time denouncing the druid’s magic. Unable to resist her, Connla climbs into her crystal boat and they sail away, never to return.
There are many layers to the story—at first it appears to be another classic pairing of apples with faerie magic, but scholars have argued that its true purpose was to demonstrate the coming of Christianity and its alternate siren song to druidic traditions. I find that interpretation fascinating, since it pairs Christianity with the supernatural faerie realm.
The fairy speaks in a clever, bantering manner similar to depictions of women in Christian Medieval literature like “Piers Plowman” or “The Pearl” (where the protagonist insists that eternal “ioye and blysse” exist within her realm).
However you wish to interpret it, apples have a special place with the Fair Folk.
Apples and Love
Throughout the ancient world, apples came to be associated with romantic encounters. My favorite story is the athlete and huntress Atalanta, who challenged her suitors to a footrace. If they won, she would marry them, if they lost, the men faced execution. She was so outstanding that it was impossible to outrun her, so Hippomenes appealed to the goddess Aphrodite for help.
Aphrodite gave him three beautiful golden apples to throw during the race that would distract Atalanta long enough to prove his worth to the huntress. Although their tale ultimately has a tragic ending, the combination of wits and bravery from Hippomenes always stood out to me.
There are countless similar legends from around the world, and the apple’s association with divination has resulted in entertaining traditions like apple bobbing or peeling an apple to discover the first initial of one’s true love.
Apples and Mystical Gardens
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room—Eden.
We all know the story about how Eve was enticed by a serpent to taste fruit plucked from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and in her desire for wisdom, the entire world that she had known was turned upside-down. Shame started driving her decisions, rather than acceptance and love. Because of this breach of trust, God cast Adam and Eve out of the garden and set formidable guardians to prevent them from reaching the Tree of Life and gaining immortality.
This is where it gets tricky: was it an apple or not? The quick answer is no, the apple is a result of overly enthusiastic Renaissance fanfic artists.
Garden of the Hesperides
Greek mythology talks about a spectacular apple tree that belonged to Hera, guarded by a dragon and the Hesperides, set in a distant garden. The location came into play during Heracles’ Labours, where he had to get past the guardians to procure the golden apples.
Epic of Gilgamesh
In tablet #11 of this version from Mesopotamia, there is a thorny plant with a flower that offers eternal youth. Although Gilgamesh manages to claim it, a serpent steals it away before it can be used. Although there are no mentions of apples, it bears remarkable resemblance to the Eden story, and seems to reiterate that apples were likely not the fruit meant as a symbol in Genesis.
This is the most popular time of the year to use apples incorporated into spellwork, because the veil between worlds is thin at that time, and apples are often associated as a fruit of the underworld / portal to faerie realms.
If you are especially daring, stand in front of a mirror at midnight, holding up a candle. Carefully present an apple sliced into nine pieces, while staring into the mirror, and toss one piece at time over your left shoulder, using a silver knife. Supposedly you will see your future lover standing beside you. Allow the candle to fully burn out, and leave the apple slices out for faeries in the morning. Be careful to protect yourself thoroughly before using mirror magick.
Leaving apple slices out for the fairies is a common practice. Don’t do this if you aren’t ready to work with them—I accidentally left an apple half outside one time and it took some negotiating with them as a result. If you need to rectify a situation with fairies, speak politely but firmly and offer other sweet fruits / honey.
Apple trees are a classic wand wood, especially if it comes from an orchard that you feel a connection with. If this is your plan, make sure you have permission from the landowner to harvest the branch and have spent some time with the tree to make sure it is the right one to use, since wands are incredibly personal. You can leave it simple and natural, or add your brand of magick: rune carvings, bells, seashells, etc or use Christian symbolism like fish, Celtic crosses, etc.
If you want to give your prayers or spells extra “oomph” add an apple half showing the star of seeds in the middle and stuff it with additional focusing herbs that are appropriate to what you are trying to accomplish. You can also use dried apple blossoms as an ingredient for prosperity, renewal, and healing.
Blood related magick, while extremely common in the Bible, is dangerous to use when inexperienced. If you aren’t comfortable with it, and don’t want to use alcohol like red wine, apple cider can be an interesting substitute.
What do you use apples for? Let me know in the comments!