Apple, A Fruit Of Life
I have tried, and participated, but through my life I have never really been able to get used to the idea of Samhain and Halloween being a celebration of death with its indulgence in bed sheet ghosts, smiley face grave stones, pointed black hats, distorted masks of politicians and a fearful misunderstood judgement of spiders.
One symbol has always stood out and delighted me at this time ... apples.
Apples are more than a symbol, of course, because we eat them. We follow and explore multiple recipes that include apples to make the most yummiest of foods.
Before Walter Raleigh hooked the Irish on potatoes, apples were a winter staple for nourishment along with honey, and lets not forget the brews made from mixing the two.
Lets step back a bit to our visions of the Tree of Life, or World Tree, often named as Yggdrasil from Norse mythology.
The mythology of this tree is that that was somehow involved in the creation of the universe, the origin of humanity, and the divine gifts of nourishment.
Some folks say this sacred tree was the Ash tree, and Norse tradition seems to say so,
Some folks say this sacred tree was an Oak, as told in some Celtic tales, and a few Celtic tales speak of this tree being an Elm, while other Celtic tales speak of this tree being a Birch, a tree that starts up most forests, as it still does today.
Many traditions speak of this Sacred Tree of all Life as being the Apple Tree.
Some Indo Asian, Middle east and European mythology stories speaks of this Sacred Apple Tree spouting fresh spring water from the base of it's trunk as if water is served to us from its roots.
This is told within Fae Tree stories, Fairy Stories, of Celtic tradition.
In the Greek tradition there are tales from Hera's Garden Of Hesperides where the guarded Tree Of Life grew in the centre was a tree of golden apples.
A tribe of Hesperides nymphs, that many people would describe as fairies, looked after the rest of the garden, also full of red blushed apple trees.
These Hesperides Fae encouraged bees to pollinate the apple tree blossoms and make honey from their nectar. In return, the Hesperides could keep some of the apples and honey for themselves.
Even today, a common tradition is to always leave three apples on each tree at harvesting,
... and even brush the tree with honey, to feed the fairies who care for the apple trees
The Greek tales tell of Gaia, the World Goddess, placing a never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon named Ladon to guard the Apple Tree Of Life in the centre of the Garden, the Apple Tree that grew golden apples every year.
Neither humans or the Hesperides Nymphs were allowed to touch these golden apples of immortality, of continued life, of the cycle of life.
Of course, when someone is told No, the first thing they think of is ... "how can I trick Ladon the serpent and get one of those golden apples for myself?".
There are several Greek Myth Tales about human downfall from Desires and Temptation that manifested as Jealousy, Possession and Greed.
There are similar around the world, including the simpler story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
In all of these tales something gets corrupted where unconditional love for all is separated when a golden apple is picked and is replaced with desire, temptation,possession and greed.
Together, religions call all of this desire and temptation - sin
For many of us, those who carry a Catholic guilt, Jewish guilt, Hindu guilt etc., the worst addicitions set onto humans, we may spend the rest of our lives working out how to return the golden apples to the tree of life so that the immortality of unconditional love remains.
In these ancient mythology tales, separating the golden apple from the tree and eating it for our own nutrition, as told as descriptions of actions and events that bring us to experience and understand grief, sorrow, hunger, and pain. Experiences that are returned to us when we surrender to curiosity and temptation.
Can the Apple through its symbols, tales and nourishment show us our way of coming into this world as an individual and learning how to become part of the divine spirit again?
I believe this act of defiance, picking the golden apple, and the surrender to be born is what makes us human, and forever creatures of wonder seeking wisdom and archiving knowledge.
Maybe it was inspired by initial thought I had for writing this post, but I had a dream recently where I discovered that the golden apples picked from the Tree Of Life were actually ourselves.
In this dream I was guided and shown that each human birth is a fallen apple learning how to return back to the tree again.
Samhain to me is a time of deep reflection on this because this is the time when the apples have fallen from the trees and we make decisions about what to do with them, as well as celebrate their harvest abundance.
Apples And Water
Beside most Holy Wells of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England today there are Fae or Fairy Trees of Ash, Hawthorn, or Rowan but rarely are there apple trees by these sacred wells now.
Fae trees by Sacred Well are also known as 'Wishing Trees' where wishes of desire are left.
Fae Trees by wells are places you can hang wishes of healing and good fortune through a woven prayer such as through a Brighid's Cross woven from rushes.
Prayers and wishes can also be carried through hanging apples from a tree
We do this with Christmas trees at Yule though today we hang baubles
We also place fairies, angels and even goddesses on top of Yule and Christmas trees to embrace the feminine spirit as ancient mythology stories personify the Tree of Life as a goddess.
From this tree are births, apples handed to humans on earth, and perhaps the dowry tradition came from the idea of gold from the trees. Add to that the tree, or goddess' serpent of wisdom is entwined within her branches through the bright and tempting weaving christmas lights and tinsel.
Celtic mythology includes several stories speaking of Neolithic, Megalithic and Bronze Age places of paradise, every one of them was an island of orchards.
Consider the astronomical symbol for the earth which is a circle with a cross on it.
The Circle is said by some tales not to be a symbol of the sun but of the circle shape of an apple,
The cross is sometimes told as a symbol of admittance to the Apple orchards where the souls of heroes may go.
There are various Celtic myth stories telling of cauldrons of plenty,
... a tale commonly told in some form around Samhain fires.
In these stories the cauldron is stolen, and there is a chase and the cauldron is thrown into a lake
One of the tales of the theft of Daghda's Cauldron tells of the sons of Tuirean stealing Dagda's Cauldron, then when chased found that carrying the ever flowing Cauldron slowed them down. So they threw it into a lake called Lough Meelagh, Co. Roscommon, Ireland.
At the point the cauldron landed in the lake, an island erupted from the cauldron. On this island an orchard of apples grew abundantly with the tree of life in the middle.
Within the Orchard Island story of Lough Meelagh there is no Tree Of Life but in the centre of the island is the The Rose Of Sweetness
... that never wilts and forever provides pollen for the bees to pollinate the apples, and that's why apple skins have a rosy read blush
It is a similar story for the origin of Avalon, the land of Apples, a place of divine joy.
A Welsh word for apple is 'afal' so it is assumed that's where the word 'Avalon' came from and, of course, very similar to the German word Apfel
One tale of Avalon's origins tells of a cauldron gifted to a Bran the bard being seized by Barinthus, the charioteer who took souls of the dead back to the otherworld.
The cauldron fell off of his chariot and where it fell in the lake to the otherworld and the Isle Of Avalon formed out of the abundance that flowed out of the cauldron.
A Bard serves Three Strains through music and word.
Sorrow, Joy and Sleep, with Sleep really being the Dreaming.
Avalon is very much, The Dreaming.
In my own Ogma's Tale Of The Trees suite there is a story poem, Quirt The Apple, ...
... where the Apple tree is remembered as the 10th symbol of the Ogham alphabet and remembered by its symbol keyword of 'connection'
There is a mythology story that tells of the inside of an Apple being the conduit between our world and the other world where our dreams travel and are responded to.
Within apple fruits is said to be where the Sidhe horses, an Capaill Sióga, travel between the two worlds
This is why eating apples is said to inspire us with revelations that we manifest throughout our awakening days.
These revelations mix sorrow with joy, like the ebbs and flow of the moon from these silver apples of the moon
Some fairy stories tell of demons and evil people. Our imagination of them reveals the dark side of our dreams. Do we accept them as fears or do we surrender to them to reveal them as veils to the light side of dreams that unconditionally guide us?
To me this is what Avalon is about the place that the spirit within apples takes us
It is said the spirit from apples is strongest at Samhain, what many call Halloween today
For protection through Samhain, now Halloween, there are still places that encourage the tradition of children being sent to bed for the night with an Apple to place under their pillows to protect them from bad dreams and troublesome spirits and also to enhance good dreams, protective dreams and loving dreams.
Apple Stories In Ireland
There are several apple symbol stories in Ireland but most of them seem to follow the same story.
A goddess offers an apple to a hero man who uses it to nourish himself with strength, bravery and focus that has been lost.
There was Connla, son of Cú Chulainn who received an apple from the Scottish warrior goddess Aífe, known as Áine or Grianne in Ireland,
This was before he was slain by his father Cú Chulainn who did not recognise his son Connla as a grown man.
Receiving this apple ensured safe passage for his spirit through to Tir na Nog and onto the Otherworld.
Another story tells of Connla being the son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, who lived on the hill of Uisneach.
On the hill he saw a beautiful woman, goddess Beara, that was invisible to everyone else.
She tempted him by throwing an Apple at him. As he caught the Apple he was surrounded by sea,
... but she rescued him by pulling him out of the water into her glass coracle.
They sailed away together and Connla was never seen again.
It is said that they sailed to the 'Plain Of Delight' a place that no other living humans could find.
Another version of this story stretches this out a bit revealing that a beautiful woman, a White Goddess Brighid, threw him an apple and then she vanished.
Each day Connla bit into the Apple, and each day this increased his longing for her to return and take him to her paradise land, an Island Of Women.
After 30 days the beautiful White Goddess Brighid did return and together they sailed west in her glass boat from Uisneach and Connla was never seen again
There is a story of Oisin experiencing similar on the Hill Of Tara and sailed with the Goddess Boanne to Tir na nOg.
A more common story told today is Oisin riding towards Tir na nOg, The Land Of Youth, on a white Sidhe horse
... that was chasing the White Goddess on a black horse holding an Apple Of Temptation and Imortaility to lure him..
Many Irish stories speak of the Triple Goddesses, sometimes being they the Goddesses of this world, the otherworld and the sea or the water,
The sea and water is known as the realm of ebb and flow that is between the worlds, This place of this ebb and flow of water is often symbolised by the apple and that's why apples trees were once the sacred tree of sacred wells.
Wassailing is still a tradition within south western England, south Wales, and I believe in Co. Wexford in Ireland
The ancient tradition of Wassailing the apple trees seems to have been brought over by the Saxons during the 5th century, though I am sure there were apple blessing ways before then.
Wassailing is intended to awaken the sleeping tree-spirit, protect the local people from bad health and misfortune, and ensure a good apple harvest the following year.
Today, the Wassailing tradition usually takes place around Yule, midwinter, though in Herefordshire and Worcestershire in England, Samhain is the apple blessing time. I am sure this was the original tradition with Samhain being at the end of the apple harvesting.
Wassailing involves the farming folk choosing one tree in the orchard on their farm to represent all of the apple trees. Usually this is the oldest tree in the orchard, often called "The Apple Tree Man" tree, which is where the spirit of the Apple Tree Man lives. Yes, it has changed genders from ancient tradition.
The people present go through a three stage ritual.
First, toast of good health to the tree by pouring cider down the base of its trunk to sink down to the roots.
Second, put a piece of bread or toast soaked in cider into a fork of the tree's branches that can be reached. This toast or bread is often covered in honey and cinammon, though some people bruch honey onto the bows first where the broead is about to go.
Third and last, the apple trees are danced around while a Wassailing Song is sung to thank the apple tree.
Here are the words of my favourite Wassailing Song that has a verse for each stage of the blessing.
Here's some new cider we give to thee
To thank you again our dear old apple tree,
May your buds blossom well
So more apples can dwell
Hats full! Caps full!
Pockets full, and Aprons full!
Here's fresh bread that we baked today
To hold in your bows and not take away
Now we can drink to thee
Wish you good health dear tree
Every bough, Every twig
Bless you now for Apples big.
Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering
Where all of us are seen.
Bringing love to share with you
And bless with wassail too,
Protect us all from ill and pain
So next year we meet here again
Avoiding this Wassailing, this apple tree blessing ritual, was thought to bring bad luck, bad health and a poor yield of apples the following year.
After the Wassail ritual the people return to the farmhouse to feed on apple pie, apple flapjacks, and other apple recipes then a lot of jollity through stories, songs, dances and thoughts and prayers shared about those not present.
Traditionalists try to preach that Wassailing should never happen where past history of Wassailing is not known.
But, fortunately, there is also an argument that all apple trees have a right to be wassailed wherever they grow. As there seems to be a growing affinity between trees and humans, today, there is gradually more acceptance to allow in the tradition of Wassailing performed in meaningful ways.
We were in near eastern Germany recently where apple farming is a huge business, but the Wassailing, or similar traditions, are long gone. It was good to demonstrate them there.
There are some places where a trace of Wassailing is celebrated through sprinkling cider onto the Samhain fires instead of the trees, and perhaps with a call for the other world spirits to bless the Apple trees to crop well the next year
Then a feast of apple goodies from apple recipes are shared.
Here are some we shared on a picnic last Sunday ...
Apple and Hazelnut Cake Bread
Bringing together two nutritional foods harvested here in Ireland at this time.
Here are two variations I made for last Sunday, the first being with eggs and butter
and this one that is totally vegan
The recipe is as simple as traditional Irish brown bread but with some additions.
You will need ...
8 oz of your favourite flour, I mix wholemeal spelt with some oats
1 teaspoon of baking power
1 teaspoon of your favourite spices, nutmeg, cinnamon etc
2 oz or more or sugar and/or honey
3 apples peeled, cored and chopped
2 ounces of hazelnuts (or any favourite nuts)
optional 2 oz of dried fruit such as raisins
optional 2 eggs
4 oz of butter chopped into diced cubes, or virgin press oil
an acid to set off the baking powder such as cider vinegar, white vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk or yoghurt
milk or buttermilk to moisten
To prepare ...
You will need a large oiled bread pan or a cake baking tin, or even muffin tin to make muffin sized cake breads, and get your oven up to 160 C . Once ingredients are set up this is fast to make and bang into the oven.
So, into your mixing bowl goes sifted flour, your choice, the baking powder, spices to flavour, and these spices can be a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves and even a little chinese five spice.
Add your favourite sweetener as sugars, honey, or some of both, as much as you like. I like 2 oz myself, but sweeter tooths will go up to 4 oz.
Add in your peeled, cored and chopped apples
Crush up your hazelnuts, or favourite nuts, if not bought chopped. Many people have electric nut choppers but I use a mortice and pessel. Then add into the mix.
You can add some optional raisins and/or dried fruit
You can add optional 2 eggs if you are not vegan as this will creater a lighter cakebread
If you use butter break it up and crumble it in, or folkd in your favourite virgin pressed oil such as a local rape oil or olive oil.
Add the cider vinegar, or alternative acid liquid, and mix in the mixture well.
Finally add a little milk or apple juice and fold in to moisten the mixture into a very sticky mixture.
When it feels right, stick into your chosen baking pan and cook for 50 minutes. Worth chicking after 40 and 45 minutes. Can be an hour or so sometimes.
Check by sticking a knife into the centre. If it comes out clean, get the cake bread out of the oven and onto a cooling rack right away.
Serve alone of with butter or cream and or a jam, jelly or sweet spread. Traditionally, with just an apple spread made with apples, honey, spices, nuts, all mixed together in a blender and thickened with cream cheese or as vegan alternative of a mix of oil and rice, oats or potato flour.
Do not refridgerate/ I find these cake breads stay ok in a bread tin/box for 5 days, maybe more.
Apple Savoury Salad
This is a very versatile recipe that starts off with creating a salad, but part of it and/or leftovers can be used to create heated sides and toppings, whipped up to make a savoury sauce for a meal, or be thickened to make a tasty spread. Lets start with the salad though ...
You will need ...
4 oz of your favourite virgin pressed oil such as local rape oil or olive oil
4 tsp of cider vinegar, preferably unpasteurized
3 tsp of honey
a clove of garlic
2 tsp mustard, can be grain, french or yellow
dash of paprika, smoked parprika is best
a msall amount of apple juice or hazelnut milk drink
3 apples pealed, cored, diced or in matchstick sticks
chopped raw local vegetables, best being a cauliflower head, broccoli head, fennel bulb, carrots, kohlrabi, savoy cabbage heart
1 chopped onion
2 oz chopped hazel nuts, or favourite nuts, toasted, maybe with a drop of soya sauce, marmite or vegemite added while toasting.
optional handfull of raisins or dried fruit
optional sugar for sweetening
To prepare ...
Into a blender's jug add together the oil, cider vinegar, honey, garlic, mustard, paprika and whizz together, tasting and adjusting flavours to suit. The flavour looked for should be a balance of sweet and sour with the smoothness of the oil. Then thin it a bit with the apple juice or hazelnut milk liquid.
Into a bowl, I use a mixing bowl, add the apples, raw vegetables, chopped onion toasted nuts, optional raisins and a some sugar if you want a sweetish salad. Toss them all together.
Then slowly add the blended dressing/sauce mix and turn the mix until moistened.
That is the salad made, and made at least a couple of hours before serving helps to allow flavours to mix.
For Hot Food
You can also take some of the bowl mix of apples and vegetables and some of the dressing/sauce mix and heat together in a pan. This makes wonderful warm food to add onto baked potatoes, burgers, pasta, and onto pizza bases with shredded cheese sprinkled over before baking.
That's as much as I am writing for this feature this year. Maybe I will return and add more for you next year.
Meanwhile enjoy your new fires, feasting, thanksgiving for the year past and call for protection for the winter now ahead.