Close your eyes, and tell me what comes to your mind when you think about autumn evenings?
I for sure can think of a hot cup of herbal tea and a wonderfully scented apple pie.
Oh yes, the fall season is officially upon us, and apples are the first of many gifts that the Earth has to offer, currently.
Apples. They have been the most common fruit throughout Europe and bear a much deeper meaning than just the one that is for display.
So where does their story begin?
An article from Science Daily, claims that ancient preserved apple seeds were found across Europe and West Asia, suggesting that people have been using wild apples for more than ten thousand years ago. This theory could go back to the hunter/gatherer times when, alongside hunting, trees represented an important food source, thus making them central to human survival and identity. Also, more studies have concluded that the apple as we know it today, is actually a hybrid of at least four wild apple families. Furthermore, it is hypothesized that the Silk Road trade routes were responsible for causing their hybridization.
Starting from these premises, it is easily understandable why apples were in some instances considered to be sacred, and why they became the archetypal fruit standing for any tree fruit, vegetable, even nuts. For example, potatoes are still referred to as Earth Apples – Aardappel in Dutch or Pommes de Terre in French and oranges are called Sinaasappel or Appelsien in Dutch –meaning Apple of China.
Apples have been also associated with health and youth, hence the saying: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, rhyming proverb postdating earlier versions from the late 19th century like:
“Eat an apple on going to bed,
And you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” – A Pembrokeshire Proverb
In Celtic and Germanic cultures, trees and more specifically apple trees, are associated with female entities, always fertile, always bountiful.
Idun or Iðunn, for instance, from the Norse Mythology is the personification of Spring and immortal youth. She is the bearer of the golden apples that keep the gods young and healthy. As a side note, the Scandinavian Gods, because of their mixed-race, were not all immortals and were prone, just like humans to disease and decay.
According to the story, Loki was forced by the storm giant, Thiassi, to lure Idun out of Asgard , the Land of the Gods, and into the woods, after describing her some particular apples he had found. Thiassi, metamorphosed as an eagle, seizes Idun from the woods and takes her to his barren and desolate home, called Thrym-heim. In Idun’s absence, the Gods begin to grow old and weak, and as soon as they realise that Loki is responsible for her disappearance, they order him to go and save her from the giant’s den. He finds her and takes her back to the land of the Gods but Thiassi follows them and eventually gets killed when he falls, after his feathers catching fire.
Some of you who are familiar with Norse Mythology might already know this story.
What I would like to bring to your attention, is another story, from the Romanian folklore, that is called Prâslea cel Voinic si merele de aur, which could be translated to Prâslea the Brave and the golden apples.
Now the word Prâslea in itself, refers to the youngest member of a family.
The story goes like this:
Once upon a time there was a king who had a gorgeous, spectacular garden, at the end of which he had an apple tree that made golden apples. The problem was that after seeing the tree flourish and making fruits, he would never actually get to taste them ripen because someone would come during the night and steal all the apples away .
He also had 3 sons, two of whom had already tried and failed to catch the thief. After the first two brothers’ failure, the youngest son also took his shot at catching the robber, and because he was smarter, he managed to injure but not catch him and triumphantly bring back some of the golden apples for his father to have a taste of.
Since they absolutely wanted to find the culprit, the 3 brothers decided to follow the trail of blood that the thief had left and bring him to face justice. The siblings were lead to a pit, that was actually the entrance to the Otherworld /Tărâmul Celălalt , a magical realm in Romanian mythology, home to fantastical creatures, where the notion of time seldom disappears and where everything is possible. Out of the 3 brothers, only Prâslea was brave enough to descend, and after he manages to battle two Zmei (the term Zmeu is a sort of Slavic Dragon), and save two captive princesses in the process, he finds and defeats the third Zmeu who turns out to be the apple thief. Of course, the latter had also kidnapped a princess, who occurred to be the youngest sister of the two others Praslea had already saved. Trying to get back home, he was tricked by his siblings into being abandoned in the pit, after he had managed to bring the girls to the surface. He succeeded in getting back to his realm, with the help of a Zgripțuroaică , a kind of Harpy, as a reward for having rescued her babies from death.
Once arrived at his father’s castle, he lets the Divine intervention punish his 2 older brothers and marries the youngest princess.
So, do you notice a resemblance between the two narratives, here?
Both stories are about the abduction of something that another entity desires.
There are two dichotomous realms in both tales: Asgard the land of the Gods coincides with the reality realm from Prâslea the Brave , then we have the other realms, where the apples are taken to, which in both stories, represent the barren land, the world of the Evil Ones. In the Nordic story, this realm symbolizes Winter.
I would also continue by making a parallel between Idun, the bearer of the golden apples and the golden apples from my Romanian folktale, only that here I would dare to say that the apples and the girls are, symbolically one and the same. They represent, just like Idun, everlasting youth, fertility and abundance. In this story, the golden apples are directly linked to the girls, who were also abducted by the Zmei. The apples are thus, only the means of getting to something far more important, the young princesses, feminine figures, supposed to be a promise to a bountiful life ahead, always fertile and plentiful.
So, I guess this theory, eases the transition into another subject:
Apples as symbol of Fertility, Sex and Magic
If you have the slightest interest in symbolism, you probably already know that apples have been considered since, forever, a symbol of fertility, sex and magic.
For example, I ran upon a Vice article, in which it was stated that Apple Bobbing, a seemingly innocent, children friendly Halloween game, had really started as a fertility ritual, drawing its origins from Celtic traditions, later on adopted by the Romans.
If you slice open an apple, the seeds from the core are arranged in a five-pointed star or a pentagram. This have probably enticed people into using this fruit in Love and Fertility Spells or just plainly associating it with these concepts.
Apples in the Romanian Folklore
In some regions of Romania like Banat, Oltenia and Muntenia, the water from the first bath of a new-born baby, is discarded at the base of a blossoming or fruit-bearing apple tree. This custom has been interpreted as a health spell for the infant and a fertility-keeper spell for the new mother.
Apples also symbolise women breasts, being one of the oldest erotic symbols and having a wide occurrence in the Romanian folk-songs and folktales.
It stands for the love fruit, often associated with the Golden Apple, offered by the girl to the lad, whom he must catch in order to gain her affection.
The apple tends to be linked to fertility; in Romanian folktales, the leading ladies become pregnant only by tasting the apple.
It is associated with health, we often say: Este roșu în obraji ca mărul, meaning that someone is rosy-cheeked like an apple.
It stands for the forbidden fruit in love, the fruit of the original sin in the Biblical story.
It represents love without restraint, the lovers who share the same apple, reveal mutual and boundary-less love.
In Translivania, it is accustomed for the newly wed, to adorn an apple tree, within one year of marriage, symbolically adorning the tree of Eden.
It is said that she who finds 9 seeds inside an apple core, must place them under the pillow to dream of her chosen one; apple dreams often foreshadowing love and marriage.
APPLES- a link between the sacred and the profane
Trees are often associated in the Romanian folklore, with the Tree of Life, AXIS MUNDI– which according to Mircea Eliade, represents a manifestation of the Divine, a disruption in time and space that allows our world to connect with the worlds above and below . In other words , it embodies the connection of human beings with the Divine.
The apple tree and the pine tree or the Christmas tree are both a metaphor for immortality. But while the pine tree represents masculine vigour, the apple tree stands for feminine energies and fecundity.The apple, as the archetypal tree, is the equivalent of humans in the vegetal world. Celtic people had this similar iconography where they focused on trees as supernatural female figures, associating them with fertility and birth, so essentially reproduction and life cycle in a broader sense.
In Romanian folklore the apple tree and the pine /Christmas tree, bear magical properties meant to “solve” issues and “help” in difficult situations, often being a “tool” used to defeat Evil.
A lot remains unsaid about apples, but I am afraid the article might get longer than it already is. However, if this subject fancy your curiosity, you may consult the links and books I have referenced below, in Sources.
So next time you take a crisp bite into a juicy apple or a smooth and velvety bite into a soft and cinnamony apple pie slice, stop for a moment and reflect on how ancient and full of meaning, this wonderful fruit can be.
Sacrul si Profanul – Mircea Eliade
Myths of the Northern Lands – H.A Guerber
Praslea cel Voinic si merele de aur -Petre Ispirescu
Danica Boyce Podcast below