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The Wisdom of the Apple Tree

by Glennie Kindred

Published Lughnasa 1997

Our folk memory and country lore is rich with reference to the apple tree's virtues. This beautiful tree provides abundant food which can be stored for winter use, and has many uses both in the kitchen, as a herbal remedy and as a remedy acting on our subtle energies. The crab apple (Pyrus malus) is native to Britain and it the wild ancestor of all the cultivated varieties. This is the original stock which the cultivated varieties have been grafted onto. Mrs Grieve suggests that at the time of her writing her Modern Herbal (1931) there were over 2,000 varieties of apple, but sadly with the decline of the old orchards, many of these old varieties are lost to us now, despite the efforts of many to save them.

The sheer extravagant abundance of apples on an apple tree in the autumn is the key to understanding what the apple tree has to teach us. It shows us how to give all, in total trust that all will be replenished. It teaches us to open our hearts to the abundance in our lives. When we, like the apple tree, give all of ourselves freely and openly, our hearts are open to receiving more. Holding back is a symptom of greed and insecurity. The apple's message is to value and celebrate all you have in your life. Many feelings of bitterness, irritation and anger result from feeling a lack of worthiness. These negative feelings create a pattern of imbalance which can significantly reduce the flow of the life force energy in your body. If you do not feel worthy to receive certain things, the way for them to come to you will be blocked, as you have believed it to be. By affirming and feeling thankful for what you have in the present, you open up the channels for your own abundance.

The Apple tree is there to help all of us to keep our trust in times of lack, and teaches us our true power is built up by giving, in open-hearted generosity. The Apple tree's spirit can help those who harm themselves by their miserliness.

Apples are a natural remedy for the stomach, bowels and heart, the main organs of giving and receiving. Our folk memory is rich with such phrases as "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" and not without good reason. The malic and tartaric acids of the apple particularly benefit people of sedentary habits as they neutralise the acid products of indigestion. It is a very digestible fruit, and excellent baby food and it aids the digestion of other foods.

A ripe, juicy apple eaten at bedtime every night will cure constipation. An apple before bed is also good for sleeplessness and biliousness. An apple is also an excellent dentifrice, being a food which is not only cleansing to the teeth, but hard enough to push back the gums so the borders are clear of deposits. The valuable acids and salts exist to a special degree in and just below the skin, so to get the full value of an apple it should be eaten unpeeled.

The bark of the Apple tree is a tonic and a stimulant, bringing down the temperature in a fever, tightening the tissues and constricting distended blood vessels. The bark contains phlorizin, which is used in its pure form in modern medicine. To use the bark, strip a small area of the tree, taking care not to ring the tree. Boil it in water for 15 minutes and leave to fuse overnight. Dosage is one to four fluid ounces of the infusion daily.

The crab apple in traditional herbal treatment is cleansing and a detoxicant for both internal and external wounds. It helps to heal skin tissue, is anti-inflammatory and anti-septic - hence the connection in our folklore with beauty. A poultice made from the boiled or roasted fruit will remove burn marks from the skin. The same boiled fruit is good for sore or inflamed eyes.

An ointment mentioned by John Gerard in his Herbal of 1633 suggests mixing apple pulp with pig fat and rose water to make a treatment for rough skin. for a more magical beauty treatment, the following charm could be tried: "Gather maydew and steep apple blossom in it, heating all over a fire of ashen wood, bless the apple water and apply it to the skin, letting it dry off itself. Ask a blessing of beauty and purity from the chosen deity and the tree spirit will heal the complaint and grant a lovely complexion." This extract is from Claire O'Rush's book The Enchanted Garden.

Of all the Bach flower remedies, the crab apple is unusual because it is the only one which can be used directly externally, as it acts on the mental and physical levels as well. Crab apple will remove negative impression, for instance after a dirty job, or after a long and difficult nursing task. Ten drops can be added to a full bath, five drops are sufficient for a compress. Some practitioners recommend crab apple when fasting, others recommend it to overcome the effects of a hangover (four drops ever half hour). Wounds can be bathed in it if you have reason to believe it is infected with poison which needs to be drawn out.

People in need of crab apple tend to be more than usually sensitive, taking in much more, at subtler levels, than their general constitution can cope with than their general constitution can cope with. They can sometimes be a magnet for dark forces. This unconscious stress often gives them the feeling of being unclean, in need of cleansing. This can manifest in self-disgust, over-anxiety about physical cleanliness, fear of contamination. The flower remedy can be used whenever there is a poor self-image, especially if it relates to parts of the body.

Apples are also an old folk remedy for the cure of rheumatism by rubbing the affected area with a rotten apple, and a cure for warts by rubbing the warts with two halves of an apple and then burying it. Pectin in the apple is a good germicide and promotes the growth of new skin tissue, providing a medical basis for the old wives' tale.

This type of folk remedy is a form of Anglo Saxon sympathetic magic. Early medieval sympathetic magic depended much upon associations. It was common practice to write a holy name on an apple; eaten on three consecutive days it would cure a fever. The apple was considered effective against venom, or poison, a purifier and cleanser, all of which corresponds with the apple's known properties today.

Coll Hazel's The Alphabet suggests that the apple is associated with choice. "The choice you have to make may be between similar and equally attractive things. It may be extremely hard to choose, since the alternatives all appear promising, holding beauty and fulfilment. It might not matter which is chosen so long as the choice is made."

Edred Thorsson in The Book of Ogham suggests that Quert (the Apple) is a sign of beauty and eternity, a kind of eternal perfection and symmetry. "The main challenge of the Q few is the tendency to split attention. Energy tends to be scattered, loyalties are split off and one has a tendency to try to do too much at once. The challenge is to choose only one".

This echoes Coll Hazel's interpretations, suggesting that as there are so many choices, there must be an abundance. I have found that as abundance comes pouring into your life, there has to be discrimination and choice. Choosing the path with a heart and the path of beauty helps in these decisions.

Apples have a long history of being used for divination, especially to foretell the future in matters of love and prosperity. Because of the strong tradition behind many superstitions, many have survived, albeit in a degenerate form, as entertainment. The methods of divination are varied and include such things as counting the apple pips; burning the pips (after naming each one with a young man's name and watching which ones explode in the fire); pressing the named pips with the finger to see which sticks the longest; apple bobbing; throwing the peel over the left shoulder to see it forms the initial of an individual when it lands; and putting an apple under your pillow to dream of your sweetheart. All of these games and folk customs are survivals of much older ceremonies in honour of the Apple.

Many of these customs are particularly performed at Samhain, as traditionally the apple is linked to the Celtic Otherworld (Annwn), where the tree is called the "silver bough" and possesses magical properties. Samhain is traditionally the time of the year when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, a doorway between the seen world of matter and the unseen world of spirit. It is the best time of the year to make shamanic journeys, to connect to the dead, the spirit realms, to gain oracular knowledge and healing powers.

Within the apple is to be found the pentagram. Cut it widthways and the shape is revealed in the formation of its pips. This ancient symbol of knowledge is sacred to the Celtic death Goddess, Cailleach, the Crone, the Veiled One, and Samhain is her time of year. Verjuice, a kind of scrumpy cider, was also her drink at this time of the year, inducing altered states and otherworldly experiences. Verjuice is made simply by gathering ripe crab apples, laying them in a pile and leaving them to rot and sweat. The rotten fruit is gathered into a bowl with the stalks removed, beaten to a pulp and pressed through a coarse cloth. The liquid is bottled and is ready to use a month later.

The Apple tree has close links with the shaman, the wisewoman and the magician. It is used when undergoing magical transformation or otherworld journeys. Celtic/Arthurian myth names one of these otherworlds as Avalon, the Apple Vale, the mythical paradise where hills were clothed with trees bearing flowers and fruit together. The word "Avalon" is derived from the old Iris "Avaloch" meaning "a place of apples". The old Irish name for the Isles of Arran in the Scottish Firth of Clyde was "Eamain Abhlach (Evain Avaloch) which means Holy Hill of the Apple Trees. Eventually, avaloch became the more easily pronounced Avalon. The Isle of Arran was believed by the Celts to be a physical manifestation of an otherworld paradise. From the Welsh poem "Avellenau", the bard Merlin reveals to his lord the existence of his orchard. It was borne from place to place by the enchanter on all his journeys. Other legends tell of Otherworld visitors to our world who appear in the same guise as the shaman, carrying an apple branch with bells on it. The Apple tree also represents Shelter, either in this world or as a place to rest when making otherworld journeys.

Using an apple wood wand would be the appropriate magical tool to use if you wanted to make shamanic journeys to the Otherworld. It is said that the Apple is used as a calling sign to the Otherworld that you wish to enter their realm. The wand will help you physically, mentally and spiritually connect to the Apple tree.

Finding the right piece of wood for a wand may take time. Go about this task in a magical frame of mind. There are many considerations such as: do you feel you can cut a piece from a tree? Or are you going to wait for a piece which has already been cut? You can ask friends of family to let you know when they prune their Apple trees so that you can look over the prunings for a suitable piece. Another way to get cut wood without doing the cutting is to contact a local tree surgeon and ask if you may have any or if they will let you know when they are cutting any. If you cut from a tree, remember to ask the tree, listen to the answer and respect the tree. As always, thank the tree for its gift. In many respects I feel for a wand that by asking the tree, the beginnings of a relationship between you and the tree has begun, which is stronger than if you have a piece of wood from an unknown tree.

Another thing to focus on is the size of the wand. I personally favour pencil size wands which I can easily carry around with me. If you want to take the bark off, it is easiest to do when the wood is freshly cut, before it dries hard onto the wood. You might not want to take the bark off. Focus on what the wand means to you and you will feel what is right to do for you. Apple wood is traditionally used for carving, so you might try your hand at a bit of inspired carving. Rough carving is quite good to do while the wood is still fresh, and then leave it to dry out before finishing. How long it takes for your wand to dry out depends on its size, a thin pencil wand will only take a week or two, but a bigger piece may take a few months. Apple wood longer than most to dry out and is liable to split if it is not done naturally. If you take the bark off it is best kept inside so the wood will keep its colour, a garage of a shed where it is in a cool, airy place. If the bark is kept on, it is best to leave it outside, where the wind, rain and sun can season it slowly.

If you wish to work with the energy of the Apple tree, you can aid the process by focusing on Apple trees and working with apple wood, eating more apples, drinking apple juice and the occasional glass of cider. Dry apple peel and drink it as a tea. Try cultivating Apple trees from the pips for some very special trees which you are closely linked with. Sit with Apple trees as often as possible, get to know their vibration, make friends with them.

Use your Apple wand as an aid to Otherworld journeying. Find a nice quiet space (under an Apple tree would be wonderful. In an orchard would be perfect!). Close your eyes, do not try to predict what will happen. Imagine yourself in a group of trees. Imagine yourself sitting under an Apple tree looking out at the group of trees. Begin by thinking about the Apple tree, how you feel about it. how it makes you fee, what you know about it, whatever comes readily into your mind. Then let your mind wander out to the other trees. Look at what you have chosen, and taking each in turn, what you feel about them. Try to notice if the tree's energy changes, in relation to which other trees are next to it; if there are any people or animals, and if so if they have anything to communicate to you. Notice if any tree species are more plentiful than others, as this might be a clue to an area of your life which needs extra attention. Once you have established this place, then call on your Otherworld guide to meet you. This may take several attempts before you feel that contact is made. Don't worry about it; let things happen in their own time. As always, each time you make a journey, record as much detail as you can remember afterwards, even if at first you think little or nothing happened. The significance of each journey often becomes clear later.

The Ogham system, the Apple, Quert, the Q-few, links the apple to the spiritual warrior (Celtic Tree Mysteries by Steve Blamires), one who is unafraid to make the journey to the Otherworld and back, one who is unafraid to face death or madness. This is the divine madness of the shaman. Mad people held a different place in Celtic society than they do today. Their madness was believed to be a gift and a rare ability, which link then to the Otherworld and oracular knowledge and meaningful insights. In our society madness is feared, suppressed and hidden away. Wassailing, for instance, would be considered quite made by today's society, but the idea of waking up the tree's spirit so that it could get on with the job of making apples on which everyone so depended, was considered perfectly acceptable in the past.

And so, there is so much more to the humble Apple tree than first meets the eye. It has a power beyond its stature, and enhances abilities beyond the everyday, despite it being an "everyday" fruit in our society. Nowadays we buy our apples from a shop, and have lost contact with the tree and the porcess of enjoying the sight of trees in full bloom, of sitting in an orchard on a quiet summer's evening, and picking basketfuls of perfect, crisp fruit in the Autumn. Opening your heart to the spirit of the Apple tree is the first step in making this journey to gain the hidden knowledge it holds for you.