In Medieval Irish story Connla the Fair, an Irish prince, fell in love with a beautiful Faerie woman, who arrived on the Irish shore in a crystal boat. She offered him an apple from the world of Faerie, and he took the fatal bite, and was hers forever. They set sail for her magical island where the trees bore both fruit and blossom, and winter never came. There, they ate an ever replenishing stock of apples, which kept them
In Irish lore, the God Óengus offered three miraculous apple trees from the magical woods, Bruig na Bóinde (New Grange), as a wedding gift for the one of the Milesians. One was in full bloom, one shedding its blossoms, and one in fruit. (Mountfort, page 103) The deliberate felling of an Apple Tree was punishable by death in ancient Irish law. (Gifford, page 97)
In the Welsh Câd Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees), the Apple is described as the noblest tree of them all, the tree that symbolized poetic immortality.
For obvious reasons the ancient Celts consider the apple tree a treasure among the Ogham tree clan.
It’s brilliant flowers burst forth in the spring, usually ranging from pink to white. These flowers have a light aroma that lifts the spirit of all who pass by them. Ancient Celts would decorate bedchambers with the apple blossoms as a fertility gesture and to tribute the beauty and bounty life provides.
After the glory of the blossoms, come the fruit of the apple. Druids recognized the powerful transformative qualities experienced when consuming the apple. It was thought the fruit could transport the eater to other worlds, typically of a paradise-like ilk. Further altered states could be induced by pressing the apples and allowing them to ferment over time, thus producing a “hard cider.”
Apples were highly valued by the ancient Celts because of their ability to keep over a long period of time when stored in a cool dry place. This was symbolic of the presence of love, even long past the time of peak ripeness. In other words, when the waves of passion subside, love lingers even afterwards when simple companionship is the prime comfort.
Even the formation of the tree trunk in her various poses was said to have a female form to it, and was considered a beacon of fertility. Indeed, apple wood was often burned during fertility rites and festivals carried out in the winter months. These were demonstrations to beckon bountiful abundance upon the return of spring as well as symbolically insure continuation of large, healthy families.
The Apple Tree on Druidry
The sacred Druid plant, an t-uil-oc (Mistletoe), is often found on Apple trees, making it an especially holy tree to the Druids, along with the Oak.
Drawing by Cedar Sposato
In the Irish Druid tradition, the Silver Bough is cut from a magical Apple tree, where silver apple shaped bells played a mystical tune, which could lull people into a trance state. Druids could make contact with the Otherworld during a trance enhanced by this silver apple bough.
The Apple Tree is closely linked to Druids, in their aspect as magicians and shamans. The tree is often used when the Druid undergoes a magical transformation or journeys in the Otherworld. In The Voyage of Bran, an Otherworldly woman appears with an apple branch laden with bells, entrancing Bran with wondrous tales of the Otherworld. So enraptured is he by this damsel with the magical apple branch, that he sets sail immediately for the enchanted shores, having epic adventures on his journey. (Blamires, page 142)
“In Druid lore, the essence of three sacred apples growing on the Tree of Knowledge came from three drops that fell from Cerridwen’s cauldron, which correspond with the Druid’s most holy symbol, the Three Rays of Light.” (Gifford, page 99)
The Druid Merlin was purported to work in a magical Apple Grove guarded by birds, revealed to him by his master, Gwendolleu. He was said to receive the gift of prophecy from the Faerie Queen, conferred through the consumption of one of her magic apples. Merlin was also said to take shelter under an apple tree during his bout with madness.
Thomas the Rhymer, of Ercledoune, in 13th Century Scotland, was warned not to eat the Otherworldly Apple offered by the Faerie Queen, or he would be unable to return to mortal life.
Bards (poets) and Ovates (shamans) carried apple branches, (with bronze, silver, or gold bells), called the Craobh Ciuil (Branch of Reason) as symbols of their ofﬁce. “As with all trees whose fruits are the basis of alcoholic drinks, the apple tree has close associations with divine inspiration and poetry.” (Gifford, page 94)
La Mas Ushal was brewed at the end of October in preparation for the Druid’s “Day of the Apple” on November 1st. This recipe has come down to us as the Wassail Bowl, made from baked or roasted crab apples, brown ale or cider, honey, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and ginger.
Apples are much in evidence in Samhain rituals of prophecy. Peeling an apple in front of the mirror and throwing it over the left shoulder, a young maiden can recognize the initial of her future husband.
Bobbing for apples, another traditional Samhain pastime, was a reference to the Celtic Emhain Abhlach, "Paradise of Apples," where the dead, having eaten of the sacred fruit, enjoyed a blissful immortality.