Quert (Apple) II

“Manannan, king of the Land of Promise, gives Cormac a magical, sleep-inducing silver branch with three golden apples and, before long, Cormac travels to the otherworld where he discovers a marvellous fountain containing salmon, hazelnuts, and the waters of knowledge.”  – Erynn Rowan Laurie and Timothy White (Speckled Snake, Brother of Birch; Amanita Muscaria Motifs in Celtic Legend)

The Roots:

The Apple tree, or Quert, is the tenth letter of the Ogham in its tree form.

According to Robert Ellison’s Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids, the Apple represents both the Otherworld and choice. In spells, Ellison elaborates, the Apple can be used for love, fertility, divination and faerie contact.

The Apple is often associated with “madness” as well[i]. Caitlin Mathews expresses this connection in a quatrain found within Celtic Wisdom Sticks. Some of the divination interpretations found within her system also seem to relate the Apple to harmony.

John Mathews studies some of the word-Oghams within his work the Celtic Shaman. The statement “shelter of the hind” is here given the meaning of “caring” as a solution to the word-Ogham riddle.

The Apple is one of the only symbols found within the Tree-Ogham that carries a universally acknowledged magic. All over the world humans have associated the Apple with properties and attributions that went beyond those of most other plants.

The Christian religion almost always portrays the fruit of knowledge, and sin, as an Apple. In other cultures the Apple is associated with love, beauty, the gods, and of the Otherworld itself[ii].

Celtic myth and legend also complies. The Apple is often associated with otherworldly love, travel to the Otherworld, music, birds, wealth, and of divinity itself[iii].

Quert, the Apple, is also representative of peace and harmony.

The Trunk:

The Apple is almost always a symbol of the Otherworld in Celtic mythology.

In fact the Apple seems to act as a doorway to the other side. Sometimes it is the fruit of the tree itself, at other times the key appears to be a single branch, often silver, from the Apple tree.

The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz contains many such examples:

“To enter the Otherworld before the appointed hour marked by death, a passport was often necessary, and this was usually a silver branch of the sacred apple-tree bearing blossoms, or fruit, which the queen of the Land of the Ever-Living and Ever-Young gives to those mortals whom she wishes for as companions; though sometimes, as we shall see, it was a single apple without its branch.”

“For us there are no episodes more important, than those in the ancient epics concerning these apple-tree talismans, because in them we find a certain key which unlocks the secret of that world from which such talismans are brought, and proves it to be the same sort of a place as the Otherworld of the Greeks and Romans.”

The Otherworld is a paradise-place of peace and happiness. It can be described as a place where the men are bold and the women beautiful; where the food is plenty and the villains scarce. The Otherworld is found described within Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory as such:

“To be without grief, without sorrow, without death, without any sickness, without weakness; that is the sign of Emhain; it is not common wonder that is.”

In most of the stories this paradise is ruled over by, or connected to, Manannan Mac Lir. Despite being a “god of the sea[iv],” Manannan can more easily be compared to father-type gods such as Odin or Zuess.

(Adam and Eve by Albrecht Durer. 1507)

The paradise of the Celts was more likely, in their minds, to be on the horizon of the sea than high up in the air[v]. There are many examples of this found within the lore. The following excerpt, for example, is taken from Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by T.W. Rolleston:

“When the white horse with its riders reached the sea it ran lightly over the waves, and soon the green woods and headlands of Erin faded out of sight. And now the sun shone fiercely down, and the riders passed into a golden haze in which Oisln lost all knowledge of where he was or if sea or dry land were beneath his horse’s hoofs… they saw a young maid ride by on a brown steed, bearing a golden apple in her hand.

These two examples, on the other hand, are taken from the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries:

“The branch sprang from Bran’s hand into the hand of the woman, nor was there strength in Bran’s hand to hold the branch. The next day, with the fairy spell upon him, Bran begins the voyage towards the setting sun. On the ocean he meets Manannan riding in his magic chariot over the sea-waves; and the king tells Bran that he is returning to Ireland after long ages.” 

“Finally, at a feast, the warrior-messenger sings Cormac to sleep; and when Cormac awakes he sees beside him his wife and children, who had preceded him thither to the Land of Promise. The warrior-messenger who took them all is none other than the great god Manannan Mac Lir of the Tuatha De Danann.”

The Apple tree was clearly cherished by the Celtic ancestors.  Whether it was the fruit that was eaten, or the branch that was shaken to make music, the Apple clearly had universally recognized powers within the Celtic tales. What exactly were those powers however?

One could say, perhaps, that we know that the wand belonging to Manannan Mac Lir was made from the Apple tree[vi]. We also know the Apple in these stories, with or without Manannan, had the ability to bring the traveller to Emhain or the land of the departed.

This land of the dead, in a symbolic sense, mirrors the death of the ego found in Zen Buddhism. It is this same ‘death of the self’ that many spiritual practitioners would call enlightenment.

Maybe then the word-Ogham by Morann Mac Main found in the Ogham Tract might begin to make a little more sense? This is what he said while describing the Apple tree[vii]:

“Shelter of a hind, i.e., a fold: to wit, lunatic, that is death sense, it is then his sense comes to him when he goes to his death.”

Perhaps this why the Apple was considered sacred in law and lore alongside certain other trees? Perhaps the Apple represented, or was an aid in achieving, enlightenment? This could only be possible if one could say that the Celtic form of enlightenment was to accept death, release sorrow, and experience peace. Then this connection seems more than feasible.

Certainly the Apple imagery would have found its way into ritual and folklore if this was the case.

There is no way to know with certainty. As always, we can only speculate. This is not an exercise in futility, however. Reflecting on anything often helps us understanding it better.

The Foliage:

The following is taken from Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland by Lady Wilde:

“It is said by time-wise women and fairy doctors that the roots of the elder tree, and the roots of an apple tree that bears red apples, if boiled together and drunk fasting, will expel any evil living thing or evil spirit that may have taken up its abode in the body of a man.”

There is also some interesting Apple magic found within Charles Godfrey Leland’s 1891 study Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling. According to the text, one way to determine love is to slice an Apple in half with a sharp knife. If no seeds are cut then the wielder of the knife shall have their “heart’s desire” fulfilled. In one version a girl then eats half of the Apple before midnight and half of it after midnight. She will then dream of her future husband.

 

“Although few contemporary herbalists consider the apple to be an herb, it has a venerable tradition as a healing agent. So much of what the ancient herbalists believed about the therapeutic powers of this delectable fruit has been scientifically supported that its time to let the apple resume its respected place on the herbal roster.”  – Michael Castleman (the New Healin



[i] This “madness” is often prophetic or Otherworldly in itself.

[ii] J.C. Cooper. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols.

[iii] Such as the relationship found between the Apple and Manannan the sea god.

[iv] Mac Lir means “son of the sea.”

[v] There are many Celtic stories, such as those of the Tuatha De Danaan, where the Otherworld may just as likely be underground, beneath the surface of the Earth. These sites, though not always, are often water entryways as well. These lands are usually not as peaceful.

[vi] What might it mean that the branch is usually described as silver or almost white?

[vii] http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/ogham.html

* All images found within this post are from wikipedia commons.

Quert (Apple)

Apple. The Pome fruit and tree bearing this fruit is celebrated in numerous functions in Celtic mythology, legend and folklore; it is an emblem of fruitfulness and sometimes a means to immortality.”  – James MacKillop (Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology)

The Roots:

The apple represents the allure of the Otherworld.

Quert is the tenth letter of the Ogham. References to things beyond the number nine are found throughout Celtic myth. The Tuatha De Danann try to keep the Milesians beyond the ninth wave of the ocean for example, so that they would not be able to land on the shores of Ireland in the Book of Invasions. Brigit is attended by nine virgins, so she herself is the other that makes ten. Ten is the perfect number because all of the other numbers exist within it, yet it is the return to singularity (Cooper).

There are many Celtic tales, too many to mention here, that have connections to the apple. Yns Avallach, or Avalon, is the final resting place of Arthur and is usually called the Isle of Apples. Cuchulainn follows a rolling wheel and apple to find a great female warrior teacher[i]. One of the Irish names for the Otherworld was Eamhain Ablach, the realm of apples (Laurie). In Irish legend there is even a magical Silver Bough that carries nine apples which sing people to sleep (Paterson) – again that nine plus one. Thomas the Rhymer, who we have also spoken of before, was given an apple by the queen of the fairies that gave him the gift of prophecy. Many other legends associate Merlin, Olwen, Gwen, the romance of Diarmuid and Grainne, and the Tree of Mugna to the apple. Cu Roi is a hero that is only killed after his wife has betrayed him and revealed the secret hiding place of his soul, which is within an apple in the belly of a salmon.

Erynn Rowan Laurie[ii] associates the Ogham letter with madness and insanity. Although Laurie does not associate these letters with trees – but sees them more akin to the Norse runes[iii] -the symbolism of the apple does seem to support her position in some of the myths regardless.  Merlin is often associated to the apple grove which he could bring forth with him from place to place. Sabine Heinz[iv] reminds us that Merlin hid in the treetops when he became insane after a battle. Those that were considered too strange or “touched in the head” were often, even in relatively recent times, said to have been “taken by the fairies” so perhaps there is a connection to those such as Thomas the Rhymer as well to the concept of madness?

With the introduction of Christianity to the Isles, the apple also became synonymous with temptation and evil. The apple, or quert, is often also associated to romantic love and sex.

The Trunk:

The Otherworld can be described as a place that is elusive yet nearby. It seems to exist alongside us. It is a place where time and age do not matter, the otherworldly women and men are beautiful, animals can talk, the sun always shines, the birds always sing and beauty is amplified.

It is in this land that the gods seem to reside and sometimes the ancestors. The Otherworld is a place of heroic deeds, never ending banquets, whimsical love affairs, and items of great power that can be brought back to the land of the living.

Although the Otherworld is often associated with things made of glass, it is more often than not stumbled upon in the most mundane of manners.

A hero is walking through the wood and follows a white animal or becomes lost and finds him or herself in a completely foreign land. This may take place after there is a storm, fog, or mist.

The Otherworld is where the Sidhe, also known as the Tuatha De Danann, reside in Ireland. It is the land of the fairy, the fair folk, or of great lords that reside over the dead.

There is a story of Connla son of Conn Cetchathach of the Hundred Battles. In the story Connla is approached by a beautiful fairy woman who tempts him to come with her to the other side. She offers him an apple and promises him the relief from old age and even death. He leaves with her, but will not return even with the allure of his father’s kingdom and is never seen again.

(Childhood’s Favourites and Fairy Stories, Project Gutenberg)

Those superstitious of the fairies still warn us today to avoid eating the food of the fair folk… lest one never be able to return to the land of the living. There is a suggestion that this is because the food either tastes so good or intoxicates one to never want to return to the land of men again.

The Otherworld is found far away from the trappings of civilization. It is found on the sea by accident when sailors stumble upon unknown islands, or it is found deep within the wilderness.

The Otherworld is found when the hero is out hunting. It is found when the heroine is minding her own business. It is found when an item, usually food or drink, is found unattended and is unassumingly consumed.

It is likely that the Otherworld is a metaphor for the lands that are seen when one’s perception is shifted. This may happen through trance (perhaps shamanic like percussion), drug induced states (maybe aminita muscaria or possibly wine), dreaming, meditation or even enlightenment.

We must remember though that those that seek the Otherworld rarely find it, while those that do not – similar to Taliesin or Amairgin’s acquirement of wisdom– often find themselves on the other side altogether.

Some do not return.

The Foliage:

The apple, as we know it, has only been around since the classical age. The crab apple of the Americas was never cultivated but the small tart apple was used as a food source by the native people nonetheless[v].

According to Jared Diamond[vi], the apple tree was one of the later plants to be cultivated by ancient peoples. The art of cultivation in which the apple tree was domesticated was a complicated and difficult process that is known as grafting today. Grafting was discovered and developed in ancient China. The grafting, and growing of apple orchards, spread across the known world of the time, through Greece and Rome, and eventually into the lands of the Celts themselves.

This was thousands of years after the cultivation of such plants as the olive, grape or fig.

While it is interesting to note that the oak has never been domesticated as a food source, it is also interesting to recognize that the apple tree will quickly become wild once more. According to Hageneder[vii], the orchard apple is sweeter and bigger than the crab apple and the tree has lost its thorns. Trees that naturalize and leave the orchard, however, are often found to grow thorns once more.

The apple, Quert, has a long list of health benefits and even medicinal properties that continue to be studied in awe. The fruit absorbs contaminants from its environment however, so one should try to eat the organic fruit whenever it is possible.

“In the 19th century in Lower Saxony, Germany, the first bath water used by a newborn baby was poured over the roots of an apple tree to ensure that the child would have red cheeks, and, if it was a girl, large breasts too.” – Fred Hageneder  (The Meaning of Trees)


[i] This seems to be a type of divination.

[ii] Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom

[iii] The Ogham is often seen as a tree alphabet but, as I have discussed in previous posts, this is not entirely accurate. I choose to use the Ogham as a tree alphabet on my own path. In my opinion Erynn Rowan Laurie’s book has the most accurate perception of the Ogham.

[iv] Celtic Symbols

[v] Tree Book: Learning to Recognize Trees of British Columbia

[vi] Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

[vii] The Meaning of Trees

[Image] http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19993