Fruits Fable and Folklore
Fruit - The Fables and The Folklore
Many fruits are surrounded by a long and colorful history of symbolic meaning and mythical tales. Apples, cherries, figs, pomegranates, and strawberries are found around the world woven into religious tales, and ancient folklore.
These bountiful gifts from Mother Nature herself, are valuable, not only because they are capable of bringing us mouthwatering nourishment, but most importantly because they impart upon us the lasting wonder and importance of nature's beauty and magic.
"The gracious, eternal God permits the spirit to green and bloom and to bring forth the most marvelous fruit, surpassing anything a tongue can express and a heart conceive." ~ Johannes Tauler
"If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame or fortune, it's the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past." ~ Bodhidharma
Apple - Tree of Paradise
In almost every culture, the apple is ripe with symbolic meaning and mythical folklore. They can signify wisdom, joy, fertility, temptation, peace, love, masculinity, and youthfulness.
In Europe, the apple was shown in biblical art, as the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, which may be why the apple has this strong mythical association.
Adam and Eve, lived in Eden, the Garden of Paradise. They were the first man and the first woman on earth, and God forbade them to eat the fruit of only one tree that grew in the garden, the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil". When they gave in to temptation and tasted the fruit, God drove them out of Eden for breaking his commandment.
The actual biblical description of the tree in the Garden of Eden does not name a specific fruit, and in some traditions, the forbidden fruit has been symbolized as a fig, a pear, or a pomegranate.
In British myth and legend, apples are most identified with the Island of Avalon, which literally means "the apple land" or "apple island"; as derived from the Welsh word for apple "afal". It is the place of eternal rest for Celtic heroes, including King Arthur.
Europeans, considered the apple, the "life-tree" symbol for a boy.
- Apples and Apple Cider have aphrodisiac qualities and were used in love rituals in Europe during the Middle Ages.
- It is said that if a woman wanted a man to respond to her loving desires, she had to sleep with an apple under her arm and persuade the man to eat it the following day. He would then have eyes for her only.
In Norse myths, apples are a symbol of eternal youth.
Nordic Legend says that the goddess of spring, Iduna, wife of the Norse God of poetry, Bragi, fed an apple to the gods and goddesses every evening to keep the gods young. She guarded this box of golden apples, but the trickster god, Loki allowed Iduna to be kidnapped by the giants, and the gods began to grow old. To regain their youth, they sent Loki to rescue Iduna and return the magic apples.
Celtic mythology also mentions apples as the fruit of the gods and of immortality.
In Greco-Roman Myth, the Hesperides, three virgin sisters who, along with a Dragon, guarded the tree of golden apples that Hera, queen of the gods, had received as a wedding present from Gaia, The Earth Mother. The tree's apples were golden, tasted like honey, and renewed health and beauty.
The Golden Apple and the Trojan War.
Eris, the goddess of discord, was angry not to be included among the gods asked to attend a wedding feast. Arriving uninvited, she threw an apple, labeled "For the Fairest," onto a table at the feast. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, each assumed that the apple was meant for her. They asked Paris, a Prince of Troy, to settle the matter, and he awarded the apple to Aphrodite. In revenge, Hera and Athena supported the Greeks in the war that led to the fall of Troy.
- People still use the phrase, "an apple of discord" to refer to something that provokes an argument.
Pomona was the Roman Goddess of fruit trees, especially apple trees. She was also known as the "Apple Mother", who gave her people, "apples of eternal life." Roman banquets, often ended with apples and a recitation of Pomona's blessing.
In China, apples represent peace, and apple blossoms are a symbol of a woman's beauty.
- An apple pictured along with magnolias, is "a hope that your house be honored and rich with beauty."
Crystal Fruit Art Gifts - Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit. ~ Kahlil Gibran
Cherries can symbolize fertility, rebirth and new awakenings
In Japan, where cherry blossoms are the national flower, the cherry represents beauty, courtesy, and modesty.
The ancient Chinese regarded the fruit as a symbol of immortality.
One Chinese legend, tells of the goddess, Xi Wang Mu, in whose garden, "the cherries of immortality ripen," every thousand years.
- Because cherry wood was thought to keep evil spirits away, the Chinese placed cherry branches over their doors on New Year's Day and carved cherry wood statues to stand guard in front of their homes.
The symbolic meaning of cherry blossoms in the west is education
A folktale in an Old English Christmas Carol, tells of how Joseph and the pregnant Mary, were walking in a cherry orchard, when Mary asked Joseph to pick her some cherries. However Joseph remarked unkindly that she should get whomever 'brought thee with child' to pick the cherries for her. The unborn Christ child then communicated with the cherry trees, asking them to lower their branches so that Mary could pick her own cherries, and Joseph was suitably repentant.
- A Cherry Orchard, is sure of having a rich crop, if the first ripe cherry is eaten by a woman who has just given birth to her first child.
Tree of wisdom, vigor, and creation.
Native to the Mediterranean region, the fig tree appears in some images of the Garden of Eden.
After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with leaves that are usually said to be from the fig tree.
In Greek and Roman mythology, figs are sometimes associated with Dionysus (Bacchus to the Romans), god of wine and drunkenness, and with Priapus, a satyr, who symbolized sexual desire.
Figs were held sacred by the Romans, because the wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus rested under a Fig tree.
- Figs were offered as presents during the celebrations of the first day of the year by Romans.
- One of the Titans who fled from Zeus and was transformed by his mother, Gaia, into a fig-tree. (Source: Athenaeus)
- A man who gave shelter to the goddess Demeter, when she was searching for her lost daughter, Persephone was rewarded with the creation of the cultivated fig tree. (Source: Pausanias)
The fig tree has a sacred meaning for Buddhists.
According to Buddhist legend, the Buddha, achieved enlightenment one day in 528 B.C. while sitting under a Bodhi tree, a kind of fig tree.
Immortality, female symbol
Perdix, "Lord of the Pear Trees", was one of Athens most sacred kings, when he was cast into the sea to die, his goddess, Athena, carried him to heaven, in the form of a Partridge.
- When the legend of "The Partridge in a Pear Tree", was made into a Christmas Carol, the symbol of Christ was substituted for Lord Perdix.
In Greek and Roman mythology, pears are sacred to three goddesses: Hera (Juno to the Romans), Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans), and Pomona, a Roman goddess of gardens and trees.
In Europe, it was customary to plant a fruit tree at a wedding. The longevity and fruitfulness of the trees were thought to give strength to the marriage and children. As each child arrived, an apple tree was planted for every boy, and a pear tree for each girl.
In Russia, pears were used as protective charms for cows.
The ancient Chinese, believed that the pear was a symbol of immortality. (Pear trees live for a long time.) In Chinese the word "li", means both "pear" and "separation". For this reason, tradition says that to avoid a separation, friends and lovers should not divide a pear.
Pomegranate - Ancient red fruit, with many seeds that symbolize fertility.
The Pomegranate was often used as a herbal remedy to lengthen life and restore vigor, these qualities often made it a symbolic link between the living and the dead.
To the Romans, the pomegranate signified marriage, and brides decked themselves in pomegranate wreaths.
Pomegranate seeds appear in the famous Greek myth of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, and her daughter, Persephone...
"One day, Persephone was picking flowers in a field, when Hades, the King of the Underworld, seized her and carried her to his dark underworld to be his wife. Grief-stricken, her mother, Demeter, killed every living plant on earth and refused to let new crops grow. To prevent man-kind from starving, Zeus ordered Hades to release Persephone. However, before she was released, Hades tricked her into eating seven pomegranate seeds, "The Fruit of the Underworld", this condemned her to life in the underworld for four months out of every year. For those months (winter), the world is plunged into a dark cold emptiness, but when Persephone returns to her mother each year, the earth again begets flowers, fruit, and grains."
"A single fruit grew on that tree, a bright pomegranate fruit. Persephone stood up in the chariot and plucked the fruit from the tree. Then did "he" prevail upon her to divide the fruit, and, having divided it, Persephone ate seven of the pomegranate seeds." - The Golden Fleece by Padraic Colum (1881-1972)
In Greek myth, Orion's wife was very beautiful, even rivaling the beauty of Zeus's wife, Hera. For her daring to compete with Hera, her children were killed and she was persuaded to believe herself the culprit. In agony, she threw herself from a cliff. The location of her blood was where the first pomegranate tree grew.
In the modern-day traditions of many Greeks, it is customary to adorn the holiday table with pomegranates. The Greeks consider the pomegranate to be a symbol of abundance; a fruit that spills over in plenitude and good luck. They are set out in honor of the fertile land and its bounty. Pomegranates also make an appearance during weddings, funerals, and New Year celebrations.
Pomegranates in China are associated with fertility. One of these fruits, shown half-opened, is often a wedding gift, it means a hundred seeds, or more completely, a hundred sons. The word for seed and sons in Chinese is "zi", it is also the word for "sons."
To the early Jews, pomegranate seeds were an affirmation of their faith. Each pomegranate was believed to contain exactly 613 seeds, a number that corresponds with the number of commandments in the Torah. This belief was once so strong that the Old Testament calls for the pomegranate's image to be woven into priestly robes.
The pomegranate may also be the original fruit from the Garden of Eden, making it the representation of all that is forbidden. One taste of its ripe seeds and all knowledge of death, sex, and sin are suddenly clear. However, this didn't stop early Christians from idolizing the fruit.
Christian art, often depicts the Virgin Mary with a pomegranate, either in her hand, or nearby. This was to symbolized the Virgin Mary's power over life and death, as well as the seed that bore the Son of God.
Ancient Arab women used pomegranate seeds to predict their own fertility. The pomegranate was dropped on the ground, in the center of a circle. When it broke open, the number of seeds that landed outside the circle, was the number of children she would have.
Pomegranates are a Chinese Sign for Fertility - Makes a Great Wedding Gift!
These fruits are often a wedding gift in China, the seeds signifying the wish for fertility and the hope for many sons.
Strawberry - A member of the rose family, rebirth, health
The Seneca Indians, of the northeastern United States, associate Strawberries with spring and rebirth, because strawberries are the first fruit of the year to ripen.
- The Seneca also believe that strawberries grow along the path to the heavens and that they bring good health.
According to Roman legend, when Adonis died, Venus wept uncontrollably. The tears rolled down her cheek and dropped to the earth turning into heart shaped strawberries.
Many cultures believe that strawberries are an aphrodisiac and they make sure that newlyweds are served these magical berries.
In parts of Europe, the strawberry, is considered sacred to the Virgin Mary, who is said to accompany children when they go strawberry-picking on St. John's Day.
Fruit References and Sources
Loyal and efficient work in a great cause, even though it may not be immediately recognized, ultimately bears fruit. - Jawaharlal Nehru
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch's Mythology. New York: Avenel, 1978. Golden Apples of the Hesperides, Atalanta, Pomona, Iduna.
Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. New York: Penguin Books, 1968, reprint: 1976. Golden Apples of the Hesperides, Atalanta, Avalon.
Encyclopedia of the Celts. Avalon, British, Irish.
Mythography Web site. Pomona.
Yeats, W. B. Irish Fairy & Folk Tales. New York: Barnes and Nobles Books, 1993 reprint. Irish legends.
Alan G. Hefner