April (Mensis Aprilis) the second month of the ancient Roman calendar, received its name around 738 BCE. At that time, it followed March, Mensis Martis (named for Mars, the Roman god of war and agriculture), which was the first month of the year that aligned with the Spring Equinox.
The word Aprilis comes from the Latin word aperire, meaning “to open”, in reference to trees and flowers that blossom in Spring. Fruit trees in the Rosaceae (Rose) family, such as apples, cherries, almonds, plums, pears, quince and hawthorns are loved for their yearly display of delicate yet fleeting blossoms.
The name April, is also based on Aphrodite as Apru or Aphrilis. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, named the rose in honor of her son Eros, god of passion and desire. Ares, god of war, was the father of Eros. The Romans equated Aphrodite with Venus, Ares with Mars, and Eros with Cupid. Roses and apples were sacred to Aphrodite and Venus.
Apples are one of the most iconic fruits in world mythology. Apple trees have been known as Trees of Love and Trees of Knowledge. Its fruit has been associated with immortality, health and wisdom as well as temptation, betrayal and death.
Apples are the most popular fruit in the world. There are 30-55 species of apples and 7,500 known cultivars in the Malus genus, which includes orchard apples and crabapples. The word apple comes from the Proto-Germanic word apalaz, which simply means “fruit”. Apples are also considered pomes, from the Latin word Pomum, another universal word for fruits and nuts.
The apple’s humble origins began in the mountains of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) and northwestern China where Malus sieversii, a wild apple grew and flourished. Animals and birds dispersed its seeds helping it spread and diversify across West Asia and Europe. Tens of thousands of years ago people gathered apples as a food source. Around 1500 BCE they began trading apples on the Silk Road between China and Europe as a prized fruit. Crabapples are native to North America, but they weren’t as edible as the apples that arrived in the 1600’s. Apples were cultivated in backyard gardens as a source of comfort and pride. Over time these apples, Malus domestica, became the orchard apples we enjoy today.
The history of April and Apples is deeply intertwined with the origin stories of Aphrodite and Venus dating back at least 6000 years. The Sumerian goddess Inanna and the Assyrian Ishtar were both associated with the planet Venus, which was known as the “wandering” star.
Venus, the second planet from the sun, is also the brightest object in the night sky next to the moon. Earth is flanked by Venus and Mars. Venus and Mars are also the planets that rule the astrological signs within the month of April.
- March 21 – April 19: Aries (Ram) ruled by Mars
- April 20 – May 20: Taurus (Bull) ruled by Venus
Many early astronomers saw Venus as two separate stars. It was the first “star” seen at dusk as it rose from the west, and the last “star” before dawn as it set in the east. Stars generate their own light through nuclear fusion. Planets do not produce light, instead they reflect the light of the Sun, which is a star. Stars are considered “fixed” in the night sky versus the planets that wander. All the stars we see at night exist beyond our solar system. The Greek word “planetos“, meaning “one who wanders”, inspired the word planet. In ancient times the seven “wanderers” were the planets that could be seen with a naked eye, which included the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn.
The Sumerians were the first to discern Venus as a planet versus a star, which they associated with Inanna, the goddess of love, fertility, war, justice and power. Inanna is known as one of the seven Anunnaki (those that decree) in Mesopotamian mythology. There are more stories written about Inanna than any other Sumerian deity.
Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld was inspired by Venus’s movements in the night sky. Written between 1900-1600 BCE, Inanna “Queen of Heaven” chose to descend into the underworld. There she was striped of her dignity and faced her shadow in the form of her sister “Queen of the Underworld”. To escape death in the underworld, Inanna offered her husband Dumuzid (the Shepherd King) to take her place. Dumuzid’s sister chose to split the time in the underworld with Dumuzid. Free from the underworld, Inanna rose to her place as the “Queen of Heaven”.
This story of life, death and resurrection was used to explain the cycle of Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. In Mesopotamia, Inanna and Dumuzid were also known as Ishtar and Tammuz. In Egypt this story is similar to that of Isis and Osiris. In Greek mythology it shares aspects of Aphrodite and Adonis as well as Persephone and Hades. The Romans assimilated Aphrodite with Venus, as the goddess of love, war and victory.
In Greek mythology, the evening star of Venus was called Hesperus “evening”. The daughters of Hesperus were appointed by Hera to guard the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides.
The myth of the golden apple began as a wedding gift from Gaia (Mother Earth) to Hera/Juno and Zeus/Jupiter. The golden apples promised immortality. Whoever ate them would no longer feel hunger, thirst or suffering. These golden apples were coveted by the Gods who sought to steal them from the garden of Hesperides for their own gain.
The Golden Apple of Discord is based on a story were Eris, goddess of strife, stole a golden apple from the garden and tossed it into a crowd during a wedding. Zeus, father of Aphrodite, appointed Paris to choose who was the most beautiful between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Aphrodite was declared the winner after promising Paris the love of Helen of Sparta, a decision that led to the Trojan war.
When the Romans translated the evening star Hesperus into Latin, it was known as Vesper. Vespers became a service of evening prayers by Christians.
The Greeks named the morning star, Phosphorus the “light-bringer”. When the Romans translated it into Latin, it became known as Lucifer “the shining one”, son of Eos the “dawn”.
In Germanic mythology Eos was Eostre, the goddess of the Spring Equinox. Her namesakes are the direction East and the celebration of Easter. The Germanic people had many customs in place for the celebration of Eostre, which included bunnies, baby chicks and eggs as symbols of new life. A favorite tradition was to hang colorful eggs in the branches of a blossoming apple tree.
Easter is directly connected to the Jewish festival of Pesach/Passover, a seven-day celebration that honors the night that the angel of death passed over the homes of the Jewish people in the book of Exodus. Passover begins at sundown, on the eve of the full moon after the spring equinox in the lunar month of Nissan (March/April). It begins with a ceremonial Seder dinner consisting of foods that symbolize their journey out of Egypt. One of the foods is Charoset/Haroset, a mixture of apples, nuts and wine. It represents the clay mortar that Jews used as slaves to build the Pharaoh’s cities. Its sweetness symbolizes the fruits of their labor.
Easter is a Christian celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the Spring Equinox. This placement was created so Easter/Resurrection Sunday would not occur on the beginning of Passover.
Christianity associated Lucifer “the shining one” with the “fallen angel” as written in the biblical passage of Isaiah 14:12 “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! Lucifer became synonymous with the Greek word diabolos, meaning slanderer. In this case, the slander of Venus as a bright and shining morning star, was seen as an evil entity that became known as the Devil. Another word for the Devil is Satan, which in Hebrew means adversary. Satan is often associated with the serpent who tempted Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This unfortunate twist of fate was enhanced by the apple’s genus name Malus. Malus was based on the Latin word malum, which described tree fruits and the concept of malice or evil. When malum was used in context with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, in Milton’s Paradise Lost c. 1667, the apple was officially seen as the “forbidden fruit”.
In Norse mythology, Iduna was the goddess of spring and the keeper of the magic apples of immortality. Freyja, is the Norse goddess of love, beauty, fertility as well as war and death. Freyja helped retrieve the magic apples of Iduna so the Gods could live forever. Freyja was seen as the counterpart to the Roman goddess Venus, which is how Friday received its name as “Freyja’s Day”.
When apples are cut in half vertically, they reveal two halves that mirror each other as two halves of a whole.
When an apple is cut horizontally a five-pointed star or pentagram is revealed. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, five-pointed pentagrams symbolized stars. This star-like pattern also made the apple a symbol of health, magic, prophecy and protection.
Pentagrams also correspond to human beings with its five fingers, five senses, and five extremities (2 arms, 2 legs, and a head).
When turned upside down, pentagrams became symbols of satanic worship, which fed the misguided story of the apple and its association with the Devil. Just as Venus was seen as a powerful and beautiful planet it was also seen as two separate stars that inspired adoration and fear.
Mythology and superstition have played a huge role in the creation of stories and belief. Our ability to take every day aspects of life and create stories that are good or evil sheds light on how easily we make judgements without understanding the “whole” story. When we separate ourselves from one another, or from nature it self, we forget that we are all part of the whole. The word “holy” is to be “whole”.
The message of April and Apples is to open our hearts and minds as a time of new beginnings.
Ideas for April:
- Eat an apple and enjoy!
- Breathe in the beauty of April!
- Plant an apple tree in your backyard.
- Take a walk in the woods and bring a bag to pick up litter as a way to help the earth and honor the trees. Forests are home to about 80% of the world’s biodiversity, collectively they are the second biggest storehouse of carbon after oceans, absorbing significant amounts of greenhouse gasses. Forests enhance biodiversity, while protecting waterways, enhancing soil nutrition, and providing buffers from natural disasters.
- Support the Canopy Project at earthday.org.
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