Bobbing for Paganism
By Poncie Rutsch
BU News Service
I’ve always wanted to bob for apples on Halloween but unfortunately, I grew up in the era of germaphobes. The first time I saw an actual bucket filled with water and apples primed for the bobbing, I was 12. Now people bob for apples on strings. Or in their own private buckets.
But why is it that people decided to stick their heads in a bucket of water in the first place?
Bobbing for apples supposedly dates back to pagan festival of Samhain, the beginning of fall. More recently, bobbing was used for fortune telling on the British Isles in the 19th century. Once a person caught the apple, they would peel it and toss the long peel over their shoulder, where it would supposedly form the letter of their true love’s first name on the floor.
What’s especially interesting is that the apples they would have bobbed for would not have tasted all that sweet. Sweet apples originated in Kazakhstan, but even there they were more likely to be pressed into hard cider than eaten.
The sweet apples we have today are the result of thousands of years of careful domestication. If you grow apples from seed, the results will be small and bitter; palatable, but not the apple of your dreams. The best apples come from grafting different species together.
After years of manipulation, many favorite apple varieties are lacking in genetic diversity. Breeders graft native crabapple species to choice trees to try and raise their diversity — to prevent the spread of disease or pests. They’ve done this so many times that apples in North America are now more closely related to crabapples than to their ancestors in Kazakhstan.
I particularly like that if you slice an apple in half at its equator, the seeds form a pentagram, classically associated with paganism.
So fortune telling, alcohol, paganism…sensing a theme yet?
Tags: ancestor, apples, crabapple, domesticate, evolution, fall, food, graft, halloween, kazakhstan, october, ritual, science, superstition