Spring Blossoming: The Holy Orchard as Goddess by Jill Hammer


Every year when the cherries, pears, plums, and apple trees begin to bloom, I go out walking.  I look for every spot in my vicinity where white and pink blossoms are blooming in exquisite profusion like foam on an ocean. Every year I take photographs, even though I already have so many.  I walk at every hour of the day because, as the light changes, the colors change. I have albums and albums of pictures of my beloveds, the trees.

For me, the apple and cherry trees are a manifestation of Goddess.  Of course, everything is a manifestation of Goddess, but these, for me, have an extra measure of that life-giving beauty and abundance I associate with the indwelling Presence in the cosmos.  My enjoyment of the blossoms is both a sensual appreciation of the gorgeousness of Being and a poignant awareness that they will not last forever.  Sometimes these glories manifest for me as feminine, sometimes as masculine, and sometimes just as Life itself.

 

My ancestors have felt the same way for a long time.  The Song of Songs, the ancient biblical love poem, compares the Beloved (which later tradition understands as a divine beloved) to an apple tree: “Like an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my love among men.”  (Song of Songs 2:3). Scholars disagree about whether tapuach is an apple, orange, or quince (though the tradition generally comes down on the side of “apple”) but the fruit tree reference is clear.  Later on the apple tree appears again as the site of multiple erotic encounters: “Beneath the apple tree I aroused you; there your mother conceived you” (Song of Songs 8:5).  Not only the current lovers but their parents also made love in the orchards.  The orchards are an almost otherworldly place, a place where love and generativity can unfold, generation after generation.

The kabbalists, who innovated a whole new creative language for God in relationship to the world, saw the apple orchard as a manifestation of the divine feminine.  The Zohar, the kabbalistic work of 13th century Spain, often refers to Shekhinah as “the holy field of apples” or “the holy apple orchard.”  This apple orchard receives nourishing dew from the Divine beloved: “that field of holy apples drips with dew every day from the place called ‘heaven.’”  Heaven, in this case, is the Shekhinah’s Beloved, known as Tiferet or the Holy One of Blessing, who sends down moisture to sustain her. (Zohar I, 224b).  And sometimes this divine beloved too is an apple tree: “The apple tree is the Holy One of Blessing, more delightful and colorful than all other trees.” (Zohar I, 85b).  In 16th century Sfat, the kabbalist Isaac Luria referred to a Sabbath meal as “the feast of the holy field of apples,” since Shekhinah manifests especially on the Sabbath.

These mystics, of course, weren’t only abstracting a poetic “apple orchard”—they had experienced the beauty of real ones.  They used “orchard” to describe the divine because they had experienced the divine in such a place.  So my experience of Goddess in the orchards is entirely consistent with the Jewish mystical tradition.

And, it’s consistent with sacred orchard traditions around the world.  In many legends, the orchard is a place of immortality and divinity.  The Norse goddess Idunna tends the orchard that grows apples of immortality, the fruit which makes the gods live forever.  In Britain, Avalon or “the isle of apples” is the place where Arthur rests, waiting to be revived.  In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in his Vita Merlinae: “The island of apples which men call the Fortunate Isle gets its name from the fact that it produces all things of itself: the fields there have no need of the ploughs of the farmers and all cultivation is lacking except what nature provides. Of its own accord it produces grain and grapes, and apple trees grow in its woods… There nine sisters rule by a pleasing set of laws…”  The Greeks too celebrated the Hesperides, the maidens who guarded the apples of immortality somewhere in the west, beyond the sunset.

Interestingly, the sacred fruits live in the west in more cultures than one. In China, the goddess Hsi Wang Mu, Queen Mother of the West, keeps the peach tree of immortality.  This peach tree put forth leaves once every thousand years, and the fruit took three thousand years to ripen. The goddess would then throw a feast for the immortals to renew them.

In Japan, the goddess of cherry blossoms is Konohanasakuya-hime, daughter of a mountain god and granddaughter of Amaterasu the sun goddess. The Goddess of Mount Fuji, Konohanasakuya-hime, embodies the delicacy and ephemerality of life.  Women visit her shrines to pray for beauty and love.

It’s striking that, consistently across culture, holy orchards tend to be inhabited and/or tended by goddesses and female entities.  My meeting of Goddess among the blossoms of fruit trees is part of a long tradition of such encounters.  Nevertheless, this year I’ll try to stay completely in the moment as I walk beneath the graceful branches and reach out toward the soft white blossoms.  After all, all of the ancient lore was first inspired by a brief and shining moment of present beauty.

 

Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, is the co-founder of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute (www.kohenet.org) and the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion (www.ajrsem.org).  She is the author of essays, poems, rituals and stories, and of seven books including Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women, The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons, The Omer Calendar of Biblical Women, The Hebrew Priestess (with Taya Shere, 2015), and the new volume of poetry The Book of Earth and Other Mysteries (2016).



Categories: Goddess feminism, Goddess Spirituality, Jewish Feminism, Judaism, Nature, Priestessing

Tags: , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. Right there with you in awe and adoration!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful essay and so informative… Like you I have always been in love with apple trees especially but all fruit trees in general as well and like you I must experience them and take pictures too – thousands, literally. I love these words: “These mystics, of course, weren’t only abstracting a poetic “apple orchard”—they had experienced the beauty of real ones.” Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Beautiful and fascinating and inspiring–not only the orchards themselves, but also this essay about them. Splendid research, too. I don’t know if there are any big orchards near Long Beach, CA, but I have seen small groves of fruit trees on the ranchos I’ve visited. Thanks for posting this. It’s good to read about something beautiful first thing in the morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Jill, for these magnificent photos!! Your beloved, your trees. So you inspired me — I searched Google & asked, “What is the oldest living tree?” And I got this answer, WOW! —

    “A recently documented stand of bald cypress trees in North Carolina, including one tree at least 2,624 years old, are the oldest known living trees in eastern North America and the oldest known wetland tree species in the world.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve also been very drawn to blossoms over the years, and love to visit the city of Vancouver and soak in the magic of the incredible array of different varieties of cherry blossoms that come in the springtime. I hadn’t made the connection before between these beauties and Goddess so thank you for this! Now I can enter even more deeply into my communion with the blossoms knowing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This helps to explain how I was enraptured by a peach orchard and wrote this poem as if it came from past lives. Thanks to Geraldine Charles for publishing it in Goddess Pages.

    The Peach Blossoms and the Temple Maidens March 28,2016

    “It is 2016,” say the rows of peaches,
    all in bloom, orangey-pink, on this Spring morning.
    “We billow out our petals, our sweet fragrance,
    and later, our piquant, sweet-and-sour fruit,
    to delight the heart and bite the tongue.
    We are so wet and soft,
    we will run rivulets down your chin.”

    The temple maidens of Crete gaze lovingly and knowingly
    upon the rows.

    “But still,” say the peach blossoms, “still, even though we bloom,
    men fight and kill and die in bloody heaps
    running red into our roots.”

    “Somehow we sang of this, though three thousand years ago,”
    call out the temple maidens.
    “Though we danced circles upon your grassy knolls,
    though incense burned deep and cleansing all around us,
    we ran barefoot to the shore and saw
    the ships full of men, headed for war.
    They moved on, heeding no more
    our delights of the body and the soul.”

    “Temple maidens! Come again and dance among our rows,
    with your lilting song and compelling drumbeat,
    calling all people to rise in ecstasy,
    in our beauty, among our orangey-sweet rows.”

    “We come, we come, oh Peaches soft and wet,
    it is of You we sing,
    it is of You and Her, Her boundless joys,
    her endless cacophony of creativity
    to which we all are born.
    It is for you we sing,
    and we come here today, come from Crete
    to celebrate and sacrifice,
    to burn late at night in the groves,
    to Priestess the rising energy of your heated sap
    until all Human’s blood runs rich and hot,
    magma from the soul, from all our roots,
    for us, for you, for them, for now, for all.”

    
Annelinde Metzner

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to sounddreaming Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: