The Witch, the Woods, and the Apple

Happy Halloween and Blessed Samhain! I’m so excited to debut my new embroidery collection at my favorite time of year. This year, visions of “Witch’s Woods” came into my mind. Trees that reach out for passersby, witch’s homes in the woods, moonlight that makes spiderwebs sparkle, and of course poison apples. With this inspiration as my starting point, I started to think about the relationship between the archetypal witch, the woods, and apples. In this post, I’d love to show you my new pieces, as well as some of the inspiration for them.

Some of my favorite images of witches are woodcuts by Albrecht Durer and Hans Baldung Grien from the beginning of the 16th century. They show naked, old crones who are intertwined with animals and nature magic. These images were used as propaganda (with a little humor) against witches, as just a few decades before the creation of these woodcuts, the Malleus Maleficarum defined the evils of witches and their threats to the Christian church. While the nakedness of the women in these images is enough to point to their wickedness (and their connection to the first fallen woman, Eve), it is their place in nature that makes them so dangerous. They are beyond the manicured and tame gardens of cities and churches, and instead exist beyond male and religious control in the woods. This trope of witches in the woods is present in various folklores throughout time, but these images really show how formidable they might be.

While nature and the woods became the setting for witchcraft, there are certainly other symbols that came to be synonymous with witches, one of these being the poison apple. An interesting parallel between witches who use apples in folklore and the Bible is of course the first woman, Eve, who ate the Forbidden Fruit (usually understood as an apple) in the Garden of Eden, thus dooming mankind. Her apple was from the Tree of Knowledge, and Eve simply sought the knowledge that the tree offered her. But, of course, in Christianity, her indulgence was sinful. However, I find that her seeking knowledge is similar to the journeys of witches, who dare to look beyond the veil into shadow and into the connectedness of all things. So perhaps it is this connection between Eve, the first “bad” woman and witches that have made the apple so prominent in lore about witches. But the apple itself has had many meanings put upon it, as it can be seen as a symbol of love, seduction, fertility, wisdom, and, of course, evil, which is hinted at in its etymology. In Greek, the word for apple is mâlon, which was borrowed by Latin in creating its name for apple: mālus. This word is very similar to the Latin “evil”: malus or malum. Is this where the concept of a poison apple was born? Perhaps it is a combination of many things: its role in the fall of man, its closeness to the word evil, as well as it’s juicy, tempting appearance. Apples do, after all, offer deliciousness. In thinking about the poison apple as a concept, I began my newest collection. I thought this juicy fruit would be the perfect muse for my new pieces, and I had so much fun embroidering apples onto these pieces, hoping to capture some of my favorite “evil apples” from folklore and film.

I find film to be one of the most potent forms of translating our folklore, and while Disney is rarely credited with giving accurate portrayals of original folktales, the studio did create gorgeous visuals and bring older, valuable stories into the 20th century. I remember being so afraid of the witch in Disney’s Snow White when I was younger, I couldn’t even look at her. Now, of course, her scenes of potion-making and spell-casting are near and dear to my heart. I am especially thinking of when she transforms the now-iconic poison apple with her witchcraft, creating something both lethal and tempting. This depiction of magic on-screen is so enchanting, even if it is terrifying. Also terrifying is Snow White’s adventure through the forest, which inspired me to create the Poison Apple Bustier, as I’ve always been so frightened of those trees that grab at Snow White. And after all that, she is still found by the Evil Queen and given a taste of the poison apple in the heart of the woods. It makes the woods seem as if they are an extension of the queen-witch’s rule, and that’s just so powerful and badass, as terrifying as the journey is.

I carried the poison apple theme into another piece, the Live Deliciously Garter Belt, but also had another film on my mind: The 2015 film, The VVitch. This film seems so a part of the modern witchcraft lore that is almost feels as if it’s a story that has existed in our collective lexicon forever. It makes use of the apple in several scenes and casts the apple as a symbol of witchery. After the family in the film moves to a desolate plot of land at the edge of a wood, the father and son often talk of finding apples to surprise their family with. They hunt for apples in the wood, but are not successful in finding any. But once the son, Caleb, is taken by a (very hot, very deceiving) witch in the wood, he finally finds his apple. He is returned to the family “witched,” talking in tongues and very ill, and soon spits up a whole apple before dying. Here, the apple is a nod to the classic poison apple, as well as to the sensuality and “deliciousness” that had lured Caleb to the witch in the wood. The witch was dangerous because of her sexuality, and Caleb fell pray to her malice. I had to nod to The VVitch with my Live Deliciously Garter Belt which uses those same outstretched tree branch-arms and a juicy apple as the imagery, and features the words “live deliciously” to capture what Black Philip offers Thomasin at the end of the film. Why wouldn’t we want to bite into a juicy apple and live deliciously?

And, well, I have to give a shoutout to my favorite show for teenagers, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where in the first episode Sabrina seeks out a “malum malus,” or apple of evil, drawing on that similarity in etymology again. It is a malum malus that allows her to see the truth about her upcoming decision, and in this way she reenacts Eve’s bite of the Forbidden Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Apples are ancient sources of knowledge and witchcraft, and this scene perfectly captures that.

Below is the moodboard I created to help me sort out what I wanted to capture in my new pieces. Snow White, The VVitch, and early 1500s witches are all there, along with moonlight, lots of soft tulle, and my Halloween inspo-for-life, Miranda Richardson in Sleepy Hollow who plays both a murderous stepmother and a terrifying witch in the wood.

With that, I’d so appreciate it if you’d have a look at my newest pieces in my shop here! Oh, and if my designs ever interest you but I don’t have anything in your size listed, I am open for custom work! Reach out on Etsy or DM me on Instagram if you want to discuss a custom piece. Happy spooky season and go live deliciously, if you please. ✨

February 1, 2022