Sprawling almond (Prunus dulcis) orchards surround my hometown in California. To this day, when I witness them blossoming forth in their pinkish white splendor, they affect me in much the same way heaven might affect one, were it to suddenly appear in one’s backyard.
Considering that almonds are perhaps my main food staple (seriously! I could eat them for every meal and sometimes do), I was shocked to learn that the wild (bitter) almond is highly toxic. So toxic, in fact, that eating just a small amount can be fatal. The domesticated (sweet) almond, on the other hand, is one of the healthiest things you could eat. Here’s where it gets even more fascinating: almonds are perhaps one of the oldest domesticated food plants, and botanists think that whoever cultivated them must have known which of the bitter almonds were sweetest. But if they’re so deadly to eat, then how did they know? Perhaps there was some sort of mysterious and highly evolved technology afoot, like so much attributed to the earliest teachers of agriculture, such as the pyramids and sacred geometry.
Everything about the almond tree is beautiful: her wizened trunk and branches, her whimsical and otherworldly blossoms, and certainly the delicate taste of her fruit kernel (commonly called a “nut”). Sweet almond oil is an excellent moisturizer that enhances the skin’s natural health and radiant glow. Nutritionally, almonds lend themselves to beauty as they are filled with balancing, vitalizing vitamins, minerals, and nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, protein, fiber, and healthy fats. In fact, simply eating almonds can make for a potent beauty spell. For example:
ALMOND BEAUTY SPELL
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Center yourself by holding your hands in prayer pose and calling on the Great Goddess to bless your magical workings. Place three cups of organic, raw almonds in a medium to large bowl. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and a bit of salt, and stir in a clockwise direction with a wooden spoon until coated. As you stir, mentally direct very bright pink light through the spoon into the almonds. Line a cookie sheet with foil and pour the almonds onto the cookie sheet, spreading evenly. Hold your open palms over the almonds and direct the energy of your words into them as you chant three times:
Goddess of love, Goddess of light
Bless me with your beauty bright.
Bake for ten to twelve minutes or until they are a rich, dark brown. Cool completely, then store in a large jar or other sealed glass container.
Every morning until they’re gone, have one-quarter to one-third cup almonds with breakfast (or for breakfast). Repeat as desired.
One story about the origin of almond trees states that the first sweet almond tree was born of the Anatolian goddess Agdistis, who possessed both male and female identities and came by them honestly. She was the child of such archetypal masculine and feminine deities as Zeus and Gaia. After a cruel prank (in essence, an ancient hate crime) caused Agdistis to castrate herself, her blood spilled upon the earth, and from this, the almond tree burst forth. When Nana, daughter of a river god, gathered almonds from the tree, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Attis. The myth continues in most mysterious ways, and indeed the goddess and her progeny were aligned with a widespread mystery tradition, in some ways similar to the Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone.
While the subtle meanings of the myth of Agdistis, Nana, and Attis may not be readily apparent, one can glean from the subtext that almonds are quite magical and have much to do with the fertility of both humans and the earth.
Additionally, almonds have traditionally been featured in iconography of baby Jesus and Mother Mary. And, according to the poet Virgil, copiously blossoming almond trees foretell of an abundant wheat harvest.
The pale white blossoms of almonds, as well as the tree’s alignment with sustenance, hope, beauty, and fertility, lend themselves to the tree’s ancient association with the Great Goddess. This is certainly true in her incarnations as Mother Mary and Cybele (whom some align with Agdistis), but also perhaps in the ancient origins of Judaism and other Abrahamic religions. According to author Fred Hageneder in The Meaning of Trees, almond’s “archaic Semitic name, amygdala, can be traced back to the Sumerian ama ga, which means the Great Mother.” He goes on to say that Aaron’s staff (“the rod of God”) “was said to be handed down from Adam via Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to Joseph who took it to Egypt where Moses obtained it. That Moses should bear the almond of the Great Mother is ironic, because in the Old Testament he is instructed to destroy the ancient cult of the Goddess.” Indeed, one wonders about the patriarch wielding such a powerful Mother Goddess symbol as an indication of his divine authority. Could it be a hint—as author Raphael Patai suggests in The Hebrew Goddess—that the Divine Feminine was much more present in early Judaism than the Old Testament would have us believe? We may never know for sure, but it certainly seems likely.
Here’s another almond origin story: The Thracian queen Phyllis fell in love with the beautiful youth Demophon, and they were married. Shortly thereafter, Demophon returned to his country of origin and, after being ensnared by the charms of another, did not return in a timely manner. Out of grief, Phyllis died and was transformed into an almond tree. When Demophon heard about it, he realized his error and returned instantly, throwing his arms around his partner’s trunk. Then, as an expression of her continued love, she burst forth into bloom.
In many ways, this mirrors the almond’s bitter/sweet polarity, which one can’t help but notice is the same polarity that characterizes love in all its forms. The more sweetness with which we love, the bitterer the heartache we experience from spurning, separation, loss, or simply the unrealized fears of such things. And yet we love still. Even when it’s cold out and there are no leaves on the trees, our hearts can blossom with love, again and again, in every phase of life. Would we trade our sweetest love so as not to feel our bitterest grief? Perhaps we may be tempted, but that would certainly be much too dear a price.
In some places in the world, such as Tuscany, an almond branch has been employed as a Y-shaped dowsing rod to discover hidden treasures.
As you know if you’ve ever lived near an almond orchard (or just an almond tree), exquisite almond blossoms burst forth abundantly quite early in the season, on branches still devoid of leaves. This is why, in the Middle East, almond trees have been associated with hope.