July 21, 2019
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Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Branches_of_an_Almond_Tree_in_Blossom

Vincent van Gogh, Branches of an Almond Tree in Blossom, 1890, Oil on canvasVan Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The Place of Almond in the Vegetal World

The almond (Prunus dulcis, syn. Prunus amygdalusAmygdalus communisAmygdalus dulcis) is a species of tree native to the Middle East and South Asia. “Almond” is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of this tree. The word “almond” comes from Old French almande or alemande, Late Latin *amandula, derived through a form amygdala from the Greek ἀμυγδαλή (amygdalē) (cf. amygdala), an almond. Other related names of almond include Mandel or Knackmandel (German), mandorlo(Italian), amêndoa (Portuguese), and almendro (Spanish). The adjective “amygdaloid” (which means literally “like an almond”) is commonly used around the world to describe objects which are roughly almond-shaped, particularly a shape which is part way between a triangle and an ellipse. This is the case, for example, of the brain structure amygdala, which uses in its naming a direct borrowing of the Greek term amygdalē. [4] The almond is native to the Mediterranean climate region of the Middle East, eastward as far as the Indus. [5] In India, it is known as badam. It was spread by humans in ancient times along the shores of the Mediterranean into northern Africa and southern Europe and more recently transported to other parts of the world, notably California, United States.Within the genus Prunus, it is classified with the peach in the subgenus Amygdalus, distinguished from the other subgenera by the corrugated shell (endocarp) surrounding the seed.  The fruit of the almond is a drupe, consisting of an outer hull and a hard shell with the seed (which is not a true nut) inside.  The wild form of domesticated almond grows in parts of the Levant (the Eastern Mediterranean); almonds must first have been taken into cultivation in this region. The fruit of the wild forms contains the glycoside amygdalin, “which becomes transformed into deadly prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) after crushing, chewing, or any other injury to the seed.” [6] Wild almonds are bitter, the kernel produces deadly cyanide upon mechanical handling, and eating even a few dozen at one sitting can be fatal. Selection of the sweet type, from the many bitter types in wild, marked the beginning of almond domestication. The context and the manner that humans came to select the sweet type remains a mystery to this day. [7] It is also unclear as to which wild ancestor of the almond created the domesticated species. Ladizinsky suggests the taxon Amygdalus fenzliana (Fritsch) Lipsky is the most likely wild ancestor of the almond in part because it is native of Armenia and western Azerbaijan where it was apparently domesticated.  While wild almond species are toxic, domesticated almonds are not; American scientist Jared Diamond argues that a common genetic mutation causes an absence of glycoside amygdalin, and this mutant was grown by early farmers, “at first unintentionally in the garbage heaps, and later intentionally in their orchards”. [8]  Zohary and Hopf believe that almonds were one of the earliest domesticated fruit trees due to “the ability of the grower to raise attractive almonds from seed. Thus, in spite of the fact that this plant does not lend itself to propagation from suckers or from cuttings, it could have been domesticated even before the introduction of grafting”. [9] Domesticated almonds appear in the Early Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC) or possibly a little earlier and they have been found in places such as the archaeological sites of Numeria (Jordan),[10].  Another well-known archaeological example of the almond is the fruit found in Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt (c. 1325 BC), probably imported from the Levant. Of the European countries that the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh reported as cultivating almonds, Germany is the northernmost, though the domesticated form can be found as far north as Iceland.

The Symbolism of Almonds

The almond tree is widely known to be one of the first tree to flower in the Spring and its therefore the sign of rebirth of nature and of carreful watching for the first signs of Spring. It is also the symbol of of transience, since its blossom come out so early that it is susceptible to late frosts. [11] It is the symbol of Attis, which was born of a virgin who conceived him from an almond. This legend is perhaps the original of the connection of Our Lady with the almond-tree.  To the Hebrews the almond-tree was the symbol of a new life.  It is the first tree to come into flower in the Spring, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou?  And I said, I see a rod of the almond tree.  Then said the Lord unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it. (Jeremiah, 1:11-12)

In Jewish folklore, furthemore, it is at the foot of an almond-tree (luz) that access can be obtained to the mysterious city of Luz, which is one of the ‘Seats of the Immortals.’ It is also the name of the town close to which Jacob had his vision and which he named Beith-el, or ‘House of God.’  The connection between the almond-tree and the idea of immortality may be explained yet again by symbolism if the amond – also called luz -[12] However, if the symbolism of the almond is female, the symbolism of the almond-tree is male.  The Greeks compared the milk of the almond as a creative orce with the seminal ejaculation of Zeus.  Pausanias tells how a dream caused a nocturnal emission.  Zeus’ seed fell to Earth and from it sprang a hermaphrodite, Agdistis, whom Dionisos castrated.  His sexual organs fell to the ground and from them grew an almond-tree.  The daughter of the river-god, Sangarius, became pregnant when she placed a fruit from this tree between her breast.  The theme of these legends is that the almond-tree derives directly from Zeus, through the blood of a hermaphrodite, and that its fruits can unaided make a virgin pregnant, the particular nuance of phallic symbolism being that its power are exercised independently of sexual intercourse.  A folk belief, still current in Europe, has it that the girl who falls asleep under an almond-tree and dreams of her lover will wake up pregnant. Almond Blossoms is a group of several paintings made in 1888 and 1890 by Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Saint-Rémy, southern France of blossoming almond trees. Flowering trees were special to Van Gogh.

As far as the almond itself is concerned (we are now talking about the fruit) because of its husk, the almond is generaly taken to symbolize the substance hidden within its accidents. We know that the fruit of the almond is a drupe, consisting of an outer hull and a hard shell with the seed (which is not a true nut) inside. Shelling almonds refers to removing the shell to reveal the seed.  This from this revelation of what the shell contains that sprang the main part of his symbolism. The spiritual metaphors are almost endless: spirituality masked by dogma and ritual, reality concealed by outward appearances and, according to the secret doctrine, the eternal hidden Truth, Treasure and Fountain.  Thus Clement of Alexandria: “my Stromates contains the truth migled with the dogmas of philosophy, or rather wrapped and enclosed by them as the edible kernel of the nut is enclosed by its shell.’ Or Mahmūd Shabistarī : “The shariat is the husk, the haqīqat is its almond […] When the pilgrim has attained moral certainty, the almond is ripe and the husk is red.” Or again,  Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī: “Throw away the shell and take the kernel; do not be one of those who ignore the features, but tear away the veil!” [13]  The almond is aslo asssociate with Christ because his divine nature was hidden in the human, or in the womb of his virgin mother.   The geometrical size of the almond associate it with the symbolism of the lozenge, since it is a lozenge with lateral angles rounded off.  Like the lozenge, the almond symbolises the union of heaven and Earth, of teh upper and the lower worlds and because of that it is exquisitely well suited to frame the portaits of Saints.  The Hebrew word for almond, luz, expresses perfectly this idea of something hidden, enclosed, inviolable.  The same word is also the name of an underground city and that of the indestructible kernel of being which carries within itself the seeds of its own ressurection.  In the esoteric tradition the almond symbolizesthe secret (a treasure) which is hidden in some dark place and which must be discovered in order to nourrish the finder.  The husk around it is compared with a wall or a gate. To find the almond or to eat the almond means to discover or to share a secret. In mediaval esotericism the almond stood for Our Lady’s virginity – the mystic almond – and she was sometimes depicted surrounded by an elliptical halo.

Tree of Life Attribution

The sacred plant correspondence for Kether is, according to Crowley’s classification, Almond in flower. [1] The reason for that Crowley tells us, is because “the almond in flower is connected with Aron’s rod which blossomed.” [2]  He add also a couples interesting details about this attribution which could also be applied elsewhere on the tree:

Almond is the proper wood for the Wand of the White Magician, but the attribution should really be to the middle pillar as a whole.  The branches of the Banyan treebtake a fresh root where they touch the ground and start new main stems: this is connected with the special idea of Kether implied in the Philosophy given in the Commentary of the Book of the Law.” [3]

Another reason that might expliain this attribution is the fact that the symbolism of the almond is tightly connected to the Greek deity Zeus which is also an attribution on the Sephira of Kether.

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[1] Aleister Crowley, 777, p. 10.
[2] Aleister Crowley, 777, p. 96.
[3] Aleister Crowley, 777, p. 96.
[4] SAH et al. (July 1, 2003). “The Amygdaloid Complex: Anatomy and Physiology”. Physiological Reviews 83 (3): 803–834.
[5] Introduction to Fruit Crops, p. 38, Mark Rieger, 2006
[6] Zohary, Daniel; Maria Hopf (2000). Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Cultivated Plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley. Oxford University Press. p. 186.
[7] G. Ladizinsky (1999). “On the origin of almond”. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 46 (2): 143–147.
[8] Diamond, Jared M. (1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies.New York: W.W. Norton. p. 118.
[9] Zohary, Daniel; Maria Hopf (2000). Domestication of plants in the old world: the origin and spread of cultivated plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley. Oxford University Press. p. 186.
[10] Ladizinsky (1999). “On the origin of almond”. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 46 (2): 143–147.
[11] Jean Chevalier & Alain Geerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, p. 17
[12] see René Guenon, Le Roi du Monde, Paris, 1927.
[11] Jean Chevalier & Alain Geerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, p. 16

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