It would be tempting to say that the purpose of this essay is to explain how we know that the
fruit Eve ate was an apple. I do intend to show that, but my actual purpose is something less appealing, but more ambitious--to place the story of Eve into its proper mythic context by showing its relationship to other stories, some obviously similar, some seemingly quite different. Fortunately the task is made easier by the several pages on this site that deal with the mythic significance of serpents.
The story of Eve is a curious one, and has always inspired questions--how could Adam and Eve be guilty of an act they committed before they knew of good and evil, how did the serpent travel before God cursed him, how did the snake happen to know the truth about the fruit, what would have happened had Adam and Even not eaten of the fruit, did God know that they would, and if he did . . . etc.? Such questions are made no simpler by the fact that the story is structurally ambiguous; it seems as determined as any piece of propaganda to drive home several points, and yet the actual details of the story seem to contradict what is the apparent message.
The villain of the story is clearly the serpent, but what is the serpent's crime? All he actually does is supply a piece of information. It is implied that he mislead's Eve, but actually he does not. God has told Adam and Eve that they will die if they eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The serpent tells them that they will not die, but will become like gods. They do eat, t hey do not die, and they do become like gods. As God, himself, says,
Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now lest he put forth
his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever . . . Gen. 3: 22.
Apparently God has lied, and the serpent has told the truth. One could, of course, suggest that if God was somewhat misleading in implying that the fruit was poison, the warning was not entirely false, since death was the result:
. . . and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the wor4ld and all our woe . . . Paradise Lost I: lines 1-3.
Milton's conventional view is, however, disputed by the Biblical passage above. Adam and Eve were not immortal to begin with. Gods are traditionally jealous of their prerogatives;1 Adam and Eve have already taken on one of God's distinctive powers; He is expelling them before they can also assume the other. As is typical of such stories, He retaliates in a number of rather nasty ways, but cannot reclaim the divine knowledge which has geven them a god-like nature.
What exactly was the nature of the first sin? "Pride" is a favorite suggeston. "Gluttony," Chaucer's Pardoner suggests. "Disobedience" is a favorite with Sunday school teachers. It has even been suggested that the fruit itself had no special qualities, that it was only the act of eating it that was significant--an odd touch of rationalism from those who insist that the story is literally true. Such rationalism is, however, misplaced. The verse quoted above, as well as the whole context, makes it clar that the apple is a magic fruit that has the power to transform. The sin could, perhaps, be called "Pride," but it would be more precise to say that the sin of Adam and Eve was that they aroused God's jealousy by taking some of his nature and powers onto themselves.
The story of Adam and Eve is ont a part of the seven-day creation story which describes the creation of mankind thus:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Gen. 1:37
Rather, it is a part of the story beginning at Genesis 2: 4. In this story Adam is created first, is given dominion over the world, and is given the symbolically important right to name the animals,2 before Eve, who seems to have been something of an afterthought, is allowed to appear. She is called "the mother of all living," Gen. 3: 20, a title of the Great Earth Mother, but she is obviously not that in this story. She is, in fact, the very last thing created. She is not even Adam's mother; rather, by an odd reversal, he is her mother. And finally, after the fruit has been eaten, when Adam offers hs abject apologies to God and attempts, rather unchivalrously, to throw must of the blame onto her for his own free act, we are, or at least should be, surprised to find that God agrees. Instead of "the mother of all living," she is one of those last minute improvements that so often turn out to have been a mistake. Clearly, one of the objectives of this story is to pot woman in her proper place.
The story, however, undercuts itself. What of the serpent?--does he know of good and evil? Is he God-like?3 Apparently he is more so than any other creature including the first humans; he is the one with the knowledge. The one he shares that knowledge with is Eve, and so the two of them are God-like before Adam is. And Adam receives his God-like nature from Eve's hands.4
But why is it Eve that the serpent offers the fruit to? Why not Adam? Because women are weaker and more temptable?--Milton suggests as much. Perhaps there is such an implication in the story itself. If so, there is a peculiar irony in the fact that Eve is the first to become God-like simply because she is a weaker character.
The story of Adam and Eve is one of that large family of myths dealing with the theft of certain skills or information which the gods have attempted to reserve for themselves. It is also a tract on the evil and trivial nature of women. Once we recognize these two elements of the story it becomes much clearer, though not entirely so. There are still puzzles--the nature, function, and surprising knowledge of the serpent;5 Eve's position as apple giver, and therefore knowledge giver, the willingness of God to place mankind in such close proximity to the very thing He wishes to withhold.6
Let us consider the story as a tract against women--here we find something relatively modern. In its essential nature myth is never propaganda; myth my touch upon a prejudice, or even use one, but a methodical piece of propaganda is something far closer in spirit to our own times than to the dream time.7 out of which myth springs. At one time Eve must have played quite a different role in the myth.
Titian--"The Fall of Man"
What other element of the story would`the priestly class be eager to play up?--obviously the role of God the father, for He is the subject, almost the only subject, of the Hebrew faith.8 Did God the father once play a smaller role? It is probable that he did. Father gods are not identified with gardens and earthly paradises; these are the property of the Earth Mother. Such gardens are a microscopic vision of the Earth's bounty; in other words, the goddess herself viewed small if we are thinking of her as the whole Earth. God the Father is a typical sky father, as typical as Zeus, more typical than Odin. We tend to meet such divinities on mountain tops such as Horeb, Sinai, or Olympus. "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help," Ps. 120 is appropriate advice for one who worships a sky father.9 The sky is apparently interchangeable with the mountain top, for in as many, or more, passages it is clear that God dwells in the sky or heaven.10
The Greek gods too are sky dwellers; even in Homer, Olympus seems to be less an actual mountain localized in Greece than a celestial vantagepoint.11
Although garden paradises do play some role in Greek, Germanic, and Hebrew myth, they are obviously not integral, but vestigial remains of an earlier age and pattern of belief.12 Suppose, then, God the father was not in the original story at all, and Eve's role was a much more glorious one--what story do we have? Perhaps something like this: a snake knows of a magic tree, he happens to meet Eve and tells her, she tries the fruit, finds that it works, and takes some back to her husband. Thereafter, all humans are possessed of a wisdom that separates them from the rest of the animals. There is a certain lack of electricity, of the nimbus of myth, about this story. Let us try another version.
Suppose Adam is a culture hero, one of those rare beings who unsettles and transforms the world. He sets out, either on a quest or for the sake of adventure, and after many perils by land or sea arrives at a beautiful garden of perpetual springtime either on an island or in a secluded and nearly inaccessible valley. There he finds a goddess called "the Mother of All Living," who possesses a tree laden with golden apples. The apples are guarded by a serpent with never closing eyes,13 but somehow the hero wins over the goddess and receives an apple from her, becomes god-like, and then takes his knew knowledge back to his people. If in this version of the story there is also the second tree, perhaps he fails in that part of his mission or opportunity. Perhaps he falls short in a trial given him; or if he has used trickery, perhaps he is found out before he can steal the apples of the tree of life. Culture heroes are only human, and most stories make it clear that, however great the benefits they win, they would have done better still if only . . . This version of the story seems to me much better, though the details remain hopelessly fuzzy.
Robert Graves is particularly fond of one theory for the origin of various legends, and uses that explanation so freely that it seems almost his own property. According to Graves many traditional stories of the gods and culture heroes originate when one culture conquers another and takes over its shrines. The conquerers either misunderstand or suppress the meaning of the icons, and create new stories to fit the pictures, stories more in keeping with the belief of the new culture.14
Graves' use of this theory is sometimes questionable. At times the evidence is slight. He also implies that the secondary stories, if that is the proper term for them, have no significance. Thus to Graves, the pervasive and archetypal story of Andromeda is little more than a misrepresentation. However, Graves' approach can be useful, even if there is no evidence of iconographic misrepresentation. Approach a myth as a painter would; try to catch the one scene in which all or most of the elements can be caught together, and the essentials suddenly become clear. Approach the story of Eve this way. If you do, you will see the scene so often presented by painters, Michelangelo, Raphael, and others--tree, serpent girldled; woman holding an apple; man. Woman, tree, and serpent appear as a unit; the man stands a little apart. This picture could as easily be Perseus receiving the apples of the Hesperides, and any ancient Greek or Roman would have assumed that it was either that, or Hercules in a similar quest.
The Hesperides, according to the ancients, were three sisters, daughter's of Atlas, who kept the garden, an island paradise in the far west,15 and the tree for the goddess Hera.16 Women in threes, especially in myth, but often even in modern literature tend not to be separate individuals, but a trinity. The Hesperides, in fact, are only one of three trinities in the story of Perseus, for there are also the Graea and the Gorgons, the first representing the triple goddess in her aspect as hag, the second as malevolent witch. The Hesperides, of course, represent her as maiden.17 A trinity, however, is also one. What evidence is there that the Hesperides do represent the Great Goddess?--they keep the garden for Hera. Hera, in classical myth, is the wife of Zeus, and so the queen of the gods. However, Hera as a divinity is older than the classical world; she was the version of the Earth Mother worshipped in the Peloponneseus before the arrival of the Greeks. The fact that the Greeks made her the wife of their great god,18 the highest possible honor for a goddess in a partriarchal, sky-father worshipping society, indicates her importance. (She was the patron goddess of Argos, which in Homeric times and before was the most powerful area of Greek world. Agamemnon's capitol, Mycenae was nearby, as well as Corinth, and several other major early centers of power and population.) In short, the Hesperides are Hera in triplicate. Thus, though neither Eve nor the Hesperides as they are presented could properly claim the title "Mother of all Living," it is fully appropriate to Hera.
"Hesperides" by Lord Frederick Leighton
Hercules also obtains the apples of the Hesperides, though in his story he holds up the heavens while Atlas, the father of the Hesperides gets the Apples for him. It is especially striking that Hercules should go on such a mission, for he is more properly Heracles. His very name shows both his connection with, and his subordination to the Great Goddess.19
So far, this essay would seem to imply that the proper version of the story of Eve is actually the story of Perseus or of Hercules. Matters are not so simple. Thse stores too are comparatively late, and somewhat literary. If the apples of the Hesperides are so significant, what is the nature of that significance? The classical stories do not say, or even imply. Gaining them is simply another exploit of the hero--in other words, mythic material is evolving into romantic legend. The Hesperides themselves are thoroughly trivialized by being separated from their divine origin, and given a poor cousin position in the huge Titan-Olympian family. The story of how Perseus changes Atlas from giant to mountain by showing him the head of Medusa is literary rather than mythic. In myth a living god may at the same time be a mountain, but a living god cannot be changed into a non-living mountain. Such a thought pattern with its distinction between living beings and non-living material or natural phenomena is essentially modern.20
Can we find other fragments of the story? We can, but these too are late. The Greek goddess Aphrodite is the central character of one such story. Aphrodite is not native to the Greek world, but is an import from the Near East--from near Cyprus, according to the Greeks. She too is accompanied by herself in trinity, by the three Graces. The Graces in classical myth are trivial, essentially decorative figures. Their real importance, and their essential unity, is proved by their popularity with sculptors and painters, both in antiquity and from the Renaissance on--the Graces still speak to the unconscious.21 The Hesperides are never directly linked to Aphrodite in Greek myth, but the essential relationship is shown by the fact that Aphrodite is Venus who is the Evening Star which is also Hesperus. Perhaps the reason that Aphrodite was imported to the Greek world was that, as the wife of Zeus, Hera had lost too many of her Aphrodite traits to also serve as a love goddess.
"The Three Graces"--Canova
Aphrodite, like Eve, is commonly represented as nude. Early Greek statues do present her clothed, but at least part of the reason was that nudity would have identified her too clearly as what she was, a Near Eastern fertility goddess, an Earth Mother, a representative of the very sort of religion that the Greeks as well as the Hebrews were trying to supplant.22 Aphrodite is also not without apples, for she provides Hippomenes with three golden apples from her garden on the island of Cyprus. These he is to use to distract the fleet-footed Atalanta, and so defeat her in a race, and thus obtain her hand in marriage. (Apparently mythic and legendary women are real suckers for apples.)
But there is another story more central to my purpose. The gods were once planning a great party. Every divinity was invited except Eris, goddess of discord--not someone you would want at a party. Eris, to avenge the slight, prepared a golden apple with the words on it, "For the Fairest." In the midst of the festivities, she rolled the apple into the room, and the result was all that she could have wished. Every goddess loudly laid claim to the apple. However, the field soon narrowed to three--Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. The third is an obvious contender; the other two seem to contend more on the basis of power and Olympian social position than on beauty--Hera was Zeus' wife, Athena, his favorite daughter.23 Athena, especially, for she is usually represented as too masculine in features to be an ideal of feminine beauty.
The three goddesses run clamoring to Zeus, each demanding that he inform the others of their obvious inferiority. His was not an enviable position. Zeus, therefore, passes the buck; he sends them to Paris, a Trojan prince and renowned lady's man who at the time was tending sheep on Mount Ida. All three goddesses offer bribes, bribes appropriate to their natures,24 but Aphrodite's offer of the most beautiful wife in the world naturally appeals most strongly. Identifying the most beautiful woman was no problem--she was clearly Helen, daughter of Zeus, and Queen of Sparta. Unfortunately she was already married, but that turned out to be no great problem. Soon Helen was at Troy, and the Greek army at the gates.
Cranach--Judgement of Paris
Is there a connection between this story and that of the temptation of Eve?--it is not immediately apparent. It is here, however, that the theory of a misread icon becomes useful. Graves, following Jane Harrison, points out first the absurdity of the story--three great goddesses in a beauty contest judged by a mortal, and cheating at that.25 He then suggests that the action is being interpreted backwards--the man is receiving, not giving the apple. The three are not competitors, but are the Graces, Hesperides, Graea, Gorgons, Fates, Norns . . . in short, the goddess in trinity, the triple goddess. The Judgement of Paris has been one of the most popular of all themes with painters, and the results have far transcended the apparent triviality of the subject. Collect a group of these pictures, however, and it becomes apparent that this is the same subject as that other perpetually popular theme, the three Graces. The female trinity is the subject of both; the difference is that the addition of the apple and of a male figure gives the picture a narrative dimension. In Chranach's picture above, Zeus also appears, standing with aroms folded in the background. Appropriately for a Northern painter, he makes his god more suggestive of Odin than of Zeus. Here is a more elegant group by Botticelli:
Botticelli--detail from "Primavera".
The Judgement of Paris would seem very remote from the story of Eve, far more so than the stories of Perseus and Hercules; however they do share a common element that the others do not--God the Father. In both stories the great sky father is lurking in the background, and that fact guarantees that the female figures in both will be trivialized and generally presented in an unfavorable light.
But what is the nature of the apple? Is it necessarily golden? If so, does golden mean "yellow," or made of gold? If the first, what is so special about it? If the latter, how are you to eat it? These are reasonable questions; unfortunately myth seldom has much to do with reason, and though it does give answers, they are frequently not answers to the questions you happen to ask. Golden apples are golden apples--press no further. But what do the apples do?--they give us the knowledge of good and evil, according to Genesis.26 What else? In the stories of Paris and Atalanta, the apples provide supremely beautiful wives--appropriate since the apple is so closely identified with woman. Perhaps they, or at least some of them, give immortality. There is a second tree in the garden.
King Arthur, at the approach of his death, is carried off to the island of Avalon, that is, the island of Apple trees, where he will be healed, and will remain until his return at the hour of Britain's greatest need. Avalon, apparently, is a Celtic island-garden like that of the Hesperides, an otherworld, a land of the dead, or as the Celts would say, "a land of the living."27
The Norse Idun, a goddess of spring and vegetable life, is also a giver of apples, the apples of immortality. Once, when she is carried off by a Giant (more properly, Jotun, or in English, Etin), the gods go for some time without her apples, and to their alarm begin to age. Fortunately they manage to rescue her, and are saved from divine senility. One might have supposed to the gods would have hunted up her tree and gotten the apples for themselves, but that is not the nature of myth. She and her apples share a single identity, and so they can be obtained only from her hand.
Another Norse goddess also possesses apples, unless, of course, her apple was one she obtained from Idun. In the Volsungasaga the wife of King Rerir is long barren. Freya28 takes pity on her and sends a raven with an apple. The raven drops the apple in the woman's lap, she eats of it, and then gives some to her husband. Shortly she conceives. Do apples produce offspring as well as immortality, or is the one really only a variation of the other? Perhaps, since apples are the special property of the Earth Mother, it is only to be expected that they should produce fertility. Ordinary apples, of course, do not confer immortality but, as everyone knows, they do keep the doctor away. The also do not give wisdom, but are nevertheless appropriate gifts for teachers.
Rackham--Freya/Idun from Wagner's Ring of the Niblungs.
The story of Idun also shows us one reason why God was so touchy about the fruit--the fruit of the second tree was very likely the means by which God, himself, maintained his immortality. Probably in the story of Eve two quite separate mythic themes have been fused--the theme of the gift of the goddess with that of the theft from the god. Both are still alive in fairy tales in which apples are still the gift of fairy maidens or of mysterious old women, and giants are still loaded with magic possessions waiting to be stolen by enterprising mortals. In "Jack and the Beanstock,"29 the giant is even a sky dweller. In fairy tales magic apples, usually golden, are a standard feature, but the tales usually do not specify their value--they are simply the object to be obtianeed--the apples of desire.
But to return momentarily to the Judgement of Paris--it is related to the story of Eve in another, rather roundabout way, for both contain the theme of immortality. Helen, the gift Aphrodite gives for the apple, does confer immortality, though not on Paris, but on her husband Menelaus. Because he is Helen's husband, and so the son-in-law of Zeus, he will not die, but will be taken to Elysium, and island paradise of eternal springtime, a place like Avalon. Note, also, in this context how strange it sounds that Aphrodite be given an apple, rather than giving it.
It has been variously suggested that originally there was only one tree in the garden. It is hard to see any illogic in there being two trees. The strongest argument against the second tree is neither logic nor comparative mythology, but the intuitive knowledge of artists who have always found the picture complete with only one man, one serpent, one tree, and either one or three women,30 according to whether the subject is Eve or the Hesperides. If there was only one, perhaps it was a tree both of knowledge and immortality. Knowledge is eternal--"an education is something no one can take away from you." Immortality is different. After you drink of the fountain of youth, what happens?--first you grow younger, but then you start to age, just as the Norse gods did when they lost their supply of apples. The temporary nature of rejuvenation is an archetypal theme perpetually popular with story tellers, ancient and modern, as in the various horror films in which a character must perpetually kill to gain whatever it is that will keep him, or more likely, her, young.
Finally, why an apple? I believe that I have shown why, on archetypal grounds, we identify the fruit as an apple, but if the matter is pressed further, and the question is asked why the apple has this archetypal significance, then I cannot say.31 Why not a pear a day . . ." or "a prune for the teacher," or a muskmelon?" The ancient Hebrews may well have been unfamiliar with apples. Every book or teacher who takes up the subject of Eve observes that the story does not specify what fruit, and yet any conjecture about watermelons, plums, or whatever, remains matter for humor. "Apple" is simply an archetypal concept, one which for whatever reason is bound up with the universal themes of immortality and the garden paradise.
1.For example, the Greek sky-father Zeus punishes man for gaining the god-like knowledge of the use of fire, and Prometheus for giving man that knowledge. The serpent is punished also, just as Promethus is, and it is hard to see how the serpent is either more or less guilty than the wise and noble Prometheus, who is always treated as a sympathetic character.
2.See Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough, chapter 22. The importance of the act of naming the animals has been frequently pointed out. There is a widespread belief in primitive society that there is a genuine oneness of identity between a thing and its name, and therefore that control of the name is also a control of the thing. Thus, in some societies, a person has a public "use" name, and a "real" name that he keeps secret from all but his most intimate and trusted associates. This belief, though probably metaphysically false, is a natural and accurate reflection of how the human mind works--naming is the first and most essential step in knowing and responding to, whether we are making friends, challenging intruders, or studying birds or trees.
3.The Miltonic and traditional identification of the serpent with Satan, the leader of the fallen angels, has no support from the text. In fact, the story of the fall of Satan may not have been known at the time the story of the fall of man took its present form. In any case, the passage "now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made," makes it clear that the tempter is an actual reptile, not a fallen angel in disguise.
4.A woman friend once suggested to me that it would have been a fine piece of one-upsmanship on Eve's part to have kept the apple to herself--then she would have know that Adam was naked, and he would not have--rather like not telling someone that his fly is unzipped.
5.This matter is dealt with in my essay on snakes.
6.That the tree is placed in the garden as a trial is nowhere implied in the text.
7.I borrow this term from the Australian aboriginees. As a description of the mythic context it is far more precise and evocative than any of the crude terms supplied by social science.
8.At least from the time the Hebrew scriptures took their present form.
9."His foundation is in the holy mountain," Psalms 87, or "In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain," Psalms 11 would do as well. Such quotations, however, are numerous.
10.Although "heaven" means sky, there has been a tendency in recent centuries to think of it as a divine otherworld outside our common concept of space. God's true location has not been entirely forgotten, however, as we see in the song, "Can the Circle be Unbroken"--"There's a better home awaiting, in the sky, Lord, in the sky."
11.And much later, in Aristophanes' The Birds, two Athenians, with the help of birds, create a Utopia in the middle sky that blocks off intercourse between men and gods, so that they are able to blackmail both.
12.In Homer's Odyssey, for example, we see the garden in reduced form in the islands of Circe and Calypso.
13.Actually, no snake is able to close its eyes.
14.See especially Robert Graves' White Goddess.
15.That the garden is in the far west implies that it is also a land of the dead, but more on that later.
16.See Lord Leighton's painting, "Garden of the Hesperides" on this site. The three maidens are lying at the foot of the apple-laden tree with the watchful serpent coiled about both them and the tree.
17.I am almost tempted to suggest that the three threes represent the Earth Mother in her triple role of mother, wife, and maiden, but to identify Medusa and her sisters with the wife seems a bit unkind.
18.Athena was the great goddess at Athens. The fact that she only became Zeus' daughter rather than his wife indicates the comparative unimportance of Athens in the prehistoric era.
19.For a clearer view of the connection between Hera and Heracles see Graves' White Goddess, chapter eight.
20.That is, less than 3,000 years old.
21.Raphael portrays the three graces each holding an apple, thus showing their essential oneness with the Hesperides. Botticelli, with comparable insight, places the graces in the company of the vegetation goddess Flora in his "Primavera." Paintings are often a better source for understanding myth than written works, for of all the arts, literature is the most intellectual and abstract, and therefore the most removed from primative patterns of thought.
22.See Kenneth Clark, The Nude (Princeton: The Princeton University Press 1973), pp. 72-73 for a discussion of the religious implications for the Greeks of Aphrodite's nudity.
23.This fact should not seem surprising; after all, homecoming queens are usually elected on the same basis.
24.Because ultimately what a god gives is himself or herself.
25.Graves, White Goddess, chapter fourteen, footnote.
26.Probably we take the idea of good and evil too narrowly. According to the Taoists man once lived a happy, simple village existence following the flow of things, the harmonies of nature. This happy way of life was destroyed, and chaos and confusion entered the world with the introduction of mental distinctions, probably by the primordal Confucian.
27. An excellent example of how in myth everything is also its opposite.
28.Freya is a sort of Norse Athena-Aphrodite, an appropriate goddess to possess magic apples.
29.This familiar story takes on a quality of the strange when examined closely. It contains not only the theme of the robbing of the sky father, but also a number of Earth Mother elements as well. Obviously, there is the matriarchal family of mother and son, with no mention of a father, past or present. (Except in those versions in which a prior theft by the giant is added to justify Jack's felonious behavior.) Strangely, the only name other than "Jack" given in the story is that of the cow--"Snowy White." Why name the cow at all, since it immediately disappears from the story? White is the color of the great goddess, also called the White Goddess. A white cow suggests relationship with Io, another white cow, and once the great goddess for whom Ionia was named, though in the story that comes down to us she is only a transformed mortal rival to Hera. And, Hera, from her epithet, ox-eyed, would seem to have cow affinities herself. The cow in the story is exchanged for five beans. Beans are sacred to the goddess; not only is the plant white-flowered, but the beans themselves make wind, which means that they contain souls, for the soul is wind. Thus, some ancient sects, including the Pythagoreans, forbade the eating of beans. Perhaps it is the connection between beans and and the dead that makes a beanstalk an appropriate means of reaching what is in some sense the land of the dead, since it is an otherword presided over by a devouring demon. Beans are not noted for tall, strong stalks. Even the number five is odd. One bean would be sufficiant to produce the stalk; a sack of them would be necessary to give the exchange of a cow for them even a shadow of plausibility. Except that it is a number sacred to the goddess, the number seems strangely arbitrary. The story as we have it is obviously not intended to be a statement about either Earth Mother or sky father, but it would be instructive to know the sources of its various elements, and how they came together.
30.When the boat arrives to carry Arthur off to Avalon, it contains three queens who take charge of him. Sometimes it is nine women including three queens.
31.Graves, White Goddess, chapter fourteen, observes that an apple cut crosswise reveals a five pointed star, that five is the goddess' number, and the pentangle her symbol. Thus the use of the pentagram by Wiccans.
Myth and Archetype: the index page for this section of the Meadhall site.