Gather ‘round, children, gather ‘round and I shall tell you the way of the world and how it came to be.
Once, the world was trees. Proud and tall they grew, thick with leaves and fruit; and from these all the birds of the air and the animals of the land were fed and even the fish in their streams. And no living thing knew hunger or cold, for it was ever summer. And over all ruled the Evergreen Woman, whose eyes were as bright as the sky, whose skin was as dark as the earth, and whose hair was as verdant as the forest.
Uncounted time passed and, though the Evergreen Woman was content in her forest, she found herself growing lonely. And the more time that passed, the more lonely she became. And so she vowed to create a companion for herself, something new in the world.
Gathering rich earth and cool breezes and crisp water, the white of sunrise and the red of sunset and the green of her own hair, she created Apple. She planted the seed of Apple in the midst of her forest, and watched over Apple as she grew. And when Apple stepped forth, her eyes as bright as the sky, her skin as white as sunrise, her hair as red as sunset, the Evergreen Woman knew no greater joy.
Uncounted time passed, and the Evergreen Woman and Apple were content, wandering the world that was a forest and eating the fruit of the trees. In time, though, sadness crept into Apple’s heart, for she saw how the animals birthed their young and the birds laid their eggs and the trees cast their seeds to the wind and she, too, came to desire young of her own.
And so Apple gathered rich earth and cool breezes and crisp water, the bark of trees and the eggs of birds and the fur of animals and the gleaming scales of fish, and with these she created a seed. And when the seed was ripe, she swallowed it whole.
When the Evergreen Woman saw what Apple had done, she was angry, for this was a new thing in the world which Apple had created, something that was tree and animal and bird and fish, and yet none of these things alone.
When Apple’s time came, she lay down in a meadow of flowers, and birthed the Child. The Evergreen Woman heard the Child’s cries and, distressed, ran to the meadow. There she found Apple and the Child, and she wrapped the Child in the leaves of trees and wove him a crown of flowers. And the Evergreen Woman came to love the Child.
Uncounted time passed, and the Child grew, and the three were content, wandering the world that was a forest and eating the fruit of the trees. And when the Child had grown into a Man, the Evergreen Woman wove him a crown of horns and feathers and placed it upon his head and lay with him in the shade of the forest.
And Apple was pleased, for she loved her son and she loved the Evergreen Woman.
Uncounted time passed.
One day, the Man was walking through the forest when a large fruit fell from a tree and struck him. Angered by his pain, the Man took up a sharp rock and struck at the tree. The tree let out a great moan, and the blow from the rock caused more fruit to fall, striking the man again and again. Bruised and bloody, the Man hit the tree again and again until — with a great moan and a great crack — it toppled and fell, fell to the ground with a crash like thunder.
And the sound echoed through the forest that was the world.
When the Man realized what he had done, his anger and pain gave way to fear, and he fled through the forest. For he knew that the Evergreen Woman’s wrath would be terrible when she saw what he had done.
The Evergreen Woman had, indeed, heard the moan of her tree as it died. She ran through her forest and found it upon the ground, its leaves withered, its branches broken, its trunk split. The Evergreen Woman let out a terrible cry of rage and despair. Taking up a broken branch, she ran through her forest that was the world until, at last, she found the Man. Weeping, she slew him, and the Man fell, fell to the ground with a sigh like the wind.
And Apple heard the sound of her son’s death.
As evening fell upon the forest, she found them, the Evergreen Woman and her son. But though she wept and raged, her son would not rise, would not stand tall and proud with his crown of horns and feathers upon his head.
And so they dug a hole and lay him in the ground. And Apple’s grief was so terrible that all of the trees shed their leaves in sympathy, and the animals hid in their burrows, and even the sun dimmed, so that summer fled the world and the wind blew cold and brittle.
When the Evergreen Woman saw what had become of her forest that was the world, what had been wrought by anger and pain and despair, she said to Apple, “A seed he was, and a seed he has become again.”
Casting aside her grief, Apple took up a branch and made her way through the cold, dim world. Through the barren forest she walked, until she found a cave that led deep, deep into the earth. Down she went, down and down further still, until she found the seed that was her son. Swallowing that seed, holding it safe in the warmth of her belly, she made her way back to the forest.
And, when her time came, she lay down in a cold meadow and birthed the Child. The world rejoiced. The trees shook off their grief and burst forth with leaves and fruit, the animals emerged from their burrows and dens, the sun burned brightly, the wind blew soft and cool, and summer returned. And the Evergreen Woman wove a crown of flowers and placed it upon the Child’s head.
The Evergreen Woman and Apple wept with happiness. Their tears mixed and mingled and soaked into the rich earth, and from them rose the trees that now bear their names.
The Child grew once again into the Man. And when he was grown, the Evergreen Woman placed a crown of horns and feathers upon his head, and lay with him in the shade of the forest. And when her time came upon her, she laid down in a meadow of flowers and birthed the first humans.
And so it has been, ever since:
The Man slew the tree out of anger and pain, the Evergreen Woman slew the Man out of rage and despair, and Apple grieved so fiercely that the sun faded and summer fled the world. And so there is now anger and pain, rage and despair, and every year the sun fades and winter claims the world.
But this, too:
Because Evergreen Woman and Apple and the Man knew love and joy, so there is love and joy in the world. And the tree which bears Apple’s name blooms in the spring, spreads bright leaves in the summer, and sheds its fruit in the autumn, food to sustain us as it stands naked through the winter. And the tree which bears the Evergreen Woman’s name stands tall and verdant all the year round, a promise of hope through the cold and the dark. And as the Man died and became a seed and was reborn, so we, too, are born, live, die, and are born again.
And so, children, you know the way of the world and how it came to be.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published poems and short fiction can be found there.]