ALMOND

2010

ALMOND (Prunus amygdalus, or sometimes Amygdalus communis)

The two varieties are dulcis and amara, sweet and bitter almonds. The former are often known as Jordan Almonds, a name that has nothing to do with the Middle East. Jordan is the same as the modern Frenchjardin, in other words, it is the cultivated kind. A crazy tree, according to beliefs on the Greek islands. Crazy, because it is apt to bloom as early as January; if frosts occur afterwards, as they often do, then there will be no crop. These early flowering Prunuses have always been a source of comment -witness the name Precocious Tree for the apricot. Such a habit accounts for its symbolism of hope.

To dream of eating almonds, according to the old dream books, signifies a journey, its success or otherwise depending on whether they were the sweet or bitter kind you were eating. Some superstitions from the Mediterranean area show the almond to be a protective influence. In Morocco, for example, they would say that a jinn does not come near a person who carries a stick cut from a bitter almond tree, or who is carrying a charm made from its wood.

There is sexual symbolism, too. Greek mythology has the Phrygian tale of Attis. In one version he is castrated by the gods, and dies. His testicles fall to the ground and sprout new life in the form of an almond tree. Not that this symbolism is entirely Greek, for at gypsy weddings in parts of Spain everyone heaps pink almond blossoms over the bride’s head as she dances. Such throwing over the bride’s head is known in Greece as, significantly, “pouring”, as if the almond blossom were life-giving water. An almond tree will always fruit well near the home of a bride, it is said. Almond paste, called ‘matrimony’, since it blends sweet and bitter flavours, usually appears on wedding cakes. In Italy, pink and white sugared almonds are distributed in ornamental boxes at weddings, like bread cake elsewhere. So universal are almonds at Greek weddings that the question “when will we eat sugared almonds?” is asked instead of when will the wedding be. They are equally prominent at Indian weddings, and some are put at every table setting at the reception; they may indicate both prosperity and children, i.e., money, fertility and sexual fertility. Sugared almonds may, in certain circumstances, be given at a Greek funeral, but the symbolism is the same. The funeral would have to be that of a spinster, and the almonds are for a parody of a wedding that did not take place in life, and also to mark her wedding to Christ. In another manifestation of the symbolism, unmarried girls often keep some of the almonds for divination. Three under the pillow will inspire dreams of the future husband.