APRIL 1987

And so we passed into 1987, auguring in the New Year with an established monthly newsletter and folklore column.

Naturally, we elected to only issue one newsletter for January and February. I was still immersed in exploring the origins of Holidays, and so that issue focused on Valentine's Day, while the next (March 1987) was devoted to Saint Patrick's Day.

I would return to continue the tale of Valentine's Day in early 1991, and finally combine that column with the original from '87 for an online special expanded version that would appear in February of '99. As for the March issue, I would return to that as well, and put out an expanded version for the March 1998 edition of our online newsletter.

Again, you'll find those first two 1987 columns not here, but in the archive section they were reprinted / expanded in (February '99 and March '98 respectively).

So it is that we pass this quickly from December '86 to April '87!

In keeping with my by now established though destined to be short lived tradition of expounding on holiday origins, this column, at least nominally, was devoted to Easter.

I would like to begin this month's column by doing something that's long overdue, which is to thank every one of you who have not only bothered to read this little exercise in inanity, but have actually commented favorably on it to my mother and brother. I feel it only fair to warn you that if you continue turning my head like this I am liable to get delusions of grandeur and go write a book or something, which would cost money and horrid things like that.

On the other hand, we have also received warm thanks from many appreciative bird owners, who had been running out of material to line their cages with, so . . .

In seriousness and astonishment, however, the response we've received has far exceeded my / our wildest dreams, as I dared only to hope that one or two people might read a line or two, and derive a moment of the mildest sort of pleasure from it. The ensuing response has been an exciting thing to me, and I just wanted all of you to know that your comments do get passed on to me, and have brought many a smile to my face.

So . . . I have a proposition: folklore is by definition a two way street. I would like to hear from anybody out there who has a subject they've been waiting to see covered on this page (local ghost stories, Loch Ness monsters, Rip Van Winkle, rabid field mice, that sort of thing).

Just write down your requests and mail them or bring them in to the store - I'll happily read every one of them and get to as many as I can as quickly as I can. (Of course, if too many come in we still may end up doing that book!)

I'm looking forward to hearing from you . . .

And now:

Rites of Spring


Britain was a very civilized place for the first few centuries after Caesar conquered it. The Romans built and founded many forts and cities, and in the inevitable mingling of Roman and Celt a new race of "Britons" emerged. This is the stock that gave us both St. Patrick and King Arthur, and proved hardy enough to defend their Roman heritage long after the rest of the Roman Empire had been overrun by Germanic tribes.

Still, the inevitable happened, and tribes of Angles and Saxons washed ashore in ever increasing numbers, until Roman "Britain" had become "Angle Land", or England.

These Germanic invaders brought, naturally enough, all their rites and rituals when they "emigrated". Prominent among these was the observance of the Vernal Equinox (the first day of modern Spring, and the moment when day and night are of equal length), when they honored the German Goddess of Dawn.

Her name escapes me, but I'm sure I'll remember it by and by.

The Britons, however, had springtime fairly well sown up. They celebrated the traditional beginning of Summer on May 1st, a holdover from ancient Druidic times when there were but two seasons, Summer (Beltane) and Winter (Samhain). Those of you who remember our very first newsletter may recall that the point in time between the seasons was when the walls that separate our world from the realm of demons and fairies would open a bit, spewing out all sorts of odd folk to plague lonely farmers in the dead of night.

Winter's eve we still celebrate as Halloween, but the eve of May Day, Walpurgis Night, was by all accounts every bit as anarchic.

Customs tend to die hard, and this perhaps is why the fairies and elves are reputed to emerge on both the Equinox and May Day. May Day celebrations tend to owe a lot (at least in Britain) to the Romans, who celebrated the Festival of "Flora" at this time. Those of you who have ever attended the Renaissance Faire up in Agoura will recognize that Flora was still the traditional name of the Queen of May by the late 16th Century!

The association of eggs with Spring goes back to the ancient Egyptians, who gave each other eggs as gifts symbolizing life, growth, and fertility. As Christianity gradually took firm hold over all the rites of Spring, they kept the custom of egg giving, for in the early days of the Christian Martyrs the egg became symbolic of Christ, and the early Christians would sometimes dye the eggs red in memory of the Passion and Resurrection.

Saxon, Briton and Christian all somehow found room for each other, and for their customs as well.

The English seem to be amazingly accommodating, particularly regarding people they have just vanquished. The Saxons, who eventually slew King Arthur, are the ones who created many of the earliest and most potent songs and legends about him, and when the Normans in turn defeated the Saxons and settled in to stay, they eventually immortalized one of the Saxons' final Guerilla Chiefs: Robin Hood.

Oh yes, the name of that German Goddess of Dawn?

They called her . . . "Eastre".