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