April in the Wheel of the Year Part 2: Folklore, Symbolism and Magic of Eggs - By Lucya Starza
Many of us will be getting eggs of some kind this weekend, even if we’re pagan and don’t celebrate Easter as a religious festival. So, this post is about the folklore, symbolism and magic of eggs.
For Christians, eggs are a symbol of rebirth at least as far back as the 4th century, when there are records of people presenting eggs at church to be blessed. However, according to Professor Ronald Hutton in a talk on spring customs to the Doreen Valiente Foundation in 2021, the main reason people gave each other eggs at Easter historically was simply that there were a lot of eggs around. It was a seasonal food in abundance, and therefore enjoyed at the end of the Christian fasting time of Lent.
Eggs are also symbols of birth, resurrection and creation in religions and cultures all over the world. In the mythologies of India, China, ancient Egypt and ancient Greece to name just a few, gods and goddesses – or indeed all of life itself – are said to be hatched from eggs. In alchemy, the egg has associations with the four elements. The shell represents earth, the membrane represents air, the white represents water and the yellow yolk represents fire. The philosopher’s egg is the name of the crucible in which alchemists attempted to make the philosopher’s stone.
In An Egg at Easter: A Folklore Study Venetia Newall speculates that primitive man must have seen birds hatching from the smooth ovoids that seemed otherwise like lifeless stones and thought magical forces were at work. She says the idea of the “world egg” as the origin of the universe and the creator of life itself could have developed from this.
As well as symbolising creation, eggs represent mystery. They hold a secret inside that can only be revealed when the egg is opened. If you crack a boiled egg with your spoon at the breakfast table – obviously not one for the vegans – you can't be totally sure if it will be hard or soft, good or bad, mostly full of air or even have a double yolk. Venetia wrote:
“There are so many strange conceptions about the egg: on the one hand it is pure and sacred and the bearer of radiant new life; on the other hand there is a secret inside, out of which anything may come to life: good and joyful, or bad and filled with hatred… At the turn of the century [19th-20th] nobody in High Albania dared to set an egg for hatching without first drawing the sign of the cross on it; otherwise some monstrous creature might creep out.”
Of course, reptiles and fish lay eggs as well as birds. Many creation myths and origin stories – as well as theories of evolution – say life came out of the water. Indeed, in some distant time the first land-dwelling creature very likely hatched from an egg laid by something that crawled from the sea.
This universal and ancient fascination with eggs makes them a powerful symbol, which you can use in spellwork and rituals. The magical properties of eggs include fertility, creation, life, new beginnings and divination, according to Rachel Patterson in A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Food. Divination with eggs is called oomancy and one way to do that is to drop the white into hot water and see what shape forms. If you don’t like to waste food, then poach an egg for breakfast, but have a look at the shape before serving! Either egg magic or divination would be particularly apt in April when, in many parts of the world, birds are nesting and those that are summer visitors start to appear.
Note: Never take eggs from wild birds’ nests as it is illegal and unethical.
This is part of a series of posts I’m writing for the Moon Books Blog on the theme of the Wheel of the Year. They will be compiled and edited into a book: Pagan Portals – Wheel of the Year. Other books by Lucya Starza in the Pagan Portals series include Candle Magic, Guided Visualisations, Poppets and Magical Dolls, and Scrying. Lucya edited the community book Every Day Magic – A Pagan Book of Days.
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