Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/105

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
93
POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS.

of the religion and heathen doctrines of the Greeks and Romans rests upon writings which existed previous to the rise of Christianity. The Teutonic races forsook their ancestral faith slowly, the transition lasting from the fourth to the eleventh century. Christianity was not popular; the faith was clothed in a new language, and it aimed at supplanting the time-honored indigenous gods, and their worship was an important part of the people's traditions, customs, and constitution.[1]

One of the most conspicuous characteristics of the Teutonic race is a devout attachment to ancestral customs and beliefs, a trait which among the less intelligent and truly illiterate becomes proportionately intensified. It is more than probable that to this trait may be attributed the preservation of fragments of myths and folklore, as well as remarkable adherence to old-world formulæ relating to witchcraft and folk medicine, relics of customs and superstitions which are probably contemporary with the birth of the human race itself.

We are all familiar with the custom of having eggs served at Easter breakfast, and also that of children receiving presents of dyed eggs; sometimes toy rabbits or hares, made of soft, fluffy goods and stuffed with cotton or sawdust, were also given as presents. Children were told that the hare laid the eggs, and nests were prepared for the hare to lay them in. The custom obtains as well in South Germany. The figure of a hare is placed among the Easter eggs when given as a present.

The association of the hare with Easter observances was much more common in former times, and in England it was customary for the hare to be eaten at such times. Hare-hunting as an Easter custom began to fall into disuse about the middle of the last century.

The use of eggs as a sacred emblem of the renovation of mankind after the Flood was held by the Egyptians, and the Jews adopted it to suit the circumstances of their history as a type of their departure from the land of Pharaoh. The egg suggests a resurrection to life of a vital principle which may for an indefinite period have lain dormant. Hutchinson, in his History of Northumberland, says:

"It was used in the feast of the Passover as part of the furniture of the table with the Paschal Lamb. The Christians have certainly used it on this day as retaining the elements of future life for an emblem of the resurrection. It seems as if the egg was thus decorated for a religious trophy after the days of mortification and abstinence were over and festivity had taken place; and as an emblem of the resurrection of life, certified to us by the


  1. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology.