Germans to this day term April Ostermonat, or Easter month, an old form of the word óstarmánoth occurring as early as the time of Charlemagne. The Old High German name was óstará, the plural form being retained, as two days were usually kept at Easter. The association of the hare with eggs is curious, and the explanation is found in the belief that originally the hare seems to have been a bird which the ancient Teutonic goddess Ostara turned into a quadruped. For this reason the hare, in grateful recognition of its former quality as a bird and swift messenger of the Spring Goddess, is able to lay eggs on her festival at Easter time.
The practice of nailing a horseshoe against the lintel of a door is familiar to almost everybody; and it is thought particularly efficacious in warding off bad luck if the shoe be one that was found upon the highway.
Although this custom obtains more extensively among the negroes, it is not of African origin. I am inclined to believe that it originated at a time more remote than the superstitions relating to "thirteen at a table," or "the spilling of salt," both of which are generally conceded to have originated at or with the Lord's Supper and consequent events.
The Romans drove nails into the walls of cottages as an antidote against the plague; for this reason L. Manlius, a. u. c. 390, was named dictator to drive the nail. In Jerusalem, a rough representation of a hand is marked by the natives on the wall of every house while in building. The Moors generally, and especially the Arabs of Kairwan, employ the marks on their houses as prophylactics, and similar handprints are found in El Baird, Petra. General Houtum-Schindler, of Teheran, informs me that a similar custom exists in Persia, as well as in parts of northern India.
That these practices and the later use of the horseshoe originated with the rite of the Passover is probable. The blood upon the doorposts and upon the lintel (Exodus, xii, 7) formed, as it were, an arch, and when the horseshoe was subsequently observed as resembling, conventionally, a similar arch, it may naturally have been adopted, and in time become a symbol of luck, or "safety," to those residing under its protection.
- Quoted by Brand. Observations on Popular Antiquities. London, 1877, pp. 90, 91.
- Ritual of Pope Paul V, for the Use of England, Ireland, and Scotland; quoted by Brand, op. cit., p. 91, note.
- Folklore Journal. London, vol. i, 1883, p. 123.
- Lieutenant Condors. Palestine Exploration Fund, January, 1873, p. 16.
- Brand. Antiquities. London, vol. iii, 1882, p. 18.