In many cultures and society, the egg is considered the perfect magical symbol. It is, after all, representative of new life - in fact, it is the life cycle personified. While many of us take note of eggs around springtime - the Ostara season is chock full of them - it’s important to consider that eggs feature prominently in folklore and legend all year long.
In some legends, eggs - a fertility symbol - are associated with that other symbol of fertility, the rabbit. How did we get the notion that a rabbit comes around and lays colored eggs in the spring? The character of the "Easter bunny" first appeared in 16th-century German writings, which said that if well-behaved children built a nest out of their caps or bonnets, they would be rewarded with colored eggs. This legend became part of American folklore in the 18th century, when German immigrants settled in the eastern U.S.
In Persia, eggs have been painted for thousands of years as part of the spring celebration of No Ruz, which is the Zoroastrian new year. In Iran, the colored eggs are placed on the dinner table at No Ruz, and a mother eats one cooked egg for each child she has. The festival of No Ruz predates the reign of Cyrus the Great, whose rule (580-529 b.c.e.)marks the beginning of Persian history.
In early Christian cultures, consumption of the Easter egg may have marked the end of Lent. In Greek Orthodox Christianity, there is a legend that after Christ's death on the cross, Mary Magdalene went to the emperor of Rome, and told him of Jesus' resurrection. The emperor's response was skeptical, hinting that such an event was just about as likely as a nearby bowl of eggs suddenly turning red. Much to the emperor's surprise, the bowl of eggs turned red, and Mary Magdalene joyfully began preaching Christianity throughout the land.
In some Native American creation tales, the egg features prominently. Typically, this involves the cracking of a giant egg to form the universe, the earth, or even gods. In some tribes of America’s Pacific northwest region, there is a story about thunder eggs (geodes), which are thrown by the angry spirits of the high mountain ranges.
A Chinese folk tale tells of the story of the formation of the universe. Like so many things, it began as an egg. A deity named Pan Gu formed inside the egg, and then in his efforts to get out, cracked it into two halves. The upper portion became the sky and cosmos, and the lower half became the earth and sea. As Pan Gu grew bigger and more powerful, the gap between earth and sky increased, and soon they were separated forever.
Pysanka eggs are a popular item in the Ukraine. This tradition stems from a pre-Christian custom in which eggs were covered in wax and decorated in honor of the sun god Dazhboh. He was celebrated during the spring season, and eggs were magical things indeed. Once Christianity moved into the region, the tradition of pysanka held fast, only it changed so that it was associated with the story of Christ’s resurrection.
There’s an old English superstition that if you’re a girl who wants to see who your true love is, place an egg in front of your fire on a stormy night. As the rain picks up and the wind begins to howl, the man you will marry will come through the door and pick up the egg. In an Ozark version of this story, a girl boils and egg and then removes the yolk, filling the empty space with salt. At bedtime, she eats the salted egg, and then she will dream about a man bringing her a pail of water to quench her thirst. This is the man she will marry.
Another British tale was popular among sailors. It suggested that after you eat a boiled egg, you should always crush up the shells. Otherwise, evil spirits - and even witches! - could sail the seven seas in the shell cups, and sink entire fleets with their sorcery and magic.
In American folk magic, eggs appear regularly in agricultural stories. A farmer who wants to “set” his eggs under broody hens should only do so during the full moon - otherwise, most of them won’t hatch. Likewise, eggs carried around in a woman’s bonnet will provide the best pullets. Eggs placed in a man’s hat for safekeeping will all produce roosters.
Even the eggs of certain birds are special. Owls’ eggs are said to be a sure cure for alcoholism, when scrambled up and fed to someone with a drinking problem. Dirt found under a mockingbird’s egg can be used to alleviate sore throats. A hen’s egg which is too small to bother with cooking can be tossed on the roof of your house, to “appease the witches,” according to Appalachian folklore. If a woman tosses an egg shell into the fire on May Day -- Beltane -- and sees a spot of blood on the shell, it means her days are numbered.