April is the first full month of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. In Roman times it was derived from the Latin aperire which meant to open or blossom fully.
As March gave way from its barren panorama to the verdant meadows covered with chromatic displays, April spoke of new life and renewed hope. The festival of Veneralia was celebrated April 1 by the Romans—a more sensual Valentine Day.
How did April 1 become associated with April’s Fool? Perhaps, the practice peregrinated over the centuries and cultures to present day.
The famous satirist Jonathan Swift was known to play a practical joke or ”lie” on his fellows:
“This evening Lady Masham, Dr. Arbuthnot, and I, were contriving a lie for to-morrow, that Mr. Noble, who was hanged last Saturday, was recovered by his friends, and then seized again by the sheriff, and is now in a messenger’s hands at the Black Swan in Holborn. We are all to send to our friends, to know whether they have heard anything of it, and so we hope it will spread. However, we shall do our endeavours; nothing shall be wanting on our parts, and leave the rest to fortune.” Letter LXII, Journal To Stella, London, March 21, 1712–13
Unfortunately, or fortunately, the “lie” fell to gain traction:
“April 1. We had no success in our story, though I sent my man to several houses, to inquire among the footmen, without letting him into the secret; but I doubt my colleagues did not contribute as they ought.” Ibid.
Perhaps Swift’s audience was too sophisticated to be fooled. Of course, there are many others, especially today, who are fooled regularly, not only on April 1.
The Scottish word gowk refers to individuals who may be easily fooled because their sense of reality is not always based on commonsense and the practical laws of life. Perhaps, the minds of many are geared to accept the “lie”.
Another expression associated with April is “a fool’s errand”. Many have fallen for hunting for a snipe, the imaginary creature out there in the woods somewhere which is worth a great prize.
There is a mythological tie to the phase which might be seriously considered unwarranted. It was connected with the Roman festival of Cerealia which occurred in April in honor of Ceres, agricultural goddess.
Jupiter and Ceres had a daughter Proserpine. Proserpine was as beautiful as the fabled Elysian Fields—more lovely than the hanging gardens of Babylon.
One April day as Proserpine strolled in the meadows enjoying the flowers, especially the sun-touched daffodils, Pluto (Hades in Greek) decided the time was right to swoop in and catch the beautiful maiden to be his bride in the Underworld. Of course, Proserpine had no choice in the matter since women, even a goddess, was at the mercy of the gods.
Pluto had watched and waited for years for this opportunity. He needed something bright and joyful in his dark existence, and Proserpine was on top of his bill of fare.
Proserpine cried out for her mother Ceres. When Ceres arrived, she could still hear her daughter’s faint scream and searched fervently without success.
Ceres’ fruitless effort has been called “a fool’s errand” or “hunting the gowk” or “echo of a scream”. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer—1817
A mother’s search for her child should never be classified as a “fool’s errand” because a mother’s love is part of her soul. The child is always part of her.
One good note about this story is that Pluto allowed Proserpine to return in the Spring to enjoy her meadows and the warming sun. In some ways, her love changed the doleful god.
This April enjoy the return of Spring. Don’t allow yourself to be a gowk to someone’s “lie” or practical joke.
If you decide to pull one on some unsuspecting person on April 1, be kind in what you do. Because karma is not an abstract concept, it is as real as April showers ushering in May flowers, and you definitely want your May flowers to be a bouquet without choking weeds.
G. D. Williams © 2020
All photos G. D. Williams © 2020
Jonathan Swift (November 30, 1667-October 19, 1745)
The Journal To Stella
On April 1st the festival of Venus Verticordia known as the Veneralia celebrates the chaste Goddess Venus who changes the human heart. On this day Roman women asked Mater Venus Verticordia for assistance in affairs of the heart, sex, betrothal and marriage.
In Rome, jewelry was ritually removed from the statue of the goddess, her image was then taken from her temple to the men’s baths, where it was undressed and washed in warm water by her female attendants, then garlanded with myrtle.
Similarly, women bathed themselves in the public baths wearing wreaths of flowers and myrtle on their heads. It was generally a day for women to seek divine help in their relations with men. Men also asked Venus Verticordia for her help in affairs of the heart, sex, betrothal and marriage.
April’s Fool Day
Although April Fools’ Day, also called All Fools’ Day, has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, its exact origins remain a mystery.
Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563.
People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.
These pranks included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.
Cerealia (Cerialia) Festival