Monday, 11 February 2013

Pagan Origins of Lent

As the nights get shorter and the days get - well, colder, to be honest - I sense that it's time for me to delve into the Beaker annals to let you know some more fine details on the pre-Christian origins of a Church festival.

What people don't realise is that Lent actually pre-dates the arrival of St Augustine on these shores. The Ancient Beaker Folk would not eat eggs during "Lent" (a Beaker word meaning "Lent"). This was because they needed them to use in their ancient Egg-throwing Rituals.

The Egg-throwing took place at stone circles around the British aisles throughout February and March. Basically, it was a game like a cross between "catch", "Chuckie Egg" and Quidditch, whereby Beaker men would sling eggs over the circles at each other. The first person to catch one intact would be the winner, and ritually crowned "the Lentman". The Beaker women, of course, would not be involved in such stupidity - instead they would sit in their yurts and roundhouses, complaining that it would be six weeks until they could make cakes.

The winner of each local event would progress to the final, which would be held at the national stadium at the end of Lent. Today we know this purpose-built egg-throwing arena, with its original circular format, as "Stonhenge". There the Lentmen would throw eggs at each other in elimination competitions of egg-throwing, until only one Lentman would remain standing. He would officially be crowned the "Good Egg", and revered as the spirit - albeit covered in yolk and bits of shell - of the Spring.

Of course, by the time the feast of Oeoeoestre (traditional Beaker spelling) arrived for the final, many of the eggs would have been pretty smelly, being they'd been collected up for six weeks. Since baths not invent yet, the Lentmen would be smelling pretty rank as they returned to their home villages. The villagers would avoid them for months afterwards, until the smell went away. It is thus, by a minor consonantal shift, that this whole tradition is still remembered among working-class British folk today. Even now, they will switch off all the lights and turn off the telly when the "Rentman" comes round.

Of course, the Beaker Folk preserve another aspect of these origins, when every Easter Sunday we take part in the Egg-throwing over the Moot House. We remember that we throw the eggs as a folk memory of the goddess Eoeoeostre (original made-up-by-folklorists spelling) who was never heard of before Bede. To us, the balanced parabola of the rising of the egg and its falling over the Moot House is a reminder that the Sun is half-way through its journey to midsummer. But we have little time to reflect, as we run screaming for cover. With very soft hands, you can actually catch the eggs without them breaking. But who's gonna take that chance?

1 comment :

  1. If nobody emmerges as the Lentman, did they go on to eggstra time? (sorry)


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