April – the Month of Opening

Our name for this month comes from the old Roman name for it, Aprilis, generally thought to bederived from aperio, a verb meaning ‘to open’, in the sense that the earth is opening up and flowering.  As the Roman poet Ovid said, “Because Spring opens everything and the sharp/ Frost-bound cold vanishes, and fertile soil’s revealed”. [1] However, he himself believed that the name derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, whom the Romans called Venus, saying that while the first month (March) was dedicated to fierce Mars, the second month was granted to Venus, because love rules the whole world, bringing together human and animal partners to mate and give birth to young, especially at this time of year. [2]

April showers bring a flurry of new growth, and everywhere, flowers are opening, leaves unfolding, the birds are busy nest building and animals are mating. According to folklore, adders begin mating on April.

This is the month when the summer birds return to Britain, such as the swallow and the cuckoo. For the Norse April was Gaukmonad, ‘cuckoo month’, and in many places, when the bird’s distinctive call is heard, then spring is really deemed to have arrived. In Sussex (England) it was said that spring began when ‘the Old Woman’ (the Hag of Winter) shook the cuckoos from her apron. The cuckoo is a summer visitor to Britain, arriving in April and leaving in August. Special cuckoo fairs were once held all over the country during April to welcome it. Sadly, much of its habitat has been destroyed in recent years, and the call of the cuckoo is a much rarer sound.

Cuckoos bring good luck or bad luck, depending on what you are doing when you first hear them. It is lucky to hear them if standing on grass but bad luck if on barren ground. If the call comes from the right, it is good luck for the year, make a wish and it will be granted, but it is unlucky if it comes from the left. If you are looking at the ground you will be dead within the year; the Scots say the number of calls it makes indicate the number of years you have left. Moreover, whatever you are doing you are fated to do for the rest of the year, so if you are in bed you will become ill and bedridden, and if you have no food in your stomach, you will be poor for the rest of the year.  However, if you turn over the money in your pocket, or spit on it, it will last the year. 

Another European harbinger of spring is the swallow.  In ancient Greece, returning swallows were thought to predict the safe return of Dionysus, the vegetation god. In the second century CE boys in Rhodes went from house to house singing: “The swallow is here and a new year he brings/ As he lengthens the days with the beats of his wings”. [3] But as Aristotle cautioned ‘one swallow does not make a summer’, [4] meaning that the appearance of one bird doesn’t indicate a trend, though the appearance of flocks of them do. From early times swallows have made their nests in the eaves of buildings and for the Romans they were sacred to the Penates, the household gods, so it is lucky if they nest on your house, offering protection from lightening, fire and storms. Destroying a nest or killing a bird meant disaster for the house and its inhabitants. 

In ancient Rome, the whole month was dedicated Venus, originally a goddess of gardens, and also contained festivals in honour of other agricultural deities – since work on the land was in full swing – like Ceres, the goddess of grain crops, and Flora, goddess of flowers. The honouring of female deities of agriculture and fertility continued with sacrifices to placate Tellus, goddess of the earth.  [5] Her Greek equivalent is Gaia, and we often use the name Gaia for Mother Earth in connection with environmental movements suggested by James Lovelock’s book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth in which the Earth is viewed as a single organism with self-regulatory functions.

The Romans also remembered new animal life with the Parilia Festival in honour of Pales, a woodland and pastoral deity. It was mainly observed by shepherds for the protection of their flocks. The sheep pen was decorated with green branches, and at dawn, the  shepherd would purify the sheep by driving them through the smoke of a bonfire composed of straw, olive branches, laurel, and sulphur. Millet cakes and milk were offered to Pales, after which the shepherd would wet his hands with dew, face east, and pray four times for protection for the flock.

The Romans held the Floralia at the end of April and the beginning of May, which gave rise to many May Day custom we still practice today. Flora is a goddess of the spring and of flowers and blossoms in general, as well as youth and its pleasures in this youthful season of the year.

The energies of April are about the year and the earth opening up and blossoming. The magic of the season reminds us to open ourselves to new things, to love, beauty and grace,

[1] https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/OvidFastiBkFour.php, accessed 6.3.19

[2] https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/OvidFastiBkFour.php, accessed 6.3.19

[3] Dean Miller, Animals and Animal Symbols in World Culture, Cavendish Square Publishing, 2014

[4] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

[5] William Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, London, 1922


Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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