The “Springtime Fool”

Laughing hysterically is just one characteristic of the Court Jester

It has often occurred to me that the characteristic archetypes of the season seem to be weighted more towards Winter and the Christmas celebrations with the character of Father Christmas taking centre stage. So what character could dominate Springtime, Summer or Autumn I might ask? For me Springtime could be invested with the Fool, Summer with a King or Queen and late Autumn with its Witches and Wizards, that way the entire four seasons would take equal precedence and most of all make sense, at least to children anyway. But it has been said that “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, so, on this April Fool’s Day I might add that with the recent news of the invasion of Ukraine that President Putin of the Russian Republic certainly seems to have a twisted sense of humour by maintaining that if the West does not shore up the rouble then their fuel supplies will be cut off! That threat comes off the back of his forces being seriously “bogged down”, being challenged by the fighting spirit of Ukraine’s army and being forced to retreat and regroup! However, Fools have been known to speak truth to power, so I wonder which member of Putin’s cabinet of Fools will have a quiet word in Mr. Putin’s ear?

The Flag of the Knights Templar.

After the storms and disruptions of the month of March, and bearing in mind that the advent of seasonal events tends to fluctuate as a direct result of today’s global climate changes, we can look forward to blue skies with sunny spells, interspersed by showers in April. Now, as the spring sun begins to strengthen we hope to experience drier periods and fewer chilly nights, although April has been known for occasional flurries of snowflakes especially on higher ground in more northerly regions. Cloud formations evolve from air-borne moisture particles out of four basic prototypes, the low-lying stratos type, the long nimbus, then the striated cirrus and even higher still, the familiar fluffy cumulus cloud formations. Due to differing altitudes and meteorological or thermal disturbances they tend to fuse giving rise to a whole panoply of gaseous, fleecy families. However, on a more down to earth level we will also encounter a whole myriad of animal activity and plant growth in this fertile month particularly along water margins, in the fields, hedgerows and woodlands. Along ponds, marshes, waterways and weirs we will see the first frog’s spawn developing into tadpoles and if we are lucky the dragonflies, red admirals pond-skaters and whirligig beetles. In the woodlands the broad lance-shaped leaves of Ramsons (wild garlic) appear, alongside the bright yellow flowers of lesser celandines, water crowfoots and coltsfoot. However, the most favourite woodland flowers for April are the vibrant carpets of bluebells beneath the first flush of English oaks. But more notably April sees the blossoming of pink and white boughs of cherry trees. This is of course the time of hot-cross buns, bunnies, chocolate eggs and if you have any time left, for some vigorous spring-cleaning! There is no better time, when you’ve finished though than to take the kids for a leisurely woodland stroll amidst the calls of rooks, crows and assemblies of magpies and see fertility return yet again to the landscape.

Nacreos clouds in the northern regions of Europe.

Traditionally, it is the first call of the cuckoo as well as the sighting of the migrant swifts, swallows and house martins that announced the arrival of spring. There are many mysteries surrounding the habits and activities of this unusual migrant bird. Many ornithologists from the time of Aristotle have been fascinated by the peculiar symbiotic nesting habits of the Cuckoo. The call of the cuckoo has long been the subject of much folk superstition and in some areas considered an omen. It was said for example that what ever you were doing when you heard the call of the cuckoo that this would be your main preoccupation for the rest of the year. Young girls were said to immediately kiss their hand in the hope that they would spend the rest of their time in amorous embraces with their loved one.

In rural areas the 26th of April is actually known as Cuckoo Day.

A Cuckoo alighting on a branch watching out for absent-minded birds to leave their nests unattended.

The Cuckoo comes in April
He sings his song in May,
He changes his tune in the middle of June
And then he flies away.

The cuckoo migrates from Africa each year, from April to July and locates nesting grounds occupied by reed warblers, robins, meadow pipits and more recently the common dunnock (prunella modularis). Many birds are attuned to recognising odd and even numbers of eggs, not necessarily the exact number, and sometimes the type of markings are a distinctive signature that the egg is truly theirs. The clever cuckoo therefore needs to find a suitable host whose eggs are often indistinguishable from their own. For some time it secretly observes the nesting habits of other birds, the most highly favoured being the reed warbler. As soon as the host bird lays its first clutch of eggs, and while it is absent, the cuckoo flies to the nest and within 10 seconds lays its own egg and then either rejects or eats one of its host’s. When the warblers return therefore they do not detect any interference to their clutch. If they did they would abandon their suspect clutch and try again somewhere else. It seems that the parasitic use of other bird’s nests has been going on for some time and some species of bird have become more accustomed to the cuckoo’s subversive tactics. The cuckoo’s surrogate egg is timed to hatch just prior to that of its host and soon after hatching it heaves the other eggs over the edge of the nest. In some cases the first imprinting of cuckoo chick with its warbler host often results in the host bird rejecting its own eggs in any future clutches. To ensure that the warbler does not detect any discernible difference at the chick stage the cuckoo chick imitates the multi-variant call of 4 or 5 warbler chicks. The warbler, being reassured continues to feed the growing cuckoo chick thinking that there are actually more than one chick in its nest. The cuckoo chick then monopolises the nest growing larger and larger until it totally fills the warbler’s nest. After three weeks it becomes totally independent and leaves the host’s nest.

O blythe newcomer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice;
O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering voice?

While I am lying on the grass
Thy two-fold shout I hear;
From hill to hill it seems to pass,
At once far off and near. – Wordsworth

The call of the male cuckoo is more familiar to most people than the bubbly, warbling sound of the female. Male Cuckoos guard their territory against other cuckoos, with their distinctive “cooing”, each one has a distinctive variant of pitch and tempo. Female cuckoos often plunder the nests of other birds forcing them to recommence their nesting cycle. This gives the female cuckoo another opportunity to monopolise the brooding habits of the reed warbler. The colour of the cuckoo’s egg will vary in relation to that of the host species. As an omen the cuckoo has a two-fold meaning, on the one hand it presages a period of prosperity. However, at the same time it encourages one to make room for sharing one’s current assets and resources, say like taking in a lodger to share the rent. In symbolic terms, essentially it is a creature of Springtime and suggests that “love is in the air”. One should also take note of the direction from which it calls, from the right matters will quickly come to fruition while if it comes from the left – it will take additional time. Superstitious people say that when you hear the first cuckoo of Spring one should turn over their money for good luck.

A Song Thrush feeding what it thinks is a member of its own clutch.

William Shakespeare wrote:
“The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men, for thus sings he
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

  • Oh word of fear,
    Unpleasing to a married ear.

For rural folk April is always a very busy month with all the new plantings to set out. Farmers and allotment gardeners will no doubt be thinking about planting out the first potatoes, and seedlings of the beans, shallots, leeks and peas in the hope that the frosts will now be less frequent and severe. Many cereal crops are also sown at this time of the year with breaks of oilseed rape that when it flowers creates a bright green and yellow tapestry across the farming landscape. The cows, horses and sheep will be returned to the pastures so that they can avail themselves of the first green shoots of grass. The new calves are also born around April, along with the remaining spring lambs whose tails are customarily cut. The tail-like catkins of hazel and the soft, wispy tassels of pussy willow are trembling in the warm spring sunshine. On moors and heath the snipes, like many other birds such as the meadow pipits, plovers and lapwings, begin their elaborate and daring courtship displays. Ascending high in the sky they career downwards, their tail feathers gleaming and vibrating in their powerful slipstream.

When writing about April, the Roman writer Ovid said:

“I have come to the fourth month, full of honour for you; Venus, you know both the poet and the month are yours.”

A woodland blooming with bluebells is a wondrous sight.

It was later said that “April was sacred to Venus, and her festivalâ, the Festum Veneris and Fortuna Virilisâ occurred on the first day of this month.” Apparently Aprilis stems from aphrilis, corrupted from the Greek Aphrodite, equivalent to Venus. Jakob Grimm, a later authority, opposed this stating it may have originated from the name of a god or hero named Aper or Aprus.” The Roman Festival of Flowers in honour of the goddess Flora, was held between 26th April through to the 3rd of May. Traditionally, hares and goats were released and vetches, beans and lupins thrown as a tribute to the Goddess of Springtime. The Parilia or “Shepherd’s Festival” as it was known, took place on the 21st April in agricultural communities. Traditionally, fires were lit and farm animals driven through them to rid them of pests and diseases. Archaic fumigation using sulphur and ashes from the previous year’s sacrifices in October. Cakes were made in honour of Pales, the patroness or Queen of the Shepherds. It was a time when shepherds asked forgiveness for trespass and any other infringements, or crimes. It usually involved offerings of millet, and milk. For purely administrative and civic purposes the year was conveniently divided into 4 quarters:- 1st Epiphany (6th January), 2nd All Fool’s Day (1st April), 3rd Holy Rood Day (25th June) and finally Michaelmas (24th September). The 1st of April is in most parts of Europe set aside for practical jokes being sacred to the April Fool, in France he is called the “April Fish” (poisson d’Avril) when astrologically the sun leaves the sign of Pisces.

The first of April some do say
Is set apart for All Fool’s Day
But why the people call it so
Nor I nor they themselves do know.

The Fool is of course a major character in many Mystery and Mummer’s plays. Usually depicted with a tricorn hat symbolising his triple personality (wise, motley and naive) carrying a whiffle, a pig’s bladder or balloon attached to a stick. According to the Jewish calendar it is equivalent to the time when Noah released the dove from the ark. Generally, any simple-minded person may be sent on a ridiculous or fruitless errand such as purchasing a dozen cockerel eggs or a tin of tartan paint etc. Also known as the Feast of Asses, the Prince of Fools, the Boy Bishop or the Cardinal of Numbskulls, he was the Lord of Misrule presiding over a period of chaos when the natural order was overturned. Palm Sunday is a festival celebrating Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on the back of an ass or donkey and the 1st day of the Holy Week at Easter. It is thought that the ass symbolises the humility of Christ however, more likely it is a remnant of the Egyptian or Hittite God Seth (Evil or Darkness), to whom the ass was sacred and over whom the Egyptian god Osiris (Goodness & Light) finally triumphed. The fool would bring both clarity and absurdity to the seriousness of any worldly situation, in the final analysis a fool makes fools of us all.

A Fool is also known to be a sad person, using humour to alleviate his own psychological pain.

As previously mentioned the time of Good Friday is linked specifically to the lunar calendar and is equivalent to the older pagan festivals celebrating the flagellation and ritual sacrifice of the scapegoat. There were then numerous taboos of sexual abstinence, the performance of work and the eating of fish similar in many ways to the Jewish Sabbath. Notable English festivals include St. George’s Day: 23rd April that was traditionally attributed to the time of Shakespeare’s birth and death. It was held to celebrate the slaying of the dragon by St. George, the patron saint of England. Needless to say an event more mythic than actual and harks back to pagan times. The Greeks, like the Jews employed a luni-solar calendar with intercalations to reconcile disparities between lunar and solar months. April (Mounikhion) was sacred to Apollo (Delphinia), to Artemis (Mounikhia), and Zeus (Olympieia). It began with “All Fools Day” in April. The ancient Celts knew this time (Apr-May) as ” Merry Moon ” or “Shoots Showing” sacred to the Hawthorn tree. The Norse peoples (Vikings & Danes) knew it as Cuckoo Month.

The evening of April 24th is St. Mark’s Eve when in some parts of the British Isles a 24 hour vigil was held. Traditionally, a person elected to stand in the church porch and there behold the spirits of those who were destined to die the following year. Another tradition says that young girls attending the vigil will see their future husbands. A verse in Poor Robin’s Almanack declares:

On St. Mark’s Eve at twelve o’clock
The fair maid will watch her smock
To find her husband in the dark
By praying unto good St. Mark.

This time of year is excellent for observing and listening to all manner of birds as they are busy with courtship, collecting nesting material and establishing their territories. Rooks, Crows, Robins, Wrens, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes are extremely active. Migrant birds will also begin to arrive such as cuckoos, swallows, house martens and swifts. Many species of Bats (Pipistrelle and Long-eared species) are emerging from their winter hibernation, while Newts are beginning to stir in ponds and pools. In the insect kingdoms the orange-tip butterfly, and shield bugs among the fresh green buds of hawthorn, while bluebells, forget-me-nots, dog violets and lady’s smock are flowering in readiness for the early spring. The first crosiers of various ferns begin to unfurl, look out for Hart’s Tongue and Hard Ferns, the Polypody, Ladies Fern and Male Fern as well as any flowering mosses, grasses, rushes, lichens and liverworts.

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Pathenogenesis” are as follows:


“We all love Shakespeare, whoever he was…”

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,