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Vern Equinox: He Puts the Dew on the Folklore

March 20, 1985|DAVE LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

You say your health insurance doesn't cover spring fever? Is that what's troubling you?

Well, for the next few months you'll just have to put up with the malady anyway. As of 8:14 a.m. today, Vern Equinox arrived.

Force yourself away from the tube and you'll notice more color in the ground, nests in the trees, a fresh scent in the air. At Lake Superior State College in Michigan they get so excited about it that they ceremonially burn a snowman in effigy today.

Even here in lotus land, although winter doesn't really have that much of a bite, the awakening of nature is nonetheless a happening.

And sure to take special note of spring is a woman cloistered in the basement of a building on the UCLA campus, where a clove of garlic hangs on the door of her office.

Frances Cattermole-Tally keeps track of beliefs surrounding such occurrences as the arrival of the seasons, inasmuch as she is archivist with the UCLA Center for the Study of Comparative Folklore and Mythology.

Although the garlic clove doesn't relate specifically to spring, it does have a purpose: "It protects us from vampires," Cattermole-Tally explained.

It must work. Since it was suspended, the office hasn't been bothered by a single vampire.

Beware the ideas of March--but not necessarily all of them. Some may be useful.

"A popular belief that has existed for many years in many states is that the first dew of spring eradicates freckles," the archivist said.

In Illinois, the custom had a special requirement. "It was thought there at the turn of the century that if you waited until the first day of May to wash your face in dew, then walked backward into the house, your freckles would disappear," Cattermole-Tally said.

If your feet didn't have a reverse gear, an alternative for freckle removal was to do the dew washing during each of the first 10 mornings of May.

In Kentucky, nobody wants to be a lore-breaker, so their variation on the ritual is that you neither eat nor speak before the washings.

This epic isn't entirely on freckles, but it is surprising how much in folklore deals with the relationship of them to springtime.

Even as regards preventive medicine. In Czechoslovakia, according to the archivist, it is believed one can ward off freckles by the daily use of well water during this season.

And in many parts of the world, the secret of those who would simply have good complexions is to use the dew of spring, especially well before sunrise.

So much for saving face.

The making of wishes in springtime pops up often in folklore, according to Cattermole-Tally, who is also associate editor of the planned Encyclopedia of American Popular Beliefs and Superstitions.

When Doves Sing

In various regions it is urged that when you hear a dove at this time of the year, turn on your heel and wish. Or one may walk three times around the tree in which the bird is perched and make a wish. Some people will think you are neurotic, but folklorists know better.

"Also, when you hear the first whippoorwill of spring, roll over on the ground and your wish will come true," Cattermole-Tally said.

This one carries a one-year warranty. The wish is liable to come true at any time during the next 12 months, she said.

Additionally, she went on, folklore has it that if you press the first flower from your garden into your Bible, you will have both a beautiful spring and summer.

On the other hand, if you pick the first rose that you see blooming, you will have bad luck all summer.

In the spring, of course, everyone's fancies lightly turn to thoughts of you-know-what, and many are the beliefs in this regard.

"Not only is it felt that if you look into a well on the first day of May, you will see your future mate, but there is a more elaborate practice," the scholar explained.

"On the first day of May, lean backward and look over your shoulder while reflecting the sun into a well with a large mirror. "In the reflection you'll see the one you'll marry."

The UCLA Center's records include the statement of a man in Stanislaus County who swears this worked for him, and that he has been happily married to the woman for 55 years.

Should you get a backache while at the well, not to worry. Folk medicine will take care of it. "It is believed that if you lie down and roll three times toward the first dove you hear cooing in the spring, your backache will be cured," Cattermole-Tally said.

Something to Talk About

Even if you don't have a backache, rolling toward the dove will prevent getting such a pain. And it will give your neighbors something to talk about.

Also on the subject of marriage, folklore has it that when you hear the first whippoorwill of spring, take nine steps backward and remove your left shoe. Inside the stocking or sock you will find a hair the color of your future sweetheart's.

According to that same type of authority, swallows can play an important part in your life, even if you aren't in Capistrano. "The first time you hear a swallow in the spring," the archivist said, "go to a fountain and wash your eyes while making a silent prayer. The swallow will carry away all your eye troubles."

This new season, of course, means not only the return of the swallows but also of daylight saving time, when all of us change our timepieces.

Spring forward and fall back. That can give you a backache, but fortunately you now know what to do about it.

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