Waiting on the brunt of the witch egg

Little did I know that the world of urban chicken farming would bring such surprise and superstition. It seems that chicken behavior and, well, anything associated with chickens has provided fodder for strange beliefs for as long as people have kept domestic fowl.

Why not? Chickens are inherently weird. But I’m finding that some theories, quite frankly, are a few eggs short of a dozen.

Sure, I can believe that eating a chicken foot behind a door could make one beautiful. Riiight. Swallowing a raw chicken heart might bring you good luck, but I’d rather have a 10-toed chicken bring me good luck instead. And if I rub a grain of corn on a wart until it bleeds, and then feed that corn to a chicken, the wart will supposedly disappear.

This is just the tip of a never-ending iceberg of chicken folklore out there. I never thought too much about it until I found the witch egg.

That’s right. One of my chickens laid a “witch egg.” Also referred to as a “rooster egg” or a “fairy egg,” among other names, this is an object teeming with mystery and superstition. This tiny egg is, in fact, a yolkless egg that formed before it was complete inside the hen’s body. They’re not unheard of, especially when hens start laying.

I had no idea. All I know is, I went out to the chicken compound to thaw out the water bucket and there was a teeny-tiny egg on the ground. It was about the size of a malted milk ball and I couldn’t believe it was even an egg, especially since it was outside the nesting box where the chickens usually do their egg-laying business.

I nudged the witch egg with the toe of my muck boot, and it broke open, which attracted the attention of the chickens. Of course, they flocked to the broken egg and gobbled it down, fighting over the spoils of the witch egg, which had only recently come from one of their own bodies. Gross, I know.

I’m not sure what superstitious consequences result of chickens eating their own witch eggs. I do know that witch eggs were once serious business, because people believed that they could be used for casting spells.

They also believed that witch eggs harbored basilisks, which were apparently put inside the eggs by Satan himself. And if those basilisks hatched ... watch out! These chicken-headed, serpent bodied creatures of the olden days were formidable opponents, not like those wimpy Harry Potter basilisks. People feared them because they apparently hatched from tiny witch eggs and then either killed humans with their breath or their gaze.

In other words, 15th century people didn’t mess around with witch eggs. According to E.P. Evans’ “The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals,” the residents of Basel, Switzerland, actually executed a chicken convicted of laying witch eggs in 1471. The chicken, thought to be a rooster at the time, laid the eggs and was put on trial for being a freak of nature. The condemned chicken was burned at the stake.

So, what to do when your innocent livestock bears the fruits of the devil? I nearly cursed our home for all eternity by thinking about bringing the tiny egg inside. I later discovered that ancient folklore dating back to the times of European witch hunts dictates that the only way to spare us from the evil witch egg was to handle it properly. Apparently I was supposed to hurl the witch egg over the house, without letting it touch the roof, and smash it on the ground.

But, since I accidentally broke the egg open in the chicken compound, without performing the sacred ritual, the witch egg will probably haunt us. Who knows? There might be a basilisk lurking, waiting to stare us to death anywhere, anytime. It’s probably eating all the chocolate chips in the pantry and hiding behind the toilet.

I’ll keep you posted. Apparently it’s a “death omen” to find a tiny chicken egg anyway, and I stepped over the broken witch egg’s shell, so I’m in danger of going crazy.

Until then, I’ll be munching raw chicken hearts to bring me luck, just in case.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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