Another Perspective on the “Easter Bunny”
Rabbits and Hares comprise a very ancient archetype that has stretched across religion and culture for thousands of years. In this essay I will use the terms rabbit and hare to refer to both who are often depicted as one animal and belong to the same family (Lepus). We find the rabbit appearing in Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism as well as throughout Indigenous culture in the Americas.
In ancient traditions hares and rabbits belong to women; they are powerful goddesses associated with mystery and magic, the lunar cycle, fertility, longevity and rebirth.
Hares are believed to be messengers from the realm of the Great Goddess moving by moonlight between the human world and the spirit world. In some places She is the Great Goddess herself. S/he is also androgynous sometimes appearing in a male form. The male aspect appears most often as a trickster figure or is incorporated into the female as the rabbit and his grandmother who both live in the moon according to some Native American Indigenous traditions.
In China, The Hare in the Moon is depicted with a mortar and pestle in which She mixes the elixir of immortality. This goddess conceives through the touch of the full moon’s light without the need of impregnation by a male (not to be confused with the “virgin birth” – this goddess is one unto herself) or she conceives by crossing water by moonlight. As the Great Goddess she is the guardian of all wild animals.
In Egyptian myth hares were associated with the moon which was masculine when waxing and female while waning – highlighting the feminine power of yin. Hare headed goddesses and gods can be seen on temple walls. The female is the goddess Wenet, while the male probably represents Osiris, the son of Isis.
Greek and Roman mythologies tell us the hare represents love, abundance, and fecundity. Hares were associated with Artemis, goddess of the wild places and Artemis would not permit young hares to be sacrificed (as some demanded) but left to her protection. Rabbits were also sacred to Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty. Carvings of rabbits eating grapes and figs appear on both Greek and Roman tombs symbolizing the transformative cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
In Teutonic myth the Earth and Sky goddess Holda had a chariot drawn by hares or was followed by a procession of hares bearing torches. This goddess was in charge of all weather phenomena. In a similar vein, Freyja the Norse goddess of Women’s Mysteries was also served by hares.
The Celtic Eostre belongs to the moon, orchestrating the cycles of death and rebirth. This goddess was also responsible for the turning of winter to spring. To the Celts, eating a rabbit was like eating one’s wise old grandmother, no doubt due to the sacred connection between hares and goddesses. The Celts also used rabbits for divination, reading their tracks. It was believed that rabbits burrowed underground in order to better commune with the spirit world and that they could carry messages from the living to the dead.
All of the above goddesses were also shapeshifters who took on the form of a rabbit or hare and roamed the countrysides during the waxing, waning, and full moons of each month.
As Christianity took hold over Europe hares and rabbits, once so firmly associated with the Great Goddess came to be seen in a less favorable light. They were often associated as the familiars of “witches” taking on a demonic quality.
Originally these powerful goddesses were depicted as actual rabbits/ hares, or these figures had a hare’s head and ears. A white hare often could be found standing in attendance. This magical white hare laid brightly colored eggs that were given to children during the sacred rites that celebrated the coming of spring and rebirth of all Nature.
Today, these goddesses who once controlled the weather and cycles of the moon, acted as messengers between the living and the dead, had second sight, acted as Guardians of the wild places, were responsible for longevity, love, fertility, and rebirth have been reduced to cartoon like cute little bunnies, diminishing the power of Women’s Mysteries as well as the importance of Nature and associating both with dubious if not sinister qualities – an excellent example of the way the power of the feminine as well as the sanctity of the Earth has been dismissed by patriarchal tradition.
And yet, whether hovering above us in the arms of the Moon Goddess or carrying messages from the underworld in this month of double moons, rabbits and hares continue to leap through mythology, legends, and folk tales around the world – forever elusive, like the mysterious and powerful wise women they certainly embody.