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Rabbits and Hares

topic posted Fri, February 15, 2008 - 1:35 PM by  Kenneth
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The Symbolism of Rabbits and Hares
by Terri Windling


We can glimpse possible interpretations, however, by examing the wealth of world mythology and folklore involving rabbits and hares. In many mythic traditions, these animals were archetypal symbols of femininity, associated with the lunar cycle, fertility, longevity, and rebirth. But if we dig a little deeper into their stories we find that they are also contradictory, paradoxical creatures: symbols of both cleverness and foolishness, of femininity and androgny, of cowardice and courage, of rampant sexuality and virginal purity. In some lands, Hare is the messenger of the Great Goddess, moving by moonlight between the human world and the realm of the gods; in other lands he is a god himself, wily deceiver and sacred world creator rolled into one.
Rabbit Moon Netsuke

Moon Rabbit Netsuke, 19th century

The association of rabbits, hares, and the moon can be found in numerous cultures the world over — ranging from Japan to Mexico, from Indonesia to the British Isles. Whereas in Western folklore we refer to the "Man in the Moon," the "Hare (or Rabbit) in the Moon" is a more familiar symbol in other societies. In China, for example, the Hare in the Moon is depicted with a mortar and pestle in which he mixes the elixir of immortality; he is the messenger of a female moon deity and the guardian of all wild animals. In Chinese folklore, female hares conceive through the touch of the full moon's light (without the need of impregnation by the male), or by crossing water by moonlight, or licking moonlight from a male hare’s fur. Figures of hares or white rabbits are commonly found at Chinese Moon Festivals, where they represent longevity, fertility, and the feminine power of yin.

In one old Chinese legend, Buddha summoned the animals to him before he departed from the earth, but only twelve representatives of the animal kingdom came to bid him farewell. He rewarded these twelve by naming a year after each one, in repeating cycles through eternity. The animal ruling the year in which a child born is the animal "hiding in the heart," casting a strong influence on personality, spirit, and fate. Rabbit was the fourth animal to arrive, and thus rules over the calendar in the fourth year of every twelve. People born into the Year of the Rabbit are said to be intelligent, intuitive, gracious, kind, loyal, sensitive to beauty, diplomatic and peace-loving, but prone to moodiness and periods of melancholy.
Hare by Charles Robinson

"Hare" by Charles Robinson

In another Buddhist legend, from India this time, Lord Buddha was a hare in an early incarnation, traveling in the company of an ape and a fox. The god Indra, disguised as a hungry beggar, decided to test their hospitality. Each animal went in search of food, and only the hare returned empty handed. Determined to be hospitable, the hare built a fire and jumped into it himself, feeding Indra with his own flesh. The god rewarded this sacrifice by transforming him into the Hare in the Moon.

In Egyptian myth, hares were also closely associated with the cycles of the moon, which was viewed as masculine when waxing and feminine when waning. Hares were likewise believed to be androgynous, shifting back and forth between the genders—not only in ancient Egypt but also in European folklore right up to the 18th century. A hare-headed god and goddess can be seen on the Egyptian temple walls of Dendera, where the female is believed to be the goddess Unut (or Wenet), while the male is most likely a representation of Osiris (also called Wepuat or Un-nefer), who was sacrificed to the Nile annually in the form of a hare.

In Greco-Roman myth, the hare represented romantic love, lust, abundance, and fercundity. Pliny the Elder recommended the meat of the hare as a cure for sterility, and wrote that a meal of hare enhanced sexual attraction for a period of nine days. Hares were associated with the Artemis, goddess of wild places and the hunt, and newborn hares were not to be killed but left to her protection. Rabbits were sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and marriage—for rabbits had “the gift of Aphrodite” (fertility) in great abundance. In Greece, the gift of a rabbit was a common love token from a man to his male or female lover. In Rome, the gift of a rabbit was intended to help a barren wife conceive. Carvings of rabbits eating grapes and figs appear on both Greek and Roman tombs, where they symbolize the transformative cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

In Teutonic myth, the earth and sky goddess Holda, leader of the Wild Hunt, was followed by a procession of hares bearing torches. Although she descended into a witch–like figure and boogeyman of children’s tales, she was once revered as a beautiful, powerful goddess in charge of weather phenomena. Freyja, the headstrong Norse goddess of love, sensuality, and women’s mysteries, was also served by hare attendants. She traveled with a sacred hare and boar in a chariot drawn by cats. Kaltes, the shape–shifting moon goddess of western Siberia, liked to roam the hills in the form of a hare, and was sometimes pictured in human shape wearing a headdress with hare’s ears. Ostara, the goddess of the moon, fertility, and spring in Anglo–Saxon myth, was often depicted with a hare’s head or ears, and with a white hare standing in attendance. This magical white hare laid brightly colored eggs which were given out to children during spring fertility festivals — an ancient tradition that survives in the form of the Easter Bunny today.
Hans Hoffman, Hare in Forest

"Hare in Forest" By Hans Hoffman

Eostre, the Celtic version of Ostara, was a goddess also associated with the moon, and with mythic stories of death, redemption, and resurrection during the turning of winter to spring. Eostre, too, was a shape–shifter, taking the shape of a hare at each full moon; all hares were sacred to her, and acted as her messengers. Cesaer recorded that rabbits and hares were taboo foods to the Celtic tribes. In Ireland, it was said that eating a hare was like eating one’s own grandmother — perhaps due to the sacred connection between hares and various goddesses, warrior queens, and female faeries, or else due to the belief that old "wise women" could shape–shift into hares by moonlight. The Celts used rabbits and hares for divination and other shamanic practices by studying the patterns of their tracks, the rituals of their mating dances, and mystic signs within their entrails. 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 and from humankind to the faeries.
Demon Rabbit

Chartres Cathedral Rabbit Demon

As Christianity took hold in western Europe, hares and rabbits, so firmly associated with the Goddess, came to be seen in a less favorable light — viewed suspiciously as the familiars of witches, or as witches themselves in animal form. Numerous folk tales tell of men led astray by hares who are really witches in disguise, or of old women revealed as witches when they are wounded in their animal shape. In one well–known story from Dartmoor, a mighty hunter named Bowerman disturbed a coven of witches practicing their rites, and so one young witch determined to take revenge upon the man. She shape–shifted into a hare, led Bowerman through a deadly bog, then turned the hunter and his hounds into piles of stones, which can still be seen today. (The stone formations are known by the names Hound Tor and Bowerman’s Nose.)

Although rabbits, in the Christian era, were still sometimes known as good luck symbols (hence the tradition of carrying a "lucky rabbit’s foot"), they also came to be seen as witch–associated portents of disaster. In Somerset, the appearance of a rabbit in a village street was said to presage a coming fire, while in Dorset, a rabbit crossing one’s path in the morning was an indication of trouble ahead. A remedy from 1875 suggests, "You can easily set matters right by spitting over your left shoulder, and saying, ‘Hare before, Trouble behind: Change ye, Cross, and free me,’ or else by the still more simple charm which consists in touching each shoulder with your forefinger, and saying, ‘Hare, hare, God send thee care.’" Some Cornish fisherman would not let hares or rabbits on their boats, or say the names of these animals aloud, or use a net contaminated by contact with one of them. Hares were also associated with madness due to the wild abandon of their mating rituals. The expression "Mad as a March hare" comes from the leaping and boxing of hares during their mating season.

{This is an excerpt that I copied and pasted for you all to read. Here's the link....www.endicott-studio.com/rdrm/r...s.html}

Kenneth
posted by:
Kenneth
Seattle
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  • According to Lakotah legend Rabbit was once a brave warrior who befriended a powerful witch. One day Rabbit saw his friend use her power and it frightened him so he began to avoid her. He successfully avoided her for a while but she noticed and went looking for her friend, after many weeks of searching she found him and asked why he had been avoiding her. He replied that her powers frightened him and he could not be her friend because of them. She was deeply hurt and cursed Rabbit who was thought brave, that from then on he would call his fears to him. This is why he hides all the time, until he sees eagle soaring high above, then he raises his voice and yells "I am Rabbit, I see you Eagle and I am not afraid of you!!!" and Eagle who may not have noticed him swoops down and catches him

    Just the story as it was told to me. YMMV

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