Friday, March 23, 2012

The Rabbit & the Hare

Ostara has passed us and the Christian Easter is on it's way. This is the season of the Rabbit & the Hare. Through-out many cultures, traditions & myths both has been held sacred in so many ways. From an animal that could teach us so much in wisdom to a trickster and master at pranks in other beliefs.  I wanted to learn about this fluffy, long eared and cute mammal that we have come to love.
     As I said before there are many myths, folklore and traditions concerning the rabbit / hare.  In many myths they are a symbol of femininity, cleverness, foolishness, cowardice, courage, sexuality and the virginal purity. In their association with femininity they became connected to the moon.
     I have a friend that when we would sit on her deck late at night talking about different things we would look up at the moon. I commented about the man-in-the-moon. She said that she didn't see a man but she saw a rabbit. I always thought that was unique and special so even back then I researched to see if there was an association.
     Along with many of the stories and myths of the moon there was always a association with the hare / rabbit. They were thought as a messenger of the Great Goddess, moving by moonlight between the human world and the realm of the gods. Since the mammal digs and burrows into the ground the Celts believed that the rabbit / hare would carry messages from the world of the living to the dead and also from humans to the fairies. They thought rabbits / hares while in the ground could commune with the Spirit World.
     Celtics treated the animal with respect and honor. During Eostre, Celtic version of Ostara the goddess was connected with the moon and it's cycles and death, redemption and resurrection during the transition from Winter to Spring. Sounds familiar? It should.  The goddess would take shape of a hare at each full moon. The hares was considered very sacred to her and acted as her messengers.
     Eating rabbit or hare meat was a taboo to the Celtics because of this relation with the goddess. In the land of Ireland they were so revered that it is said that eating a hare was like eating one's own grandmother. Experts believe that this was mostly because the Celtics also believe that ' wise women ' could turn into hares by moonlight. Grandmothers in the Celtic society were considered ' wise women '.  Their shamans or priests / priestess would use the hares in their rites of divination by watching their patterns of tracks, their ritualistic mating dance and also in their entrails.
     The British moon goddess, Andraste held the hare / rabbit sacred . Cerridwen, the Celtic goddess was also associated with the hare.
     The warrior queen Boudicca was said to released a hare before each battle to serve as a good omen before battle. The hare's movement would determine the outcome of the battle. She took a hare with her to every battle to ensure victory. She would kept the hare underneath her cloak. It was said that people could hear it's scream from her cloak striking fear in her enemies and those who supported her.
     In China, the hare was shown with a mortar and pestle mixing the elixir of immortality and was again associated with the moon. He is the messenger of the female moon deity and the guardian of all wild animals. They thought that the hare could conceive just by the touch of the full moon's light, by crossing water by moonlight and even by licking the moonlight from a males fur.  They observed the hare's great talent of reproduction. LOL.
     There are stories about Buddha's association with hares / rabbits. One time he summoned the animals to him before he left earth.  Only 12 answered his request. To reward the 12, he named a year after each one. The hare was the fourth animal to show up.  The animal that ruled the year that someone was born would hide in the heart of the person in which this would cast a strong influence on the personality, spirit and fate of the person. The ones born under the year of the Rabbit are said to be intelligent, intuitive, gracious, kind, loyal, sensitive to beauty, prone to moodiness and periods of melancholy.
     Another story tells of Lord Buddha was a hare in one of his early incarnations. As a hare he would travel with an ape and a fox. One day the god Indra wanted to test the three so he turned himself into a hungry beggar. He wanted to test their hospitality.  Each animal decided to go and search for some food to feed the hungry beggar. After some time, the hare was the only one who returned without any food. The hare being determined to pass this test decided to build a fire and then he jumped into it and offered the god Indra his own flesh. The god was touched and rewarded the hare by transforming into the hare-in-the-moon.
     To the Egyptians the hare was also associated with the cycles of the moon. During the waxing of the moon the hare was a male and during the waning it was considered to be female. In Dendera, there is a Egyptian temple with  pictures on the wall depicting a hare-head god and goddess. The female goddess was believed to be the goddess Unut or Wenet. The male representation most likely was the god Osiris also called Wepuat or Un-nefer, who was sacrificed to the Nile river in a form of a hare.
    In the Grecodemi-god who went around shooting arrows into people to cause them to fall in love had a hare companion. In the Greco-Roman world when someone wanted to give a gift of affection they would give a rabbit. In Roman, giving a gift of a rabbit would help a barren wife to conceive.
     In the Teutonic or Norse myths, Holda the earth and sky goddess and leader of the Wild Hunt was followed by hares who would bear torches. Freya, the goddess of love, sensuality and women's mysteries had hare attendants. When she rode her chariot which was drawn by cats, Freya would travel with a sacred hare and boar.
     The rabbit / hare's magic even reach the people of western Siberia. Kaltes was a moon goddess who would shape shift into a hare and roam the hills. When she was in human form she was depicted with wearing a headdress with ears of a hare.
      Ostara a Anglo-Saxon goddess of the moon, fertility and spring was shown with the ears or head of a hare with a white hare standing in attendance. This white hare would go around during the spring laying brightly colored eggs for the kids to find. Sounds familiar?  It should. 
     Again the hare and at the rabbit was held in much awe and respect. During the Christian invasion upon the world the idea of the rabbit was changed. They were thought to be evil and seen as a witch's familiar. Or course...everything is evil to the Christians. Many superstitions started to be created. Sailors considered the hares so unlucky that they could not be mentioned at all while at sea.
     If you were a pregnant women and a hare crossed your path then you would have a miscarriage or give birth to a child with a hare's lip. In order to prevent this from happening the women would have a lucky hare's foot on her. I use to have a rabbit's foot and yes I carried it around with me. It was a gift from my grandfather. A hare's foot was said to avert rheumatism and cramps. They would also help actors perform better. If you burn the fat of a hare in a lamp then all in it's presence or in the room would become merry. Another remedy consist of the brain in some wine before bed to prevent oversleeping. I'm sure that worked. I know it would have for me.
     If you were in the Cambridge shire, England and you saw a hare running through the streets then that would be a sign that a fire was about to break out somewhere in the city.
     In the Cornish superstitions any young girl who was abandoned by her lover would turn into a white hare in order to pursue her faithless lover.
     Hares would hide in cornfields during the reaping season. The farmers called the last sheaf  " the hare " and the action of cutting it was called " killing the hare ".  In some places the farmers or reapers would stand around and throw their sickles at the hare.
    Today the rabbit or hare is considered a pet to many families especially those with little girls but in the ancient times the rabbit and hares was respected, honored, sacred and was considered very magical. Through out time and many cultures the rabbit has remained connected to the celebration of Ostara and Easter. At Easter he is shown as laying beautiful eggs around for children to find.
     During this season of  Easter or Ostara, the Spring Equinox, then please remember the sacredness of this little timid animal.

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