Now that we’re almost to March, Ostara is fast approaching and I figured it was high time to start talking about Spring Equinox symbolism and none is more prolific than the rabbit or hare. However, the symbolism of rabbits and hares is not limited to season and I feel that it is a useful practice to look into the symbols on a wider scale, too. The hare was once a big part of the collective imagination but it has since fallen out of popularity. So, let’s talk about the symbolism of bunnies!
Although today you’re more likely to hear about the “man on the moon”, it was once popular phrasing to instead refer to the “hare” on the moon. Actually, looking at photos, I feel like this pareidolia — the phenomenon of seeing faces in everyday objects — is more like a Magic Eye optical image than a true likeness. (Although in all fairness, I was never able to see those pictures!) But the hare on the moon seems like an obvious image. Maybe it’s just my own desire to perceive pagan imagery in as many things as possible, LOL. Check it out below and see for yourself and tell me in the comments below which YOU think looks more obvious:
In any case, regardless of what YOU think is clearer, the hare on the moon was once commonplace and its being so widespread of an image led to the rabbit and the moon being connected often across many cultures in mythology and folklore including all sorts of fascinating origin stories about HOW the hare got on the moon especially in Asian and Aztec folklore. Diving into those is a bit beyond the scope of this post today, but it certainly makes for fascinating and whimsical research and reading.
The hare on the moon (alternatively referred to as the “Jade Hare” or the “Gold Hare” in some very old poetry) was often believed to be eternally toiling to grind and macerate herbs for medicine for humanity. In many depictions, the moon hare is indeed seen with a mortar and pestle. The hare also played into some ancient South American folklore as symbolic for both the moon (sometimes as an actual deity/goddess) and selflessness. Across the board, the hare is represented as wise and giving — even considered a bodhisattva (enlightened master) serving humanity.
And, of course I couldn’t wrap up this blog without discussing the much anticipated topic of how rabbits and Ostara became associated with one another. In addition to the rabbit’s appearance in the moon, their observable earthly counterparts are also very well-known for their ability and speed at which they procreate. It became an incredibly easy leap ( — HA, leap?! See what I did there???) to associate rabbits with fertility which has long been a theme of all Spring festivals and feast days. (Actually — pretty much EVERY pagan holiday, period, when you think about it.) But that doesn’t exactly explain the Easter bunny itself. How did we get from the fertility-rabbit theme to where secular Easter has come today?
The most likely theory out there right now is that our modern Easter bunny in America was actually the result of German immigrants and the Pennsylvania Dutch starting in the 1700s. (Remember when I talked about them in my 20th Century Witchcraft video about The Roarin’ 20s?) The Germans brought with them to the United States and folkloric figure called the “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.”. Children would set out their hats as “nests” for the osterhase the night before Easter with the belief that this mythological bunny would lay eggs in them for children who were well-behaved and, well, rabbit poop for those that weren’t. The eggs were often dyed (using natural dye) and designs were scratched into the eggs using a needle or pin. This tradition ran rampant throughout the country eventually leading to our modern day bunny-and-egg traditions.
Why eggs? Well, they were likely symbolic of abundance at a time when food was sometimes scarce. Not to mention their obvious connection to fertility as well — but that’s a story for another day! Have you ever tried using natural egg dye? Tell me about your own egg-travagant experiences with the Ostara bunny and eggs in the comments below! (And don’t forget to tell me if you think the hare or the man in the moon makes more sense either — I’d like to know I’m not alone in this. LOL)