Only 13 more days until Spring (and it can't get here fast enough!)!
Soon the flowers will be blooming, and it'll be time for the Easter Bunny to visit with the old Puca.
“Whoa there, Puca,” I can hear you say. “You’re friends with the Easter Bunny? I mean…Easter isn’t exactly one of our celebrations.”
And you would be right except…brace yourselves…the Easter Bunny is PAGAN! Let me tell you the whole story, but it’s an old “tail.” May have a little “hare” on it. OK, OK, I know. That wasn’t very…bunny!
The first thing to remember is that almost every land has stories about magical rabbits and hares. Mostly, they are considered creatures of the moon which mystically appear at night (hares are nocturnal), and can be as black as the new moon or as white as the full. They are usually seen as symbols of life, not only because they can multiply quickly, but also because they adapt very well to changes in their environment. In Egypt, there was even a rabbit-headed goddess who ruled her own city. In hieroglyphics, a picture of a rabbit over a wavy line was the symbol for the word “exist,” so hares were certainly connected with the Divine Life Force.
Hares were seen as both lucky and unlucky, depending on the season and the circumstance. For my people, the Irish (and other Celts), a hare would be released before a big battle. The direction in which it ran could foretell victory or defeat. Sometimes they were released before the gathered warriors for good luck. It was believed that witches could turn themselves into hares, and that they would gather in the woods, as a coven, to dance. To come upon them would be most unfortunate.
In the fall, the Irish believed that the aged spirit of the goddess, otherwise known as “The Crone,” would change herself into a hare and hide in the fields. As each plot of land was harvested, she would run to the next until, finally, there would be just one shock (or bundle) of wheat, still standing, in which she could hide. The farmer who cut that last shock of wheat would have to play host to the goddess spirit until the next spring planting. That was considered a blessing and a burden!
It was thought unlucky if a hare ran across your path, especially if you were an expectant mother. However, you could avert any curse or bad energy by carrying a rabbit’s foot. The left rear one was considered the luckiest…except for the rabbit!
March is mating season for rabbits. At night, in the woods, they leap about and almost appear to be boxing. Because their mating dance in the moonlight seems a bit crazy, and the moon (or “Luna”) was once thought to drive weak minded people into madness (“LUNAtic” ), a new phrase came into the English language. People acting crazy were called “mad as a March hare”. In fact, you can even find a mad March Hare in Alice in Wonderland!
But what about the Easter Bunny? Well, we see now that hares and rabbits are associated with the moon, life, and March fertility (mating). We know that our celebration of the Vernal Equinox is around the 21st. What you may not know is that the Christian church calendar always sets Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Equinox. So their celebration closely follows our own.
At the Equinox, the Anglo-Saxons (modern English) people worshiped a goddess of the moon, life and fertility named Ostara. Her symbol, and totem animals, were hares. She also had a brightly colored bird. One day, to amuse the children who asked her for magic, she changed the bird into yet another hare. This one, however, kept its ability to lay eggs, and they were always the bright colors of its former feathers. These eggs would be gathered into a basket, and the hares would distribute them to all the children who loved Ostara.
Ostara’s magical hare was so beloved that the church could not make the people give him up, so they “adopted” him and …ta da!… the Easter Bunny was born. So, the next time you see an image of a bunny with a basket of painted eggs, give a wink and tell him, “You can’t fool me, Easter Bunny! You’re really Ostara’s Hare!”
May all your chocolate bunnies be solid, all your marshmallow chicks be fresh, and may all your egg hunts be downhill on dry lawns. Happy Equinox!
by Katharine Clark, art by Lauren Curtis