Last week I received an email from a woman who had bought two rabbits, let them turn into twenty five and then left them in the cages built illegally at a public park. Two months later she went to see them and found only three left. The gardener informed her that some had died eating the garbage people threw in and some had been taken away by people to be eaten. My hospital is full of rabbits that have been thrown away. People buy them, do not check out their sexes , allow them to mate and because they breed frequently, get fed up with the numbers and dump them in shelters to rot, sell them to people to kill or leave them in wooded areas where they are killed by jackals or dogs. The rabbit has a sacred space in all mythologies. In Hinduism he is the face of the moon: Shashanka means rabbit faced. The moon rabbit is found in Aztec and East Asian folklore. In Chinese mythology it is the companion of the moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her and the other immortals; Han Dynasty poets call the rabbit on the moon the “Jade Rabbit” or the “Gold Rabbit” and these phrases were often used in place of the word for the moon. Also associated with the Chinese New Year rabbits are one of the twelve celestial animals in the Chinese Zodiac. Chinese legend has it that there once was a strong, good man who became emperor. He eventually became corrupt and wanted to live forever, so he had special immortality pills made. His wife did not want such a cruel man to live forever, so she took the pills instead and floated up to the moon, taking with her favourite pet rabbit. In Japanese and Korean tradition, rabbits live on the moon where they make Mochi, mashed sticky rice, pounding on an usu, a Japanese mortar . The word for ‘rice-cake’ and ‘full moon’ are both mochi. In Aztec mythology, a pantheon of four hundred rabbit gods known as Centzon Totochtin, led by Ometotchtli or Two Rabbit, represents fertility, parties, and drunkenness. In native American Ojibwe mythology, Nanabozho or Great Rabbit, is an important deity related to the creation of the world. There is a beautiful story about the rabbit which almost every religion quotes as its own. Here is the Buddhist version: In the Buddhist Sasajâtaka (Jataka Tale 316) a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit resolved to be charitable on the day of the full moon. An old man begged for food. The monkey gathered fruit for him from the trees and the otter collected fish. The jackal stole a pot of curd. The rabbit, who knew only how to gather grass, offered its own body, throwing itself into a fire the man had built. The rabbit, however, was not burnt. The old man revealed himself to be Sakra and, touched by the rabbit’s virtue, drew the likeness of the rabbit on the moon for all to see. A version of this story can be found in the Japanese anthology Konjaku Monogatarishu, where the rabbit’s companions are a fox and a monkey. In Hinduism, a rabbit, with nothing else to offer a hungry, weary Indra, jumps into a fire, cooking himself for the deity. Out of gratitude, Indra placed the rabbit in the moon. According to an Aztec legend, the god Quetzalcoatl, then living on Earth as a man, started on a journey and, after walking for a long time, became hungry and tired. With no food or water around, he thought he would die. A rabbit grazing nearby offered herself as food to save his life. Quetzalcoatl, moved by the rabbit’s noble offering, elevated her to the moon and told her, “You may be just a rabbit, but everyone will remember you; there is your image in light, for all people and for all times.” Another South American legend tells of the noble sacrifice of Nanahuatzin during the creation of the sun. Humble Nanahuatzin sacrificed himself in fire to become the new sun, but the wealthy god Tecciztecatl hesitated four times before he finally set himself alight to become the moon. Due to Tecciztecatl’s cowardice, the gods felt that the moon should not be as bright as the sun, so one of the gods threw a rabbit at his face to diminish his light. Another story says Tecciztecatl was in the form of a rabbit when he sacrificed himself to become the moon, casting his shadow there. A native American Cree legend recounts the tale of a young rabbit who wished to ride the moon. Only the crane was willing to take him. The trip stretched crane’s legs as the heavy rabbit held them tightly, leaving them elongated as crane’s legs are now. When they reached the moon Rabbit touched Crane’s head with a bleeding paw, leaving the red mark cranes wear to this day. According to the legend, Rabbit still rides the moon to this day. Easter brings the rabbit into focus and strangely links him with eggs.
Easter does not have anything to do with Jesus or the Christians. It is a festival of the moon. The name Easter comes from Eostre (the Phoenician Astarte), goddess of the moon and measurer of time. (Here we can make a connection between the female estrus). The monthly waxing and waning of the moon makes it the Destroyer of Darkness and messenger of new life and immortality. How is the rabbit associated with the moon? One is that the hare feeds by night; another is that the hare’s gestation period is one month long. It was believed that a rabbit could change its sex—like the moon. The Egyptians called the rabbit Un, which means to open, the opener. Un also meant period. Thus the rabbit became a symbol for periodicity in both the lunar and female sense of the word. The hare as “opener” symbolized the New Year at Easter; and fertility and the beginning of new life. And the rabbit carrying Easter eggs? No connection, merely an invention of European bakers in the 19th century who confused the two images. The ancestors of the Easter Rabbit are now lost in the giant machine of commerce. This Easter, adopt a rabbit. They make very wonderful pets.