Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Easter Rabbits' Unchristian Origins!

The Buffalo Courier

Sunday, April 10, 1898

Page 11, Column 1



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ORIGIN OF THE EASTER HARE.




For more seasons than one cares to

count the Easter egg has been the familiar

symbol of the great spring festival:

but, of late years, owing probably to the

great increase of our foreign population.

Another emblem has begun to dissipate its

supremacy in the confectioner’s shops,

and for some time the Hares at Easter

have been almost as numerous as the

eggs.  The hares are quite as often rabbits,

delicate distinctions  in  zoology not

being the province of confectioners; but

in this case they cannot go far out of the

etymology,  the animals are identical, and

moreover, to the American eye, the rabbit

is the  more familiar form.

But why either?

What has the innocent rodent, as

George Elliot would say, “with its small

sibling pleasures,”  to do with the great

Festival of the Resurrection?

To solve this enigma and trace out the

meaning of the symbol  we must go backward,

like a crab, through the history of

Easter itself, even at the risk of repeating

by the way many things that everybody

knows already.



Easter, though apparently a solar festival

in its connection with the equinox,

in reality and even as ordered by the

Christian Church belongs by right's to

the moon.  As early as the second century

the Western churches began to object

to the contemporaneous celebration

of Easter with the Jewish Passover,

And in 351 A.D. the Council of Nice decided

that it should be held in future

upon the first Sunday after the first full

moon upon or after the vernal equinox;

And if said full moon fell upon Sunday,

then Easter should be the Sunday after.



The moon was masculine in Sanskrit,

as she was in Anglo Saxon, and indeed,

in all the Teutonic languages, and as she

is in German still.  This confusion of

sex, as it seems to us who are accustomed

to think of her as a “goddess excellently

bright” probably arose from the fact that

the deities of the earliest mythologies

were androgynous and that sex was a

question of relation and depended upon

their personification in an active or a

passive form.



The moon varied in sex according to

circumstances .  As the new moon,

with her brilliant horns and increasing

strength, or as the full moon, in the

plentitude of her powers, she represented

the active element  and was personified

as masculine  -- she was the Lord of light,

the sign of new life, the messenger of

immortality.  But the waning moon was

passive or feminine, and typified darkness,

death and in the Egyptian mythology

------ or the Evil principle, who

had the supremacy in his fourteen days

rage when he tore Osiris (the sun) into

fourteen pieces.



In ancient symbolism  again the light

half of the moon was masculine; the

dark feminine.  There was also another

dualism connected with the moon, as the

prototype of the Virgin Mother, which

may explain  a very singular old English

custom which has always been a mystery

to antiquarians.  The Virgin Mother

was represented by the British Druids

as two, the sisters Krierevy and Lywy

(the British Proserpine and Ceres), the

Virgin and the Mother.



Now there is an endowment in the

Parish of Biddenden, Kent of old but

unknown date, which provides for the

distribution  of six hundred cakes among

the poor upon the afternoon of Easter

Sunday.  These cakes bear a very

curious three-quarter representation of two

female figures, joined at the shoulders

and hips.  The style is decidedly what in

art parlance would be called “archaic”

And  the origin of the design has never

been satisfactorily explained.  Max Muller

long since wrote of the interesting process

of human thought by which elaborate

myths grow from the seed germs of a

wish to account for some accepted fact.

So, in the case of the Biddenden cakes , a

legend was made by two unfortunate women

who lived joined together in this impossible

fashion a la Siamese twins.

The hot cross buns of Good Friday are

really traced back to the pagan worship

of the sun, and it is probable that the

two conjoined female figures represent

the Virgin and mother of the British

Druids or the dual aspect of the moon.



How the Hare Originated.

Having thus traced some of the

connections of the moon with Easter, we

have still to run down the mythical hare,

and him we find directly as a type of the

Moon itself, across whose disk endless

numbers of Hindoo and Japanese artists

have painted him, while their Chinese

brethren represents the moon as a rabbit

Pounding a rice in a mortar.

The hare was identical with the moon

in symbology  for the reasons that shall

presently be explained ; but, having been

drawn in the moon, two different versions

of the one story arose to explain his

presence there, as in the case of the barnyard

Geese.



One was that Buddha once took the

shape of the hare that he was translated

in that form to the moon, where

he forever more abides.  But, this is a very

different version of the beautiful story of

the starving tigress and her cubs, whom

Buddha fed with his mortal body.

But the second myth, as told by Dr.

Gubernatis, in his Zoological Mythology

seems more likely to be genuine.

This legend says that when Indra,

disguised as a famishing pilgrim, was dying

for food, the hare, having nothing  to give

him, threw himself into the fire that he

might be roasted for his benefit, and the

grateful Indra translated the animal to

the moon.

In Sanskrit the cacas, literally the

leaping one, means not only the hare

and the rabbit, but the spots on the moon

supposed to depict the hare of the above

myth.  There are several other Hindoo

myths concerning the hare and the moon,

notably one in the first story of the Pancatantram,

where the hares dwell upon

the shores of the Lake of the moon and

their King Vigayaddattas (the Funeral

God), has for his palace the lunar disk.

The hare is often represented in popular

sayings as the enemy of the lion (the

sun as in the Latin proverb –“The

moon leaps up when the sun dies.”



There are several reasons why the hare

was chosen to symbolize the moon.  One

was that it was a nocturnal animal, and

comes out at night to feed; another that

the female carries her young for a

month, thus representing the lunar cycle;

another that the hare was thought by the

ancients to be able to change its sex like

the moon.



Sir Thomas Brown says that this was

affirmed by Archelaus, Plutarch and

many others.  Pliny, who is not mentioned

by Sir Thomas, gives it the weight of

his authority in his “Natural History.”

The historian of “Vulgar Errors” devotes

a chapter to the subject, but is extremely

cautions it quite possible that such a change

might take place but in exceptional

instances only, and certainly not annually

as the ancients asserted.



Beaumont and Fletcher allude to this

several times, especially in the “Faithful

Shepherdess,” act III., in the incantation

of the Sullen Shepherd:

"Hares that yearly sexes change,

Proteus altering oft and strange,

Hecate with shapes three,

Let this maiden changed be."



Her again we have the hare in close

connection with Hecate or the moon.



But a more important reason for the

identification of the hare with the moon

lay in the fact that its young are born

with their eyes open, unlike rabbits,

which are born blind.  The name of the

hare in Egyptian was Un , which means

open, to open the opener.  Now the moon

was the open-eyed watcher of the skies

at night with the hare, born with open

eyes, was fabled never to close them:

Hence the old Latin expression , somnus

leoporinus, and the identification led to

the prescription in the early English folk

lore of the brains and eyes of the hare

As a cure of somnolence.



The Egyptian Un not only meant hare

and open, but period, and for this season

the hare became the type of periodcity;

both human and lunar, and in the

character of opener was associated with the

opening of the new year at Easter, as

well as with the beginning of a new life

in the youth and maiden .  Hence the hare

became connected in the popular mind

with the eggs broken to signify the

opening of the year.



So close has this association become

with some nations that in Swabia, for

instance, the little children are sent out to

look for hare’s eggs at Easter.  In

Saxone  they say that the hare brings the

Easter Egg, and even in America we may

see in the confectioners windows the

Hare wheeling his barrow full of eggs or

drawing on large one as a sort of

triumphal chariot.  In some parts of Europe

the Easter eggs are made up into

cakes in the shape of hares, and the

little children are told that babies are

found in the shape of hares.



The Hare In English Legend.



Among English popular customs

celebrating Easter the only trace of the hare

seems to be found in Warwickshire,

where, at Coleshill, if the young men of

the Parish can catch a hare and bring it

to the parson before 10 o’clock  in the

morning of Easter Monday (the moonday),

he is bound to give the man a calf’s

head, one hundred eggs and a groat, the

calf’s head being probably a survival of

the worship of Baal, or the sun, as the

Golden Calf.



The hare myth has come over to

America not only in the shape of confectioners’

Easter hares, but also in the very

curious superstition among the negroes

as to the efficacy as a talisman of ‘the

left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit killed

in the dark of the moon.”



Mr. Gerald Massey, speaking of such a

talisman having been presented by an old

negro to President Cleveland during his

electioneering tour of 1888, very plainly

demonstrated the fact that the two myths

have the same origin.  The rabbit, identical

with the hare in symbolism, is here

equivalent to the Lord of Light and Conqueror

of Darkness, in or as the new

moon.  In the hieroglyphics the khepsh,

leg of hind quarter, is the ideographic

also of ------ , a personified evil; the left

side intensifying the idea.  Therefore the

left hind foot of the graveyard rabbit

stood for the last quarter of the moon, a

symbol of the conquered typo or principal

of evil, to be worn in triumph, like

a fox’s brush, as the token of Resurrection ,

or renewal , or general good fortune.

The killing in the dark of the moon is

simply a duplication  of the victory

evil and death, a sort of symbolical

tautology, as it were.  As a type of renewal

it was specially suitable as a gift to a

President seeking reelection, but in this

case, as in the proverbial  dry times, all

signs appeared to fail.  It is a singular

coincidence and shows the universality

of ancient symbols, that in England the

luckiest of all lucky horseshoes, says Mr.

Massey, is the shoe from the left hind

foot of a mare.



So we have hunted our Easter hare(or

rabbit, as you choose) through America,

England and Germany, all the way back

through ancient Egypt and India, till we

have run him into hid original form, the

moon.  That silent silver shining planet

is the fountain head of many myth and

the origin of many a mystery , and not

half of the fairy tales of science of which

she is the heroine have yet been told.



Whether the proverbially mad March

hare has anything to with Easter I

have been unable to find out.  It has been

suggested that this madness in March is

probably only the access of liveliness that

pervades the animal creation in spring;

but the fact that the hare was a proverbially

melancholy beast indicates a different

kind of madness, perhaps dependent

on the lunacy of the moon.



Prince Henry suggests the hare to Falstaff

as a type of melancholy superior to

the gibeat or lugged bear.  The eating of

its flesh was said by Galen to produce

melancholy (perhaps as a sequence of

indigestion?)  and Nares thinks the long

sitting of the hare in its form may have

caused it to be considered a melancholy

animal.



A hare crossing a persons path was

supposed to disorder his witts, as the

moon’s beams falling upon his face were

supposed to do and upon the whole the

weight of evidence in favor of the hare’s

madness being a species of lunacy “rather

than the polity of spring.”



Original story from microfilm records at,
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
Central Library
1 Lafayette Square
Buffalo, NY 14203






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