The mysterious legends and mythologies that surround our little rabbits

Follow the white rabbit.

A little girl follows a white rabbit holding on to a pocket watch. He keeps muttering under his breath “I’m late! I’m late! For a really important date! (Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland,1865). Alice follows the rabbit and falls down a rabbit hole into a world where nothing makes sense, called Wonderland.

Is there more to our furry long-eared friends than meets the eye? The mysticism associated with rabbits goes very deep down in history. We must jump down into the rabbit hole of ancient mythology and legends to touch the tip of the iceberg.

While research cannot yet put a definite date as to when rabbits became domesticated, scientists have discovered records of the Romans being the first to use hutches which means that rabbits have been by our side since at least the 5th century AD. Although they were most likely primarily used as a food and fur source, rabbits have also been the subject of many tales and belief systems around the world, many of them extraordinary.

Lucky charms: The rabbit’s foot

The belief that a rabbit’s foot can serve as a good luck charm may have its roots within ancient Totemism. This is the belief system in which humans have a mystical relationship with a spirit being a sacred object or symbol. In ancient Totemism, a primitive tribe traced its origins to an animal ancestor. Totemism is associated with animistic religions that perceive all things such as animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork as alive. Examples of Animism can be seen in forms of Shinto, Hinduism, Buddhism, Pantheism, Paganism, and Neopaganism. The practice of carrying a rabbit’s foot for luck was frequently recorded in Anglo American tradition beginning during the early twentieth century, and early records suggest that this custom was borrowed from African American folk magic. The method in which to obtain the rabbit foot varied from culture to culture but essentially the end result was always the same: good luck.

African folk magic tales

Rabbit trickster figures can be traced back to Africa in many of the storytelling traditions. In the African culture, animal tricksters represent behavior that one must adopt in order to survive extremely bad situations. The point of the stories is not to admire tricksters but to learn from them and remember what to do and what not to do in certain situations.

The tale of the tortoise and the hare seems to have some roots in the West African culture. In the African version, the tortoise wins by tricking the hare (as opposed to being slow and steady as the North American version portrays)

Another African tale called;" The Origin Of Death, the rabbit is charged by the moon to deliver the message that as the moon dies and rises again each night, mankind shall rise again as well. The rabbit lies and tells mankind that they will never rise again. A fight between the moon and rabbit ensues, thus explaining why a rabbit’s lip is split in half, and why the moon has dark spots. Interestingly enough, many ancient civilizations consider the hare a lunar animal because the dark patches on the surface of the moon suggest leaping hares. The Brer Rabbit was also a trickster figure that originated in central Africa. It was introduced to the Americas by African slaves that were brought into the new world.

The Aztec mythology

Centzon Totochtin

The four hundred drunken rabbit gods.

In Aztec mythology, there are a group of 400 divine rabbits who meet for frequent drunken parties. They represent fertility and drunkenness. in Aztec numbering, 400 also meant infinity, so perhaps it represented the infinite amount of times one could get drunk? (I’m kidding). The 400 rabbits are the offspring of Mayahuel, the Goddess of the maguey plant which made the alcoholic brew, and Patecatl, the God that discovered the fermentation process. Among those 400 rabbits, there were some that were also worshiped with specific roles.

Tepoztēcatl (or Ometochtli) known as “two rabbits”: The God of fertility, cults, and the wind

Macuiltochtli known as “five rabbits”: The God of excess, over-indulgence. He was also the inflictor of consequences and the attendant of punishments from overdrinking.

Colhuatzincatl known asfour rabbits”: Was referred to as ‘The Winged One’. (because when you drink, you feel like you take off? who knows..)

Ancient Egypt

Unut, The Hare Headed Goddess

Unut (Wenet or Wenut) is a Goddess of protection worshiped at Hermopolis and known as “The Swift One”. She is depicted as a woman with a rabbit’s head or a serpent with a rabbit’s head and is often referred to as “the rabbit Goddess”. According to the book of the dead, she holds a scepter in one hand a glyph in the other. In Egyptian cultures, as in many other cultures, the hare was associated with the moon. The rabbit is also known for its vigilance due to the myth of him sleeping with its eyes open and for fertility.

Chinese folklore

The rabbit is part of the Chinese zodiac which depicts 12 celestial animals that represent each year, through a 12-year cycle. The rabbit has inherited the fourth place in the zodiac wheel and is therefore the fourth year in the 12 year cycle. In Chinese and Taiwanese culture, the rabbit is viewed as a slick creature that “keeps stashes of things” and is very sneaky.

A Chinese proverb says:

A crafty rabbit has three burrows; a sly individual has more than one plan to fall back on.

Among the many Chinese traditional myths and legends, one speaks of the “Legend Of The Moon Rabbit” or moon hare. The rabbit is seen as a moon deity pounding with a mortar and pestle. The rabbit is often portrayed as a companion of the Moon Goddess Chang’e, who floated to the moon after swallowing two immortal pills that were given to her by the husband as a gift by the Jade Empress. The legend goes that her husband was gifted the immortal pills and gave them to his wife for safekeeping. After a thief broke into their house, she quickly swallowed them to keep them safe, but unfortunately, the pills took effect on her and she floated to the moon. The rabbit deity who lives on the moon is said to be constantly pounding the elixir of life for her.

Native American traditions

Nanabozho (of the Anishinabe tribe)

In Anishinaabe traditional beliefs, held by Native American peoples, Nanabozho is an important deity that bears the shape of a great rabbit and who has participated in the creation of the world.
Upon being sent to earth, he was tasked with naming all the plants and animals as well as teach fishing to the people of the earth. He is also a shapeshifter and the creator of hieroglyphs.

Many of the native American Rabbit Gods and Spirits are often associated with light-hearted tricksters such as: The Great Hare from the Algonquin tribe, Ji-Stu from the Cherokee tribe, Little Hare from the Ho-Chunk tribe, Mateguas from the Abenaki Tribe, Rabbit Boy from the Sioux tribe and Tschimammus from the Lenape tribe.

The rabbit is also used in some folktales as a teacher to confront fear.

The three rabbits

Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism mysteriously all had associations with this mysterious symbol hundreds of years ago. It features three hares or rabbits chasing each other in a circle joined together at their ears, thus showing three ears.

An ancient German riddle describes this graphic thus:

Three hares sharing three ears, Yet every one of them has two.

The true meaning of the three hares is not fully understood as is not clarified in any written sources from any of the medieval cultures where it is found. According to various sources, It appears in countless places. Among them, the cave temples in China, dated to the Sui dynasty (6th to 7th centuries). It appears on 13th century Mongol metalwork, and on a copper coin, found in Iran, dated to 1281. It can be found in churches in France and England. There are over thirty recorded examples of the three hares appearing on ‘roof bosses’ (carved wooden knobs) on the ceilings in medieval churches. The three hares also occur with similar central placement in Synagogues.

In England, the three hares motif usually appears in a prominent place in the church which suggests that the symbol held a special significance

The hare frequently appears in the form of the symbol of the “rotating rabbits”. An ancient German riddle describes this graphic thus:

Three hares sharing three ears, Yet every one of them has two.

The symbol of the three hares looks exactly the same for each rotation. Assumptions have been made with it’s meaning according to each religion or culture. Christians interpret it as the purity of the holy trinity. Within Chinese culture they represent peace and tranquility. In Judaism, rabbits can carry very positive symbolic connotations, like lions and eagles.

“Each rabbit can be individually seen as correct—it is only when you try to see all three at once that you see the problem with defining the hares’ ears. This is similar to “The Impossible Tribar” by Roger Penrose”

Gone down the rabbit hole deep enough?

Ressources

http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2018-02-14-history-domestication-rabbit%E2%80%99s-tale

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbit%27s_foot

https://mlpp.pressbooks.pub/introphil/chapter/anansi-and-other-african-tales/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Brer-Rabbit

https://www.britannica.com/topic/totemism-religion

https://www.jstor.org/stable/3814831?seq=1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tepozt%C4%93catl

https://www.ancient.eu/article/885/egyptian-gods---the-complete-list/

https://books.google.ca/books?id=YBF0tel0BVoC&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&dq=Biedermann,+in+the+Dictionary+of+Symbolism+hare&source=bl&ots=C8kgb1KKlE&sig=ACfU3U1fT_lTBzrGAm1KiG90iGfTpfGBFA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiskvCj-vzoAhXXgnIEHSTkA_cQ6AEwB3oECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Biedermann%2C%20in%20the%20Dictionary%20of%20Symbolism%20hare&f=false

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rabbit

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanabozho

http://www.native-languages.org/mateguas.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_hares

The powerful lady-pharaoh that ruled over ancient Egypt.

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