The world over, the spirit of the rabbit holds a central place in religion, mythology, and lore. She is a ubiquitous symbol, as one of the animals most widely found in abundance, present in almost every landscape and environment.
The first lagomorphs take their place in the evolutionary timeline 40 million years ago, originating in Asia. Fast forward, and the species we know as domesticated rabbits, the European oryctolagus cuniculus, originates in what is now Spain about 4000 years ago. Between the first rabbits and the rabbits we see now, there are very few physical, structural, and genetic differences. It is as though the entire population of rabbits descended from an already-perfect Mother.
In my own meditations and journeys with the spirit of Rabbit, I affectionately call this ancient Mother by the name Lagomorpha. I have been traveling the way of the rabbit since I was a baby. Born on the Full Hare Moon, nicknamed “Bunny Button” as a child, later cheekily called “Jessica Rabbit,” I always had an affinity for Lagomorpha’s children. I adored them in books, admired them in the wild, cried over their dead bodies in the streets and in stories, and am continually awed by their powers of creation, survival, and propagation.
For me, Lagomorpha represents the turning wheel of karma, the cycle of life, death and rebirth, the moon’s mystery path, the spirit of generosity without presumption, herbal knowledge, thresholds, crossroads, in-between spaces, friskiness, spontaneity, and the wisdom of laughter.
In Buddhist lore, the Rabbit is appointed to the zodiac because of Her generosity. She jumps into a fire and gives her life so the Buddha may eat. He then, in gratitude, elevates Her to the moon and imprints Her image upon it. In Chinese myth, the Rabbit on the moon is an alchemist, mixing the mysterious elixir of immortality with a mortar and pestle. Canadian Cree legend says the Rabbit is riding upon the moon, flown there by the Crane.
Lagomorpha finds empowered feminine expression through the ancient Queen of the Iceni, Boudicca, who was said to cast a hare forth in battle and watch its running pattern to divine the winning strategy. We see Her with the Mayan Goddess Ix Chel, Lady of the Moon and Rainbow. She is sacred to the Egyptian Unut, the Teutonic Holda, the Norse Freyja, the Anglo-Saxon Ostara, and the Grecian Aphrodite. In Siberia She is known as Kaltes, and shapeshifts from goose to hare to woman.
The Rabbit is also a masculine Divine Trickster. In India and Tibet, He is often depicted as a wily and cunning creature who, with His wit, defeats animals much larger and more physically overpowering than He: a Lion, a Tiger, and an Elephant. In Japan, Rabbit is a rascally and lovable fomenter of mischief. In West Africa, He is both a messenger of the moon and the psychopomp of the dead. Among many different Native American tribes, Rabbit is alternately a hero and an anti-hero.
In short, the ever-changing, complex, and magical spirit of Lagomorpha represents the unpredictable patchwork of global mythic resonance, and the contradictory possibilities, destinies, and free will choices that adorn every soul’s path. She is the cycle of life. She is the Mystery that is lived again and again and again in the beginning-less and endless flow of Time.
Lagomorpha teaches me to walk my own path gently, with humor, with poise, with concern for my imprint, with commitment to compassionate principles. She teaches me to greet each day with gratitude that I have another chance to be of service in some way. She teaches me to accept death as inevitable, to maintain consciousness when I am in the liminal states of my everyday life: in decision-making, in transit, in the dynamic interplay of actions and consequences. She is the gentleness of the herbs in my garden, the practicality of silent presence when there is nothing to be said, and the moments of joyous harmony and intimacy I find with family and friends.
She also represents the body I will eventually exit and the life force to which I will return when my days are done. She is eternal and ephemeral.
In the black furrow of a field
I saw an old witch-hare this night;
And she cocked a lissome ear,
And she eyed the moon so bright;
And she nibbled o' the green;
And I whispered, 'Whsst! Witch-hare,'
Away like a ghostie o'er the field
She fled, and left the moonlight there.
-Walter de la Mare
If you have enjoyed this little window on my personal relationship with this sacred animal spirit, you might enjoy this article by gifted artist and folklorist Terri Windling.