Eostre and a Spring Hare

A Lunar Hare by Mandy Walden

Today is Easter Sunday, the Christian holy day whose date is based on the cycles of the moon. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full Moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox.

I have written before about the word “Easter” which has its origin in earlier pagan traditions that worshiped Eostre, the goddess of springtime. It was a seasonal celebration of the return of the sun after winter.

The non-sectarian Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs.

A rabbit that lays eggs?  The mythological origin seems to date back the sacred animal of the goddess Ostara who was a German goddess of Springtime. She may have been an invention of Jacob Grimm who was one of the Grimm Brothers of the fairy tales) but also a folklorist. In 1835, he published a book of German Mythology. He thought that Ostara might have been the German version of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Springtime called Eostre from whom we get the name Easter.

The pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons celebrated Eostre’s feast day on the Vernal Equinox in March. Eostre’s symbolic animal was the spring hare (rabbit) and this association with eggs and hares was co-opted into the Christian holiday of Easter in order to make Easter more easily accepted in converting the pagans to Christianity.

Coloring and painting eggs are things the ancient Persians did for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration, which falls on the Spring equinox. There are images on the walls of Persepolis showing people carrying eggs for Nowrooz to the king.

At the Jewish Passover Seder, a hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water symbolizes the Passover sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem.


An Easter basket from nature – robin nest

The Hare Moon

Lunar Hare
Lunar Hare by Mandy Walden mandywaldenartistprintmaker.co.uk

The May Full Moon for 2014 is on the 14th.

This Full Moon has many names including Flower Moon (many Native American tribes), Green Leaf Moon (Lakota Sioux), Milk Moon (Colonial America), Bright Moon (Celtic), Dragon Moon (Chinese) Planting Moon (Cherokee and Sioux), Green Grass Moon (neo Pagans), Dyad Moon (ninth moon of the Pagan year), Flower Moon, Frogs Return Moon, Thrimilcmonath (Thrice-Milk Month), Sproutkale, Winnemonoth (Joy Month), Planting Moon, and Moon When the Ponies Shed.

This year I chose the name Hare Moon which was used in Medieval England. There are many images online of a moon-gazing hare. Hares are not rabbits. They are a different species, They certainly have a physical resemblance, but are quite unalike.

Baby rabbits (called kittens) are born hairless, blind and helpless. Baby hares (leverets) are born fully-furred, can see and have independent movement.

Hares are generally larger and have longer hind legs and longer ears with characteristic black markings. Only hares change color in the winter. Hares and rabbits have different diets.

Rabbits are social creatures and generally live underground in tunnels and burrows. (Read Watership Down!) Hares are rather solitary creatures and live on the surface.

Ancient cultures around the world didn’t always see the dark spots on the moon’s face as the “man-on-the-moon” that some of us learned in our culture. They saw a hare. In folklore, the associations with the hare are often with regeneration, fertility, elusiveness and magic.

The Germanic goddess of childbirth was Holda who had a sacred pool through which the souls of newborns entered the world. They were escorted by hares.

The Norse goddess Freya is associated with love, sensuality and childbirth and amongst her animal attendees is the hare.

Hares were linked with both Cupid and Aphrodite.

Consequently, the Hare Moon is a time to be fertile – figuratively, if nothing else. Summer is here, and the work done in Spring has begun to pay off – but isn’t done. Whatever your goals are, whatever plans you’ve made, now is the time to redouble your efforts. Don’t slack, don’t procrastinate. Produce.

Egyptians called the hare Um and that meant  “the opener” in the sense of a beginning. The Hindus and Aztecs though sepapated by thousands of miles, had similar tales of a god disguised as a hungry wanderer. The Hindu Indra or Sakra and Quetzalcoatl for the Aztecs told of meeting a hare who offered his own flesh as food. This sacrifice elevated the hare to being the Hare in the Moon.

In China, the Hare seen in the Moon was the companion and messenger of the moon goddess Chang’e. It could make an elixir of immortality. In African folklore, the hare is the messenger of the moon, and in North America, Cree legend tells of a rabbit who rides the moon, taken there by a helpful crane.

I wrote earlier about the many associations that the spring moons took from ancient and pagan religions and how those beliefs were mixed into newer religions like Christianity.  There is a Three Hares design that is found in Buddhist caves in China and in English cathedrals and wooden synagogues of Poland. All were associated with the lunar cycle at one time.

Most of us know that hares (and rabbits) are fertile to the point of fecundity. The Ancient Egyptians sacrificed Osiris in the form of a hare each year to ensure the flooding of the Nile so that life returned to the land. Romans gave hares as gifts to women trying to conceive. Their reproductive abilities were so powerful that at one time Europeans thought that hares and rabbits could become pregnant as virgins.

The planet’s fertility is evident again this month and planting is safe for almost all of the Northern Hemisphere. Get those plants into the ground. And put a few extras because the rabbits and hares may well be visiting your garden.