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.
At one time, when we were people more connected to the natural world, many people felt particularly connected to certain animals. Nowadays, most of us spend a good portion of our days inside homes, building and cars and disconnected from the natural world and from the animals that live there.
You may feel a special connection to your pets, but that is not what “spirit animals” were all about at one time. Shamans and others in all cultures have found an importance of spirit animals. Sometimes these animals were seen as guides, or, as totems.
They are animal that are part of our souls or that can lead us to further spiritual growth.
I was told that wolves are probably one of the most misunderstood of all wild animals. Many believe and perceive them as cold-blooded killers, but they are described by scientists as friendly, intelligent and with many positive social traits, such as being gregarious. Wolves mate for life. Males are good fathers and quite playful.
I learned about them from a group of Native Americans many years ago. In a ceremony and series of weekend activities, participants attempted to find their spirit animal(s). For me, that turned out to be the wolf and the rabbit. I had already felt a connection to rabbits, so that made sense. Though I had not felt any connection to wolves, they seemed like a pretty cool animal to have as a spirit guide. Of course, as I was told, those two together are predator and prey and that meant some conflict in myself.
All earth’s creatures from mammal to insect can be spirit animals. Some participants in that weekend were not thrilled to have a mouse or a bat be their spirit guide. One woman was very excited to have a dragonfly as her spirit guide. A buffalo seems like a manly totem animal, but one guy who got the butterfly was not thrilled.
The best way to find a spirit guide is to go outside and encounter your spirit animal, but that is not an experience that is available to most of us. You may feel some connection to a panda or penguin, but I suspect the chances of you meeting one outside of a zoo are pretty slim.
As some websites will tell you, perhaps as a city dweller, a rat or cockroach might be your guide. Neither sounds like a good animal guide, but consider the rat’s tenacity and cleverness. Consider how the cockroach is able to survive under almost any conditions and has adapted to living with people very well – even if people haven’t adapted as well.
Technically, finding your animal totem is not the same as recognizing a spirit guide. The totem animal is much more intuitive and personal. I was told the rabbit was my totem and the wolf was my guide.
Some suggestions for revealing these animals (besides a spirit walk or journey into nature) involve using dreams and meditation.
It is 2017 and we are not only disconnected from nature, we are connected to technology. The two worlds seem at odds. But I will say that there are websites that claim to be able to help you find your spirit animals. (see below) That is not the true path, but if it leads you to a better path or aids you in exploring your inner self, all the better.
As with the tarot, runes and other systems, I view all these as ways to examine yourself from another perspective. Nothing magical here. Closer to therapy than new age mysticism.
The older you get, the more you need to read books from childhood. So many things you didn’t understand as a child…
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I don’t know how popular the Uncle Wiggily books are these days. Uncle Wiggily Longears is the main character of a series of children’s stories by the very prolific American author Howard R. Garis. He is an interesting elderly rabbit who has rheumatism and uses his red, white, and blue crutch walking cane that looks like an old-fashioned barber-pole or a peppermint candy stick.
Garis began writing the stories for the Newark News in 1910 and he wrote an Uncle Wiggily story every day (except Sundays) for more than 30 years. That’s a lot of stories.
I know I read many times the Little Golden Book version of Uncle Wiggily and probably a few others. Although growing up, we did read the Newark News as our daily paper, I don’t recall the stories. maybe by the time I was reading the paper I was done reading Uncle Wiggily. (Though I read the comics for a long time past childhood.)
I never knew until I did some research this week that, according to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, a walk in the woods in Verona, New Jersey was his inspiration for Uncle Wiggily. Being that those woods are just next door to Paradelle, I think that I have probably walked those same woods and I have certainly seen some relatives of Uncle Wiggily.
Garis wrote many books for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a publisher that specialized in series and used many authors under various pseudonyms. They were best known for the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. Garis wrote as Victor Appleton, he wrote about the inventing Tom Swift. He wrote as Laura Lee Hope some of the Bobbsey Twins books, as Clarence Young for the Motor Boys series and as Marion Davidson for some books about the Camp Fire Girls.
Garis parted ways with the Syndicate in 1933 after several disagreements, but he published many books about Uncle Wiggily. Some of those are out of print and in the public domain and I found a good number in the Project Gutenberg Library online where you can read and download them. That is where I found Uncle Wiggily in Wonderland. I also found books by Garis that I never read, such as The Curlytops at Silver Lake, whose titles suggest local settings. I know nearby Silver Lake pretty well.
The Uncle Wiggily game is a track board game based characters from the series. The game is of the “racing” variety and said to be in the style of the European “Goose Game.” Players advance along the track from Uncle Wiggily’s Bungalow to Dr. Possum’s House. This is not a strategy game and moving is based on a random drawing of the cards. The game was first published by Milton Bradley in 1916 and has seen several editions with minor modifications over the years. Uncle Wiggily remains a pretty popular childhood game along with Candy Land.
I didn’t think about Uncle Wiggily again after elementary school until I read in high school “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” a short story by J. D. Salinger, which appears in his collection Nine Stories.
The main character of that story, Eloise, recalls a time when she and her boyfriend Walt were running to catch a bus, and she sprained her ankle. Walt comforted her by saying “Poor Uncle Wiggily.” Now, unhappily married to someone else, she goes to her daughter Ramona’s bedroom. (Ramona and Eloise are names that recall characters in other childhood books I read.) She sees that her sleeping child in on the corner of the bed having left room for room for her imaginary friend, “Mickey Mickeranno.” This childhood fantasy really annoys the mother and she drags her to the middle of the bed and tells her she must sleep there. She quickly regrets that and tucks Ramona into her covers and leaves crying and repeating to herself “Poor Uncle Wiggily.”
Trivia: This story was made into the film My Foolish Heart (1949), though the film has very little to do with the story. It is the only authorized adaptation of a Salinger story and he hated it and vowed to never let his work be used for film or television again.
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.