As I’ve been conducting research for my next book, I’ve discovered a treasure trove of interesting information about the symbolism of animals. In my last article, I looked at the symbolism of bees and these fascinating creatures who have a long history of representing various concepts. And then there’s rabbits and hares.
I looked into these critters while researching the triskelion and — yes! — fell down a rabbit-hole. Three-legged cousin to the swastika, the triskelion is a wheel built of three spiraling tendrils, three human legs bent at the knee, or three leaping hares. Throughout Europe, triskelions made of rabbits grace the glasswork of medieval churches, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The rabbits share interlocking ears, suggested three animals both separate and united.
Cultures around the world see the dark splotches on the moon’s face as a rabbit doing mysterious work. In the Chinese version, the rabbit crushes cinnamon sticks with a golden mortar and pestle, a symbol of longevity. The Japanese think of the rabbit on the moon as constantly making mochi, the pounded rice cakes they enjoy at the New Year.
The Book of Symbols by Ami Ronnberg relates a Jataka story from India of the Buddha, in the shape of a rabbit, leaping into a fire to become a Brahmin’s dinner. Duly sated, the Brahmin can perform his priestly duties, and the rabbit is rewarded eternally with his image pressed on the moon’s surface.
Other odd beliefs attached themselves to rabbits and hares. The latter supposedly sleep with their eyes open, so medieval physicians believed eating hare would lead to insomnia. (On the plus side, it also promoted personal beauty for nine full days.)
Watch this space for the rest of this series, featuring all the strange stories winding around frogs and toads.