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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bunny Mythology from Humans

by D.B. Bunny

You may possibly know some of the human-created Rabbit stories here, or the names of ancient Rabbit gods, but chances are not so good. Children's books of the past couple of hundred years contain many fictional Bunny characters, but long ago Rabbits found their way into mythology across the world, owing perhaps to the divinity sensed by humanity in the presence of a Bunny. In some cases the myths appear to be based only on observations of behavior, such as the zig-zag hopping patterns used to evade meat-eaters. In still others, the stories are seeming corruptions of Bunnyness by the confused, envious or unenlightened.

Magical Trickster

The prevailing myth in current American culture is that the foot of a Rabbit is somehow a "lucky" thing to carry around (*shudder*). Certainly not lucky for the poor Rabbit! This was probably originally meant to imply the predatory human was lucky to catch the poor Bunny for food. However, seemingly not as lucky as they thought, as a Wikipedia entry notes: "There are several health issues associated with the use of rabbits for meat, one of which is Tularemia or Rabbit Fever. Another is so-called 'rabbit starvation', due most likely to essential amino acid deficiencies in rabbit meat and synthesis limitations in human beings." [1] (I consider this further proof that Bunnies were NOT put here by the Cosmic Bunny to be our food! The CoCB is strongly against the carrying of even a fake "Rabbit's foot", as the very implication of killing a Bunny for "luck" is highly offensive.)

Beyond the "luck" aspect of catching a Rabbit for dinner, though, lies the belief of the Magic Rabbit, that somehow the Bunny has a type of power to fend off evil and bring good into one's life. This is more of our modern "lucky foot" concept, thought to stem mostly from mystical African-based hoodoo beliefs. [1] Those who have read our church literature know very well by now, though, why Bunnies are thought to have power! Bunnies were the first creature creation of the Cosmic Bunny and do indeed possess an advanced level of spiritual awareness and energy, which can manifest things in ways we'd consider magical. Humans often have an intuitive sense about this (we do have Inner Bunnies, after all), leading to the association of Bunnies with magical powers.

Besides possessing internal magic wands, Bunnies are often thought of as tricksters in mythology. ("Silly Rabbit. Trix are for kids!") They can duck behind bushes, sneak through grasses and shape-shift at will. This can be for good or bad. Sometimes the Bunny helps you by tricking an enemy. At other times the Bunny is the enemy. (Guess it depends on which side you're on.) The Yoruba people of Africa told tales of a tricky Rabbit deity and many of their stories are believed to have either served as inspiration for or been directly translated into "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "Brer Rabbit". At least the Rabbit god has a cute aspect, though. The Yorubas put on Bunny ears for some of his celebrations =:-) [11]

Space Bunny

The next set of Bunny tales is a bit more, well, cosmic. Thinking of Rabbits when observing the heavens was the basis for many ancient myths.

In 12th century Japan the story was told of animals (a monkey, a fox and a Rabbit) who believed themselves to be reincarnated sinners, sent back in animal rather than human form because of their transgressions. In an attempt to make restitution the three agree to take care of a weary old man at the roadside by gathering food for him. The poor Bunny is unable to bring any food back because he must duck and hide and be chased during his search. The other animals think poorly of the Bunny because of his inability to provide. The Bunny tells the monkey and fox to please light a fire for the man while he goes out once more to look for suitable food. Yet again the Bunny comes back empty-pawed and is ridiculed. He approaches the man, bows and explains that he simply doesn't have the same physical ability as the monkey and the fox to bring food back, but that he does have one thing he can offer. He jumps into the fire, sacrificing himself as a meal of grilled Rabbit. The man, who was not a man at all, but a god, sends the sweet Bunny to the moon so mankind will see him forever (in the lunar landscape) and never forget. [4]

It is actually common in Asia to talk about the "Rabbit of the Moon" rather than the "man in the moon". Corresponding Japanese and Korean stories have Rabbits living on the moon and making mashed rice cakes. The dark patches on the moon seen from Earth appear to them as a Bunny, standing on its toes, pounding rice in a mortar. In China, an important goddess lives on the moon with a Rabbit for a companion, making the Rabbit a symbol for the lunar New Year. This Rabbit does not make rice cakes, but instead creates medicinal products for the gods. [1] [5]

Other Bunnies hop around in the night sky too. The Pueblo and Navajo people used "Rabbit Tracks", starry paw prints near the tail of the Scorpius constellation, to know when in the season to begin hunting (hopefully not for Rabbits, though!). Bunnyhollow.org has a guide that helps you find the Bunny prints in the southern sky, by month. [3] [1]

Now, let's not forget the Bunny constellation of Lepus! To see this Bunny, look just below Orion, not far from the bright star of Sirius. It's faint, so you have to look closely. (I once gave my Lovebunny a star in this constellation through one of those star registry sites =;-) Legend has it that the Bunny is unfortunately being hunted by Orion and Canis Major, the dog constellation. [6] (We know better, though, right?) Another myth says that the Goddess Eostre/Ostara became very angry with the Bunny and threw him into the sky! [5] (Jealous, perhaps? =;-)

I believe, however, that the Cosmic Bunny gave us this one small constellation to show that all creatures are represented (even the dog) and that, even though Bunnies are fuzzy and wise, in the end we are all part of the Cosmic Bunny. The Lepus constellation is there, but not easy to see, symbolizing the need to look deeply, not quickly or superficially, to find your Inner Bunny and the spiritual path.

Creator, Scribe and Party Animal

Native people of North and Central America had a different take on Rabbits in their mythology. The Mayans usually used monkeys as scribes, recording the words and deeds of gods and men. However, on one Mayan funerary vase found in Guatemala, a Rabbit was depicted as a divine scribe instead. [7] (Yeah! Bunny power!). In Aztec mythology, the Centzon Totochtin ("Four-hundred Rabbits") were a group of deities who acted collectively as the Dionysus of Mexico, the divine little gods of drink and drunkenness. [8]

Of all the mythological Rabbit stories I found in my research, though, I was most impressed by the Native American god/spirit Nanabozho. He most often took the form of a Rabbit, assuming the names of Mishaabooz ("Great Rabbit") or Chiwaabooz ("Big Rabbit"). He was sent to Earth to teach the Ojibwe people and was responsible for naming all the plants and animals and, in some variations, inventing a writing system and even creating the Earth itself. To the Abnaki people, he was the Creator Hare. One story tells that Nanabozho gathered immense volumes of medicinal knowledge to help mankind and that he is the founder of the mystical, shamanic religion of native people from the New England and Great Lakes regions, Midewiwin (Great Medicine Society). [9] [10]

Well, there you have it. I'm sure there are many other Bunny myths created by humans that I didn't run across. If you have one you'd like to add, by all means do so! (Just click the "comments" link below this article). May you be blessed by the Bunny! (In whichever form =;-)
1. Wikipedia entry: "Rabbit" (24.Jan.2008)
2. Clark Foundation: "Tracking Rabbits in the Sky" (24.Jan.2008)
3. bunnyhollow.org: "Finding Bunny's Footprints in the Heavens" (24.Jan.2008)
4. tsukiyo.org: "The Rabbit in the Moon" (24.Jan.2008)
5. bunnyhollow.org: "The Easter Bunny" (24.Jan.2008)
6. Wikipedia entry: "Lepus (Constellation)" (24.Jan.2008)
7. Ancient Scripts: "The Rabbit Scribe" (24.Jan.2008)
8. Wikipedia entry and contained links in: "Centzon Totochtin" (24.Jan.2008)
9. Wikipedia entry: "Nanabozho" (24.Jan.2008)
10. Godchecker.com: "Nanabozho" (24.Jan.2008)
11. Godchecker.com: "Hare" & "Manabozho" (24.Jan.2008)

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Anonymous said...

I like Nanabozho and the Japanese Bunny in the Moon story!

Anonymous said...

i'm surprised that You left out the Three Hares, a symbol found in numerous religious traditions.

Anonymous said...

Oh, there is also Wu Tien Bao or Tu Er Shen (兔兒神), a Chinese deity. His name literally means "rabbit deity".