Lepus the hare
The Hare was set into the sky by the Messenger God, Hermes, to honor the hare’s swiftness. In the winter sky the hare is seen right by the feet of the Great Hunter Orion. The rabbit is quite and prone, but ready to flee. Lepus the hare has a number of origins. According to one story, Orion the famous hunter (and the constellation right above Lepus) loved to hunt hares, and so Lepus was placed in the sky for Orion’s benefit. In another story, Lepus represents the hare so often associated with the moon. While we tend to see a man in the moon, many other cultures have seen a hare, and have many stories to tell about it. The Arabs believed that the four brightest stars in Lepus represented four camels drinking from the river Eridanus, another nearby constellation. The early Egyptians believed Lepus to be the boat of Osiris.
Lepus and the Easter Bunny
Easter comes from the Anglo Saxon goddess of Spring called Eostre or Ostara. Eostre was concerned with waking up the countryside after winter (a bit like the Persphone myth).
Legend has it that Eostre was feeling guilty that spring was arriving so late (The original celebration took place on the first full moon after the spring equinox). When she arrived on the scene to warm things up for Spring, she saw a bird frozen in the snow, dying. She cradled the shivering creature, nourishing it with life.
The bird became her pet (also lover). He could no longer fly (as his wings were icicles), so the goddess transformed him into a snow hare with the name of Lepus. (There’s a whole other story about Lepus from the Greeks involving Orion.)
She gave Lepus the power of swift speed so he could evade hunters (presumably Orion). However, to honor his former stature as an avian, Lepus was able to lay eggs. This is where it goes a bit raunchy. Lepus, being a quick one, starting hanging out with some other girls. Eostre, jealous, threw the hare up into the stars where he remains to this day as a constellation.
Later, Eostre took pity on her former lover, allowing him to return to Earth once a year for (you guessed it) some egg laying. The catch was, the eggs only went to kids participating in the Eostre festivals held each spring. Eggs and the Hare are also a fertility symbol, thus related to spring.
|From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Bunny|
The Easter Bunny (also called the Easter Rabbit or Easter Hare) is a folkloric figure and symbol of Easter, depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs. Originating among German Lutherans, the “Easter Hare” originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behaviour at the start of the season of Eastertide. The Easter Bunny is sometimes depicted with clothes. In legend, the creature carries colored eggs in his basket, candy, and sometimes also toys to the homes of children, and as such shows similarities to Santa Claus or the Christkind, as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holidays. The custom was first mentioned in Georg Franck von Franckenau‘s De ovis paschalibus (About Easter Eggs) in 1682 referring to a German tradition of an Easter Hare bringing Easter eggs for the children.
Rabbits and hares
The hare was a popular motif in medieval church art. In ancient times, it was widely believed (as by Pliny, Plutarch, Philostratus, and Aelian) that the hare was a hermaphrodite. The idea that a hare could reproduce without loss of virginity led to an association with the Virgin Mary, with hares sometimes occurring in illuminated manuscripts and Northern European paintings of the Virgin and Christ Child. It may also have been associated with the Holy Trinity, as in the three hares motif, Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols  of antiquity. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox.
Rabbits and hares are both prolific breeders. Female hares can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first This phenomenon is known as superfetation. Lagomorphs mature sexually at an early age and can give birth to several litters a year (hence the saying, “to breed like rabbits” or “to breed like bunnies”). It is therefore not surprising that rabbits and hares should become fertility symbols, or that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore.
In addition, Orthodox churches have a custom of abstaining from eggs during the fast of Lent. The only way to keep them from being wasted was to boil or roast them, and begin eating them to break the fast. As a special dish, they would probably have been decorated as part of the celebrations. Later, German Protestants retained the custom of eating colored eggs for Easter, though they did not continue the tradition of fasting. Eggs boiled with some flowers change their color, bringing the spring into the homes, and some over time added the custom of decorating the eggs. Many Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day typically dye their Easter eggs red, the color of blood, in recognition of the blood of the sacrificed Christ (and, of the renewal of life in springtime). Some also use the color green, in honor of the new foliage emerging after the long dead time of winter. The Ukrainian art of decorating eggs for Easter, known as pysanky, dates to ancient, pre-Christian times. Similar variants of this form of artwork are seen amongst other eastern European cultures.
The idea of an egg-giving hare came to the U.S. in the 18th century. Protestant German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the “Osterhase” (sometimes spelled “Oschter Haws“). Hase means “hare”, not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the “Easter Bunny” indeed is a hare. According to the legend, only good children received gifts of colored eggs in the nests that they made in their caps and bonnets before Easter.
- Cross, Gary (2004). Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195348133.
- Franck von Franckenau, Georg (1682). Disputatione ordinaria disquirens de ovis paschalibus / von Oster-Eyern. Satyrae Medicae. XVIII. Heidelberg. p. 6. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
- Easter Bunny – What Does He Have To Do With Easter?, occultcenter.com
- Chapman, Chris (2004). “What does the Symbol Mean?”. Three Hares Project. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- Marta Powell Harley. “Rosalind, the hare, and the hyena in Shakespeare’s As You Like It”. Shakespeare Quarterly.
- “Sir Thomas Browne (1646; 6th ed., 1672) Pseudodoxia Epidemica III:xvii (pp. 162-166)”.
- “Three Hares as representation of the Trinity”. Threehares.blogspot.com. 2006-02-25. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- Heller, Steven (April 2014). “Seeing Rabbits”. Academic Search Complete (Vol. 68 Issue 2).
- Martinez-Gomez, Margarita (September 2004). “Overlapping litters and reproductive performance in the domestic rabbit”. Academic Search Complete (Vol. 82 Issue 4) (Physiology & Behavior).
The famous white rabbit from alice in wonderland, also derives from the hare lepus, with his watch, directly relating to “time” and the precession of the stars and the seasons.