So how did we get the notion that a rabbit comes around and lays colored eggs in the spring? The character of the "Easter bunny" first appeared in 16th-century German writings, which said that if well-behaved children built a nest out of their caps or bonnets, they would be rewarded with colored eggs. This legend became part of American folklore in the 18th century, when German immigrants settled in the eastern U.S.
In medieval societies in Europe, the March hare was viewed as a major fertility symbol -- this is a specific species of rabbit that is nocturnal most of the year, but in March when mating season begins, there are bunnies everywhere all day long. The female of the species is superfecund and can conceive a second litter while still pregnant with a first. As if that wasn't enough, the males tend to get frustrated when rebuffed by their mates (go figure) and bounce around erratically when discouraged.
Ever hear the phrase "mad as a March hare"? There's a reason for that -- this is the time of year when rabbits tend to go a bit bonkers. Although the phrase itself is often attributed to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland adventures, it actually appears much earlier. A similar expression is found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in the Friar's Tale:
For though this man were wild as is a hare,
To tell his evil deeds I will not spare.
Later, it appears in both the writings of Sir Thomas More, and in a 16th-century book of proverbs.
So how can you channel this frantic, fertile energy into a magical working? Let's look at some possible uses for some of that "mad March hare" energy in magic.
- Fertility rituals: place a rabbit skin under your bed to bring fertility and abundance to your sexual activities. If you're opposed to the use of real fur, use some other symbol of the rabbit that you're more comfortable with.
- The obvious one -- a rabbit's foot is said to bring good luck to those who carry it, although one might argue that it's not so lucky for the rabbit.
- To bring yourself boundless energy, carry a talisman engraved or painted with a rabbit's image.
- If you have wild rabbits or hares that live in your yard, leave them an offering of lettuce, shredded carrots, cabbage, or other fresh greens. In some magical traditions, the wild rabbit is associated with the deities of spring.
- Rabbits and hares are able to go to ground quickly if in danger. Add a few rabbit hairs to a witch bottle for protection magic.
- In some legends, rabbits and hares are the messengers of the underworld -- after all, they come and go out of the earth as they please. If you're doing a meditation that involves an underworld journey, call upon the rabbit to be your guide.