I’ve always wanted to come to the bottom of this particularly odd imagery which goes hand in hand with Easter. When I was little, back in the early fifties, I received an Easter basket, usually complete with a fluffy toy bunny. We had festive posters on the school room walls of cheerful rabbits carrying baskets of colored eggs. Bunnies=Easter—that was simply how it was. Nothing to do with the awe-full Christian story of agony and resurrection, of course, but running in inexplicable tandem.
As I grew older, I became fascinated with mythology and with history. Following those tracks back to the long ago place where they merge, I came upon a Saxon goddess named Eostre, whose arrival brought spring to the isles. Like others of her regenerative earth goddess kind, flowers sprang up where she walked. Eggs are laid in spring, and so perhaps, I thought, the basket is actually a nest, containing eggs, and the eggs and new born rabbits and all the other creatures who begin their life cycles at this time have simply become conflated into a mash-up of imagery.
This satisfied me for a very long time, until this year, in fact, when, with input from British scholars, Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, I think I’ve finally come to the bottom of the rabbit with the eggs conundrum. Long ago, in England, before the Romans came, there were only “hares,” decidedly not the same animal as the smaller, “silly rabbit.” They were larger, wily relatives of the white Arctic Hare, thriving in the extensive, grazing-created grasslands of the Neolithic. Hares do not sleep in burrows, but in “forms,” made by their neatly tucked up bodies in the long grass.
A British bird, the lapwing, shares this habitat. She lays her eggs on the ground, like the American whippoorwill. She even does a similar “my wing is broken” routine to lead predators away from her eggs/chicks. Sometimes the lapwing makes use of a hare’s abandoned “form” for her eggs—and presto!
Ancient people saw the forms, sometimes containing the pretty speckled eggs of the lapwing, and a magical image was born. To put a cap on it, at least from any long-ago islander's point of view, both these animals belonged the earth goddess, Eostre, the sweet lady who brought fertility and flowers, so welcome after winter’s dead time.
It never ceases to amaze, what a very long time a good story can last.
* From The Druid Animal Oracle
Image from: celticawitch.wordpress.com