As Easter is upon us, along with its association with the rabbit (ie Easter Bunnies), it came as something of a surprise to find Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands preferring an Easter Hare.
The Anglo-Saxon personification of the sun was Ostara, whose ears were those of a hare and who carried eggs on her back. This is how eggs have become associated with Easter.
Pagan followers associate the hare with the goddess Eostre, from where we get the name for Easter.
Gods in other cultures associated with hares are Hittavainen, Cupid, Aphrodite, Venus, Holda, Freyja, Andraste, Cerridwen, Kaltes,
That the creature has been considered sacred and associated with spring, and almost certainly has been since prehistoric times, is down to the hare only really being seen when they are seen boxing in the mating season. Incidentally, the long held belief these are males fighting over a female was shown to be wrong when it was realised at least one of the combatants could just as easily be female.
Several ancient cultures saw the hare the symbol of fertility, of rebirth, and held to possess supernatural powers. The genitals of the jack were carried to ward off infertility. This fertility idea has some truth for the doe can produce up to forty-two young in a single year.
Some ancient African cultures believed the hare to have a lunar origin.
The tales of Brer Rabbit, as told by Uncle Remus, were brought to North America via the slave trade and are adapted from traditional African narratives. Thus these cannot be about a 'rabbit' but a hare for Africa has no rabbits around the tropical latitudes.
In Egyptian mythology Osiris is also known by other names and is then depicted with the head of a hare, as was the goddess Unut. He is also cited as being the messenger of the god Thoth.
Pliny wrote of how he believed the hare was androgynous, likened to the waxing and waning of the Moon when it was deemed to be masculine and feminine respectively.
The hare is also associated with the Moon in ancient China, held to possess knowledge of the elixir of immortality. Other writings show the hare with the phoenix and the unicorn, ubiquitous mythological creatures of wonder and magical powers.
Hindus in India tell the story of Buddha, whose earliest life on Earth was as a hare. Hence the animal is seen as a symbol of resurrection. It is also the subject of a number of traditional tales where it represents wisdom.
Native American cultures speak of Michabo or Manitou, the Great Hare, which is common to the ancestral mythologies of many tribes. Unlike the Old World, in the New World the hare is associated with the sun.
The madness of hares was likened to a coven of witches. Some held the hares were witches who had changed their appearance to allow them to suckle cows until they were dry.
Sailors, probably the most superstitious career which ever has been or ever will be, consider the hare unlucky and would not allow any mention of them while at sea.
Pregnant women would carrying a hare's foot, for should the animal cross her path it could result in a miscarriage or the child being born with a hare-lip.
The hare's foot charm was also held to be the answer to rheumatism, while the stage perfomance of many a thespian was solely down to such being hidden beneath their costume.
The fat from a hare would be used to fuel a lamp burned when it was important that all present should be in good spirits throughout.
The brain of the hare was added to wine to prevent any danger of oversleeping.
Cambridgeshire folk seeing a hare running through the streets saw this as a sign that a fire was about to break out.
Personally I just wish I could taste this