Each Easter, eager boys and girls line up at the local malls just to see the infamous Easter Bunny. But how exactly did this particular icon of Easter find its way into our children’s anxious hearts? Through all of the commercialism of the Easter Bunny, most people don’t realize that this over-grown Hare actually has pagan origins.
In some of the pagan faiths there is a Goddess of Spring. To German pagans she is known as Ostara. To the Saxon pagans she is known as Oestre or Eastre. She is a fertility goddess. She arrives in the Spring to put an end to Winter. She is believed to give new life to not just plants but animals as well. It is told that her favorite animal is rabbits and hares.
One Spring she arrived late. Upon her late arrival, she found a small bird whose wings were frozen in the snow. It was then that she felt guilty about not arriving on time. She took this bird in as her pet and cared for it. Her guilt increased realizing that the bird’s wings were so damaged that it would never be able to fly again. She decided to turn the bird into a snow hare and even named him Lepus. She also granted him the gift of speed so that he would be able to out run and out smart anyone who hunted him. She even gave him the ability to lay eggs in various colors of the rainbow in remembrance of the fact that he was once a bird. He only had this ability on one day of the year.
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At some point, Lepus angered Ostara. In her fury she cast him into the sky where he remains as the Lepus constellation. This constellation is also known as The Hare constellation. It is located just under the feet of the Orion constellation, which coincidentally is also known as The Hunter constellation. He is allowed to return only once a year to give his colored eggs to the children during the festival that honors Ostara.
In many ancient traditions, rabbits and eggs represent fertility and new growth. It was also known that both rabbits and eggs can make potent remedies for infertility. However, Medieval Christians believed hares to be an evil omen. They associated hares with lust and sexuality. In fact, they went so far as to believe witches turned into hares to bring harm upon their livestock. As the Christian traditions evolved, they believed that a white hare represented triumph over lust and sins of the flesh.
It was Dutch settlers that brought the tale of the Easter bunny to the Americas in the 18th century. Children would construct nests and set them inside their bonnets and hats, waiting for the infamous hare to leave them colored eggs. This tradition eventually evolved to what we see today, stores cluttered with baskets filled with cheap toys and candy. Even still today some parents tell their children to set out carrots on Easter eve for the Easter Bunny.
With Easter so saturated with commercialism, remember when you stand with your children in line to see this over size version of Lepus, that there is history hidden among all the greed of the season. Whether the legend has factual merit or not the Easter Bunny is still a reminder of a rich, cultural history. Besides, without the Easter Bunny, children would have to wait an entire year before some mystical being brings them mysterious gifts.