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“The Leaping Hare”
“The Leaping Hare”
By George Ewart Evans and David Thomson (Faber & Faber, 2002)
Robin March

Esoteric Hares

We are most grateful to Robin Marchesi who has offered us this delightfully provocative piece on the competing roles of Hare and Rabbit in world mythology. This all stems from Robin suggesting, some years ago, that far from a rabbit (see ‘The Creation of the Moon’, link below) in the moon, it is in fact a hare. According to Alfredo López Austín, ‘The rabbit was on the moon, but the rabbit was an animal also associated with pulque, a drink made of fermented agave sap, with the south, and with the cold nature of things... There were many other links between the rabbit and the moon in ancient Mesoamerican concepts, and many of those ideas continue to exist among indigenous Mexican peoples today...’

Leaping Hare on a Half Moon - bronze statue by Barry Flanagan, near Liverpool Street Station, London
Leaping Hare on a Half Moon - bronze statue by Barry Flanagan, near Liverpool Street Station, London (Click on image to enlarge)

The word esotericism is simply defined as “something” that has a “hidden meaning”. Folklore, even history itself, by its very nature is distorted by the individual who perceives it. However, esotericism also implies that the hidden meaning has a more obvious closeness to truth than the apparent meaning. No more obvious an example than this is how through the centuries, perhaps, indeed millennia, the Hare, mythologically, has transmuted into the Rabbit...

Roman Hare Mosaic, Corinium Museum, Cirencester
Roman Hare Mosaic, Corinium Museum, Cirencester (Click on image to enlarge)

For instance, in Chinese mythology there is a story of the Buddha, at the beginning of time, wandering through the Garden of Eden with a few disciples. An otter, wolf, and tiger offer him their prey to eat in order to honour him. The Hare offers himself only. The Buddha makes a magic fire appear and the Hare ready to leap into the conflagration turns to the Buddha and says: “I will gladly offer myself but cannot speak for the fleas on my body.” He duly removes each one and then leaps into the flames to be consumed. “Henceforth”, said the Buddha to his disciples, “the Hare will always appear in the fullness of the moon, as a symbol of its sacrifice.”

Classic book on Mesoamerican Mythology ‘The Rabbit in the Face of the Moon’ by Alfredo López Austín
Classic book on Mesoamerican Mythology ‘The Rabbit in the Face of the Moon’ by Alfredo López Austín (Click on image to enlarge)

Over time this tale has metamorphosed into “The Man in the Moon”, but look carefully at the shape of a full moon and one can see, quite clearly, a Hare leaping across the whole geography of this natural satellite. In the modern 21st century world of ‘alternatives’ such as ‘Chinese Astrology’ again the Hare has changed into the ‘Rabbit’... “You were born in the year of the Rabbit”, I have been informed on numerous occasions. Once or twice I have said that actually it’s the year of the Hare but my comment has usually not been heard as the distracted astrologist seeks the future they can see for me.

The deer (L) carries the sun, the rabbit (hare?) (R) carries the moon (top); Rabbit (Hare?) (L) and Deer (R) - 2 daysigns in the sacred calendar. Codex Borgia pp 33 and 8
The deer (L) carries the sun, the rabbit (hare?) (R) carries the moon (top); Rabbit (Hare?) (L) and Deer (R) - 2 daysigns in the sacred calendar. Codex Borgia pp 33 and 8 (Click on image to enlarge)

In Hindi religion there is another tale of a group of Hares living on the edges of the plain who realise that a group of Elephants are stampeding and will trample on mass through their land. The leader of the pack of Hares calls a council and selecting a young buck tells him to intercept the rampaging Elephants on the night of the full moon and tell their leader that he knows of water nearer than the lake they seek, but this water contains a monster so great they should always avoid the path they have taken. Only once can they drink from this lake or the monster will consume them. That way, said the leader, the Elephants will change their route and the Hares will be safe. The Hare at the appropriate moments interrupts the marauding Elephant herd and tells the leader his story and the arrogant Elephant picks up the Hare with his trunk and placing him on the top of his head, sets out to meet the monster in the water. When they reach the watering hole the Hare asks the elephant to look down and in the fullness of the moon reflected in the waters is the shadow of the Elephant with the Hare on his head. It is indeed a monster!

‘Rabbit’ in the moon, Codex Borgia p 55
‘Rabbit’ in the moon, Codex Borgia p 55 (Click on image to enlarge)

The heart of a Hare is ten times the size of the Rabbit. The Hare lives in what is called a ‘form’ only dug deep enough to evade a human bullet and is the only living creature that will jump into a fire rather than face capture by man. On the western edges of Ireland it is believed by those who plough the turf that a Hare will only show himself to those whom the Hare wishes to see them. In the grape growing areas of Southern France a field with Hares is considered the most likely to produce the finest wines.

European Hare
European Hare (Click on image to enlarge)

The Hare in itself defines Esotericism for it is so easily believable to turn this creature of true originality into a creature one associates with household pets or fornication, ‘The Rabbit’. Metaphorically speaking this kind of misrepresentation is totally endemic. What started as a Hare became something that at a distance is the same, ‘the Rabbit’, who is, in reality, totally different.

Hare-headed manifestation of Egyptian sun god - interior of the coffin of Bakenmut, divine father of Amum, c. 950 BCE, British Museum
Hare-headed manifestation of Egyptian sun god - interior of the coffin of Bakenmut, divine father of Amum, c. 950 BCE, British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

What started as democracy, freedom of speech, equality, (the Hare) has transmuted into oligarchy, restriction of speech, inequality on a massive scale (the Rabbit). The slow, subtle twist of the truth has made, certainly, in Britain, political correctness, far more important than the truth, and rewards bankers and governments, for stealing from the people. Capitalism, competitiveness, globalisation, what is their esotericism, their hidden meaning? And if society today is the ‘Rabbit’ then surely those ancient civilisations such as the Aztecs, Egyptians, Byzantines, even Romans and Greeks, were the Hares. This leads to another question to contemplate: Is the ugly sister cutting her toe in Cinderella to make the shoe fit, similar to the convenience of Darwin’s theory of evolution, metaphorically, underwriting the theory of capitalism?

Detail from a marble panel from Constantinople, c. 950 CE: an eagle fighting a serpent stands on a hare; some interpret the scene as Christ (eagle) carrying a Christian soul (hare) to Paradise. British Museum
Detail from a marble panel from Constantinople, c. 950 CE: an eagle fighting a serpent stands on a hare; some interpret the scene as Christ (eagle) carrying a Christian soul (hare) to Paradise. British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

Further Reading: The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson, Faber and Faber, 2002.

Picture sources:-
• Leaping hare on a half moon: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Roman hare mosaic: photo courtesy Archaeology Officer, Corinium Museum, Cirencester
• Codex Borgia examples scanned from The Codex Borgia: a Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript by Gisele Díaz and Alan Rodgers, Dover Publications, New York, 1993
• European Hare: image from Wikipedia
• Ancient Egyptian hare-headed divinity: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Marble panel from Constantinople: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on May 10th 2009

‘The Creation of the Moon’

Robin Marchesi’s website

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