Hare Folklore & the Easter Connection

Hares have a long association with springtime, as they are very visible at this time of year. The expression “Mad as a March Hare” alludes to the sparring activity that hares engage in during the mating season which peaks around this time of year. Check out the following link to see this activity: https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/watch-a-female-hare-battle-male-suitors.aspx

Though, you might ask what hares have got to do with the Easter Festival! In Anglo Saxon mythology Eostra was the goddess of spring and she gave the Easter festival its name. The animal associated with Eostra was the hare, although there is no direct link to the modern tradition of the Easter bunny giving children chocolate eggs. Indeed, the hare features in many ancient cultures including Celtic mythology. The Celts believed the goddess Ostara (Celts version of Eostra) had the ability to shapeshift into a hare during the full moon. The hare appears in the Brehon laws where similar status was given to the hare as that of the domestic hen, which was thought to be because the hare’s form (shallow nesting hollow) was a similar in structure to that of the hen’s nest. Although hares, like the majority of mammals do not lay eggs, egg laying hares appear in pagan myths. This seems to be linked again to their forms, the place where they rest and rear their young. Ground nesting birds such as plovers and lapwings have similar nest like structures in open grassland. On finding these eggs in what looked to be a hare’s form, people believed that hares were laying eggs in spring.

The ecology of the hare has in no doubt resulted in the link with eggs, but the connection with the generous chocolate giving bunny at Easter still remains somewhat of a mystery!

 

References

Mac Coitir, (2010) Ireland’s Animals:  Myths, Legends & Folklore. The Collins Press, Cork

Locke, Tony (2017) Tales of the Irish Hedgerows. The History Press Ireland