Zoom Meeting Sermon April 9 2023

Topic: Rabbits in Myth and Legend

Today is Easter Sunday, it is the Year of the Rabbit, and we are currently discussing stories. So today we are going to be talking about the Rabbit or Hare as a character in myths and legends from around the world.

There are few animals that have inspired as many tales as the Rabbit. A culture hero in some traditions, a god in others, sometimes wise and sometimes not so much, the Rabbit can be found in folklore everywhere that humans and rabbits have co-existed.

The Cherokee, Creek, Alabama, and Yuchi tribes view the rabbit as a Trickster archetype. In some stories, it was the Trickster Rabbit who stole fire from the gods and gave it to the denizens of Earth. (As an interesting side note, this particular story -of a trickster who stole fire from the gods and gifted it to mortals- can be found in multiple cultures. My hypothesis about this is that the domestication of fire was a universal game-changer, so much so that it seemed divine in origin.) Unlike the more malicious trickster archetypes in other cultures, the Native American Trickster Rabbit seems to indulge in mere mischief. Further stories about the Trickster Rabbit archetype in folklore around the world can easily be found online, and they are worth reading.

Cultures all over the world associate their Hare or Rabbit gods and culture heroes with the Moon in different ways: One story about the Rabbit, and how his likeness can be seen in the face of the full moon, originated with the Aztecs in Latin America. In this legend, the god Quetzalcoatl decides to go exploring the world, but gets so distracted by its wonders that he forgets to feed and rest his human form. He is approached by Rabbit, who eventually offers his own body as food for the hungry man. The god is so moved by Rabbit’s selfless offer that he raises him high, so that his form is permanently displayed on the face of the Moon.

The Rabbit in the Moon legend is also found in Asian folklore. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures see the Rabbit in the Moon as bent over a mortar and pestle, but the contents of the mortar depend on whom you ask. In the majority of Chinese culture, the Rabbit is a companion of the Moon Goddess Chang’e, and is endlessly grinding out the Elixir of Life for her, although in some Chinese versions, the Rabbit is actually creating medicine for mortals. In Japanese and Korean stories, the Rabbit is making some variety of rice cake. In Vietnam, much like China, the Rabbit in the Moon is crafting the Elixir of Immortality.

In the Buddhist Jataka tales, Tale 316 relates that a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the day of the full moon, believing a demonstration of great virtue would earn a great reward. When an old man begged for food from them, the monkey gathered fruits from the trees and the otter collected fish, while the jackal found a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. Knowing only how to gather grass, the rabbit instead offered its own body by throwing itself into a fire the man had prepared. However, the rabbit was not burnt and the old man revealed that he was Śakra, the ruler of Trayastrimsa Heaven according to Buddhist cosmology. Touched by the rabbit's virtue, he drew the likeness of the rabbit on the Moon for all to see. It is said the lunar image is still draped in the smoke that rose when the rabbit cast itself into the fire. The rabbit is believed to be a Bodhisattva, in Mahayana Buddhism a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings.

The indigenous peoples of South Africa and Namibia, particularly the Khoekhoe (Koi-koi) tribe, tell a story of how the Hare got his split lip. It seems the Moon, who was associated with immortality due to the way she disappeared and reappeared each month, tasked the Hare with delivering a message to mankind telling them how they may attain the same immortality. However, the Hare bungled the message, telling mankind instead that they would die and never return to life. When she discovered the Hare’s mistake, the Moon became so angry that she threw a stick at him, which hit him in the mouth and split his lip. He took off running, and he has been running ever since.

Have you ever been told any stories about the Rabbit or Hare? Have you been shown the Rabbit in the Moon?


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