Notes to Poem:
Easter Bunny Hunt

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: The Easter egg is given to celebrate Easter, rebirth of flowers and vegetation in springtime. It was adopted by early Christians as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. The Easter egg hunt is a game played where hard boiled colored eggs are hidden indoors or outdoors for children to find. The Easter Bunny is a character depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs. The Easter Bunny is similar to its Christmas holiday counterpart, Santa Claus, as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holiday. The Easter Bunny was introduced to the United States by German settlers in Pennsylvania Dutch county during the 1700s. In the comic strip Sally Forth, Sally has the quirky habit of biting off her daughter's chocolate bunny's ears at Easter time. Looking at some literary rabbits, I wondered which one would make the best Easter Bunny. These Notes are my research on this exploration in the poem "Easter Bunny Hunt". In an earlier poem "What Is Easter?" (1977), focus was placed on the Sun as the symbol for Easter. Now I realize from folklore and mythology, that the Moon plays an equal important part as Easter's symbol.

Peter Rabbit, Peter Cottontail, Br'er Rabbit, Alice's White Rabbit
all failed the audition to become the Easter Bunny

Peter Rabbit

Peter Cottontail

Br'er Rabbit

White Rabbit
Peter Rabbit is a fictional rabbit in children's stories by Beatrix Potter (1866-1943). He first appeared in The Tales of Peter Rabbit (1902), and later in five more books (1904-1912). The book has been translated into 36 languages, and with 45 million copies sold, it is one of the best-selling books of all time. Peter Rabbit wears human clothing and walks upright when dressed. Peter disobeys his mother's orders and sneaks into Mr. McGregor's garden, eating as many vegetables as he can before McGregor spots him and chases him about. Peter manages to escape, but not before losing his jacket and shoes, which McGregor uses to dress a scarecrow. Peter returns home weary and ill and is put to bed with a dose of chamomile tea.
Peter Cottontail is a fictional rabbit in the works of Thorton Burgess (1874-1965). In 50 years he wrote over 170 books and 15,000 stories in newspapers. Peter Cottontail first appeared in Old Mother West Wind (1910) and in The Adventures of Peter Cottontail (1914). In the second chapter "Peter Finds a Name"— "Cottontail, Cottontail," said Peter over and over to himself and began to smile. Every time he said it he liked it better. "Cottontail, Peter Cottontail! How much better sounding that is than Peter Rabbit! That sounds as if I really was somebody. Yes, Sir, that's the very name I want. Now I must send word to all my friends that hereafter I am no longer Peter Rabbit, but Peter Cottontail." He was also featured in Little Peter Cottontail (1956) and How Peter Cottontail Got His Name (1957). Peter Cottontail is sometimes used as a euphemism or alternative to the term Easter Bunny ("Here Comes Peter Cottontail" song).
Br'er Rabbit is a central figure in the Uncle Remus stories of Southern United States. He is a trickster character succeeding through his wits rather than through strength. He enjoys tweaking authority figures and bending social customs as he pleases. The origin of Br'er Rabbit is linked to both Cherokee and African cultures. Joel Chandler Harris (1845-1908) published "The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox as Told by Uncle Remus" in the Atlanta Constitution on July 20, 1879. Remus' stories featured a trickster hero called Br'er Rabbit ("Brother" Rabbit), who used his wits against adversity, though his efforts did not always succeed. Br'er Rabbit appears in Disney's movie Song of the South (1946) in three animation segments including the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" which won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song.
White Rabbit is a fictional character in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898). He appears at the very beginning of the book, in chapter one, wearing a waistcoat, and muttering "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" Alice follows him down the rabbit hole into Underland. Alice encounters him again when he mistakes her for his housemaid Mary Ann and she becomes trapped in his house after growing too large. The Rabbit shows up again in the last few chapters, as a herald-like servant of the King and Queen of Hearts. Overall, the White Rabbit seems to shift back and forth between pompous behavior toward his underlings, such as his servants, and grovelling, obsequious behavior toward his superiors, such as the Duchess and King and Queen of Hearts, in direct contrast to Alice, who is reasonably polite to everyone she meets. The White Rabbit's descent into the underworld into Wonderland appeared to be a perfect symbol of Easter that parallels Christ's entombment in the dark cave before his wonderous and miraculous resurrection. However, the White Rabbit's egocentric character was not as pure as his name, hence not a good representation of the Easter Bunny.

Saxon goddess of radiant dawn—
Eastre from whom Easter got its name

Eastre (Old English Eostre, Old High German Ostara) is the name of the Germanic goddess whose Anglo-Saxon month, Eostur-monath, has given its name to the festival of Easter. Eostre is attested by Bede, in his 8th century work De temporum ratione, where he states that Eostur-monath was the same as the month of April. In his 1882 Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob Grimm writes "Ostara, Eastre seems to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian's God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy... Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess." (Image: Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts. The goddess flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman-inspired putti, beams of light, and animals. Germanic people look up at the goddess from the earth below.)

Ishtar, the Assyrian goddess of fertility
who journeys to the Underworld only to rise again

Ishtar is the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess, counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna and to the Northwest Semitic goddess Astarte. Ishtar is a goddess of fertility and sexuality. In the Babylonian pantheon, she "was the divine personifaction of the planet Venus. Her symbol is an eight-pointed star. In her youth Ishtar loved Tammuz, god of the harvest. After his death Ishtar went to the Underworld to retrieve him. When Ishtar came to the gates of the underworld, she demands the gatekeeper open them: "If thou opens not the gate to let me enter, / I will break the door, I will wrench the lock, / I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors. / I will bring up the dead to eat the living. / And the dead will outnumber the living." (Myths of Tammuz and Ishtar). Donald A. Mackenzie draws a parallel between the love goddess Aphrodite and her "dying god" lover Adonis on the one hand, and the love goddess Ishtar and her "dying god" Tammuz on the other hand. Joseph Campbell equates Ishtar, Inanna, and Aphrodite, and draws a parallel between the Egyptian goddess Isis who nurses Horus, and the Babylonian goddess Ishtar who nurses the god Tammuz. (Image: Ishtar/Inanna (early 2000 BC) depicted on the "Ishtar Vase" Larsa, Louvre, AO 6501)

Egyptian goddess Isis who brought Osiris back from the dead
Isis was the ancient Egyptian goddess of motherhood, magic, and fertility. Isis was the first daughter of Geb (Earth God) and Nut (Sky Goddess). She married her brother Osiris and conceived Horus. Isis and Osiris represented the Moon and Sun respectively. She holds a globe in her hand with a vessel full of ears of corn. The Egyptians believed that the yearly flooding of the Nile came from the abundant tears Isis shed for the loss of Osiris. Isis was instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris when he was murdered by Set. Her magical skills restored his body to life. The word Isis signifies ancient, and, on that account, the inscriptions on the statues of the goddess were often in these words: I am all that has been, that shall be, and none among mortals has hitherto taken off my veil. The worship of Isis was universal in Egypt; the priests were obliged to observe perpetual chastity, their head was closely shaved, and they always walked barefooted, and clothed themselves in linen garments. During the night hey were employed in continual devotion near the statue of Isis. [Lemprière's Classical Dictionary (3rd Ed.), 1984, p. 301] (Image: The Goddess Isis, Encyclopedia Mythica)

Perhaps the Hare in the Moon would be
the best Easter Bunny who understands

Moon Rabbit

Jade Rabbit
pounding Elixir
of Immortality
The Hare in the Moon, Moon Rabbit, or Jade Rabbit is an image of a rabbit that lives on the moon in Chinese folklore. It is based on pareidolia of moon markings showing a hare or rabbit pounding in a mortal with his pestle creating the elixir of immortality for the Moon goddess Chang-O. There are several Chinese legends about Chang-O. One version has her husband Houyi the Archer been given the pill of immortality by the Queen Mother of the West. Houyi placed the pill in a box and warned Chang-O not to open the box. However when he left the house, Chang-O was curious like Pandora and opened it. Finding the pill she swallowed it and was soon borne aloft and floated to the moon. Her only companion on the moon was the jade rabbit under a cassia tree pounding the mortal making the elixir of immortality. The moon rabbit was mentioned in the conversation between Houston and the Apollo 11 crew just before the first moon landing (095:17:28)— Houston Mission Control (Ron Evans): Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill for immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is only standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not recorded. Michael Collins: Okay, we'll keep a close eye for the bunny girl. (Images— Top: Pareidolia of Hare in the Moon. Bottom: Medallion of Jade Rabbit under cassia tree pounding elixir of immortality.)

the meaning of Easter and its link to all those fertility goddesses
The Easter Bunny is ubiquitous at Easter as Santa Claus is at Christmas. It has its origin in pre-Christian fertility lore. The Hare and the Rabbit were the most fertile animals known and they served as symbols of the new life during the Spring season. The bunny as an Easter symbol seems to have its origins in Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings in the 1500s. The first edible Easter bunnies were made in Germany during the early 1800s. And were made of pastry and sugar. The Easter bunny was introduced to American folklore by the German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700s. Easter may be related to mythical fertility goddesses such as Eastre, Isis, and Ishtar who descended to the Underworld and became resurrected like Christ. (Image: Easter Bunny Postcard, circa 1907)

Hare Symbolism
Hare is a lunar animal, attribute of all moon deities; as closely connected with the moon, it represents rebirth, rejuvenation, resurrection, intuition, and 'light in darkness'. It is often associated with sacrificial fire and 'life through death'. It is a fertility symbol and typifies feminine periodicity; it is a love gage; crafty wisdom; fleetness. The hare in the moon acts as an intermediary between lunar deities and man. In the West, the white hare symbolizes snow; the March hare madness. A hare's head or foot is a specific against witchcraft, but the hare is often the servant or companion of witches. African: Associated with the moon by the Hottentots. Amerindian: The Great Hare, Manabozho, father and guardian, is a creator and transformer, changing man's animal nature. He is the Hero Savior, a demiurge, Hero of the Dawn, personification of Light; the Great Manitou who lives in the moon with his grandmother and is 'provider of all waters, master of winds and brother of the snow'. As trickster it is also nimble mind outwitting dull brute force. Buddhist:The hare in the moon was uplifted there by Buddha and symbolizes total sacrifice of the ego, since when Buddha was hungry, the hare offered itself as a sacrifice and jumped into the fire. Celtic: An attribute of lunar and hunter deities, often held in the hand of hunter gods. Chinese: The moon; a yin animal; the feminine yin power; the imperial female consort; longevity. The hare is the fourth of the symbolic animals of the Twelve Terrestrial Branches. The hare in the moon, with pestle and mortar, mixes the elixir of immortality. The white hare is divinity; the red, good fortune, peace, prosperity and virtuous rulers; the black, good fortune and a successful reign. Figures of hares or white rabbits were made for the moon festival. Christian: Fecundity, lust. A white hare at the feet of the Virgin Mary depicts triumph over lust. The defenselessness of the hare represents those who put their trust in Christ. Egyptian: The dawn; the beginning; the opening; uprising; periodicity; an emblem of Thoth; also associated with the moon. European: The Easter hare, rabbit, or bunny symbolizes dawn and a new life; it is an attribute of the hare-headed moon goddess, probably Oestra (Teutonic) or Eostre (Anglo-Saxon) who gives her name to Easter; hence rebirth and resurrection as the rebirth of the moon. The Easter hare lays the Easter egg. Greco-Roman: Fertility; lubricity; a messenger animal; attribute of Hermes/Mercury, also of Aphrodite and Eros. Cupids are often portrayed with hares. Hebrew: The unclean. Hindu: Appears with the crescent moon in Hindu and Buddhist art. Scandinavian: Freyja has attendant hares. Teutonic: Holda, Harke, or Harfa, the moon goddess, is followed by hares as a train of torch-bearers. The Easter hare is connected with Oestra. (J.C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, Thames & Hudson, London, 1978, pp. 79-80), Hare Symbolism. (Image: Hare and the Moon by Claire Barker)

rabbit's rapid offsprings in spring
Rabbits and hares are both prolific breeders. The females can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first. This phenomenon is known as superfetation. Lagomorphs mature sexually at an early age and can give birth to several litters a year (hence the sayings, "to breed like bunnies" or "multiply like rabbits"). It is therefore not surprising that rabbits and hares should become fertility symbols, or that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore. Female rabbits do not actually ovulate until after mating. They have a bifurcated uterus and often, mating can involve multiple acts that can result in multiple impregnations from different bucks (male rabbits). A litter of rabbit kits (baby rabbits) can be as small as a single kit, ranging up to 12 or 13; however there have been litters as big as 18. The gestation period is 30-32 days. [Image: A Young Hare (1502) by Albrecht Dürer, Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria]

Pounding the Elixir of Immortality
Elixir of immortality, also known as Elixir of Life, and sometimes equated to the Philosopher's Stone, is a legendary potion that grants the drinker eternal life or eternal youth. Many practitioners of alchemy pursued it. The elixir of life was also said to be able to create life. The ancient Chinese believed that ingesting long-lasting precious substances such as jade, cinnabar or hematite would confer some of that longevity on the person who consumed them. Gold was considered particularly potent, as it was a non-tarnishing precious metal; the idea of potable or drinkable gold is found in China by the end of the third century BC. A Chinese alchemical book, Tan Chin Yao Ch'eh ("Great Secrets of Alchemy," circa 650 AD), discusses in detail the creation of elixirs for immortality (mercury, sulfur, and the salts of mercury and arsenic are prominent) as well as those for curing certain diseases and the fabrication of precious stones. Many of these substances, far from contributing to longevity, were actively toxic. Jiajing Emperor in the Ming Dynasty died from ingesting a lethal dosage of mercury in the supposed "Elixir of Life" conjured by alchemists. (Image: Hare in the Moon Making the Elixir of Immortality, from an 18th-century embroidered Chinese emperor's robe. Reproduced in Anthony Christie, Chinese Mythology, 1983, p. 63)

he reminds us of Moon's eternal return from emptiness to fullness, her death
for three days in the night sky before her rebirth as the crescent New Moon

Lunar phase or phase of the moon refers to the appearance of the illuminated portion of the Moon as seen by an observer on Earth. The lunar phases vary cyclically as the Moon orbits the Earth, according to the changing relative positions of the Earth, Moon and Sun. One half of the lunar surface is always illuminated by the Sun (except during lunar eclipses), and hence is bright, but the portion of the illuminated hemisphere that is visible to an observer can vary from 100% (full moon) to 0% (new moon). When the Sun and Moon are aligned on the same side of the Earth the Moon is "new", and the side of the Moon visible from Earth is not illuminated by the Sun. As the Moon waxes (amount of illuminated surface as seen from Earth is increasing), the lunar phases progress from new moon, crescent moon, first-quarter moon, gibbous moon and full moon phases, before returning through the gibbous moon, third-quarter moon, crescent moon and new moon phases. The time between two full moons is about 29.53 days (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes) on average (hence, concept of a period of time of an approximated month was derived). This synodic month is longer than the time it takes the Moon to make one orbit about the Earth with respect to the fixed stars (the sidereal month), which is about 27.32 days. The Dark Moon refers to the New Moon that is not visible for three days at night when the Sun and Moon are on the same side of the Earth. (Image: Grand Crescen Moon Sunset in Socorro County, New Mexico, by Fort Photo)
    Moon Phases as seen from the Northern Hemisphere. Southern Hemisphere sees each phase rotated 180o

much like Christ's entombment in the cave
before his resurrection on Easter Sunday

Christ was placed in a cave tomb after his crucifixion on Friday before his resurrection on Sunday. Christ's entombment has been portrayed in paintings and is covered in Matthews 27.63: "After three days I will rise again." In The Power of Myth PBS television documentary (1988), Joseph Campbell tells Bill Moyers about the metaphor of resurrection, tracing its history back to the ancient Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris. Bill Moyers: The Christian fathers took the image of Isis? Joseph Campbell: The mythologies have referred to were of the dead and resurrected god: Attis, Adonis, Gilgamesh, Osiris, one after the other. The death and resurrection of the god is everywhere associated with the moon, which dies and is resurrected every month. It is for two nights, or three days dark, and we have Christ for two nights, or three days in the tomb. (Joseph Campbell, Power of Myth, Doubleday, NY, 1988, p. 179). There is a cylinder seal (300 A.D.) with Orpheus-Bacchus crucified. It is a metaphysical symbol— Orpheus in the same sense as Christ, and he goes to the cross like a bridegroom to the bride. Atop the cross is the moon— and above that, seven stars of the Pleiades, known to antiquity as the Lyre of Orpheus. (Image: "Orpheus-Bacchus Crucified" from cylinder seal of 300 A.D. Joseph Campbell, Transformations of Myth Through Time, Harper & Row, 1990, p. 207). While walking around Stanford's Lake Lagunita on Friday, April 16 around 7:30 pm, Venus shown brightly below the crescent moon. Upon checking Sky & Telescope's Sky at a Glance, Dusk, April 15-17: "Look west in twilight for the thin crescent Moon above Venus. As the sky grows dark, the Pleiades glimmer into view just above the Moon." The position of Pleiades-Crescent Moon-Venus matches the 300 A.D cylinder seal, where Joseph Campbell links Christ to Venus and love pouring forth into the world.

                                                            — Peter Y. Chou
                                                                Mountain View, 4-18-2010

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