The Hare and its Links to Ostara, Easter, Witchcraft and Myth
Why is the hare sacred to Easter? How can you put a hare’s spring in your step to echo the vital energy of Spring?
The myth of Ostara and the hare
Ostara/Eostre is the Germanic goddess associated with Dawn and Spring – a time of new beginnings. The myths have it that Ostara is responsible for bringing Spring to our lands each year. One year she was late, partly because she found a dying bird in the snow, brought it back to life as a white hare, and named it Lepus. To honour the hare’s orginal bird-form, Ostara gave the hare the power to lay eggs one day a year. Once a year, the hare was permitted to give away its eggs to those attending the Ostara Spring festivals.
All around the world, divine entities seem unable to do without their beloved hares, so clever and fleet of foot. Norse love-goddess Freyja had hares as servants.
The hare’s association with renewal
Ostara not only brought a dying animal back to life, she also gave it a new form. The shapeshifting hare was the result of not one, but two powerful and magical acts of renewal beyond the mundane sphere of possibility.
The “witch-hare” as shapeshifter and animal familiar
The hare as shapeshifter is a common theme in folklore. Hares were often named as the animal familiars of witches, perhaps because they are so fleet and hard to catch.
Witches were said to be able to take the likeness of their familiar and assume their form.
One Scottish witch of the 17th century, Isobel Gowdie, openly declared herself able to shapeshift into the form of a hare. She made the incantations she used in her shapeshifteing rites public:
To shapeshift into a hare:
I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
Ay while I come home again.
To return to one’s original human form:
Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare’s likeness now,
But I shall be in a woman’s likeness even now.
The hare’s links to the moon
We associate Spring more with the sun’s rays than with the moon. However, the hare is a moon-creature in many traditions.
In Egypt, the hare can gendershift between one gender and another, making it an androgynous figure, and is also associated with the moon’s cycles.
In China, the “Hare in the Moon” replaces the Man in the Moon. This hare is the messenger of a moon goddess. It guards all wild animals, and grinds up the elixir of eternal life with a mortar and pestle. Chinese folklore also has it that hares become pregnant by crossing water by moonlight or when touched by the light of a full moon.
The hare’s links to sex and fertility
In ancient Greece and Rome, hares were associated with love and lust and expansion, fertility and rebirth. Hare meat was recommended by Pliny the Elder as a cure for being unable to conceive, and he also suggested that eating hare meant for nine days would boost your sexual appeal.
The three hares symbol, or the hare trinity
You’ll find a circular motif of three hares appearing all over the world in sacred sites, from the Middle east to churches in Devon. The image of three hares chasing each other in a circle is a visual challenge, as only three ears are shown – each ear is shared by two hares. Its meaning is opaque, as this medieval motif isn’t really explained in writings from the period. However, it’s treated as a symbol of the Holy Trinity in Catholic churches. It’s fascinating to consider how diverse and widespread the hare trinity symbol has become.
Use the hare to manifest your intent for Spring and new beginnings
Whatever form of Spring you celebrate – whether it be Easter or Ostara – it is a time for new beginnings. Winter has been cast aside, and Spring is here. The plants send up green shoots of new growth. The animals are ready to calf and lamb. Spring is a time of renewed energy and motivation. It’s a time to grow, and tap into vibrant new energies.
The hare is a shapeshifter, and growth and transformation incarnate.
Incorporate the hare into your spring rituals for new growth, transformation (and even any attraction spells you wish you undertake) as you will.
Make the bunny ears. Serve yourself a dish of fine raw carrot and savour every sweet, moist bite. It is not silly. It is the divinely playful nature of the hare, the spring in your step that keeps you changing, growing, and going forth with spring sap in your bones.
Main photo: Hare trinity illustration from the album amicorum of Frederick IV of the Palatine [UB Heidelberg, Pal. Ger. 619 — this is f.47v. entries are dated 1582-1605].