For thousands of years the hare has featured in the mythology of many cultures and it is easy to see why. A picture of a hare (or rabbit) appears on the earth’s only natural satellite and it is visible to anyone who has looked at a full moon. The cycle of the moon has long been associated with human fertility, and the hare was regarded as the human form of the Moon Goddess, Eostre. People spoke of moon-gazing hares that looked up in the moonlight to their home in the night sky. Hares are still a strong influence in in Celtic themes in the arts.
The lunar hare is carrying an egg, symbolically heralding the new cycle of life that comes with the spring. The moon goddess gives her name to one of our culture’s most celebrated festivals, Easter. Although it is now a Christian holiday, and a movable feast, it still reflects its ancient roots by taking place on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
For ancient communities that had struggled to survive the winter with limited food reserves, eggs were often the first of nature’s bounty to save them from starvation. No wonder then that the hare was revered as a symbol of life and endowed with magical powers.
In some parts of Ireland hares continue to be celebrated. The legendary ‘White Hare of Creggan’ can be seen at the An-Creagan Visitor Centre in County Tyrone and its identity has been embraced by the local community.
Hares feature in Irish folklore, and the hare is older than our island’s culture itself. The Irish hare has been immortalised as the animal gracing the Irish pre-decimal three pence piece. Hare mythology exists throughout almost every ancient culture and when the first settlers colonised Ireland, the Irish hare was already an iconic figure. There are many examples in Celtic mythology, and storytellers still relate tales of women who can shape-change into hares. The cry of the Banshee foretelling death might be legend but it may have parallels with the Irish hare of today as it struggles to avoid extinction in modern times.
Mouse-over the moon and see the hare