What two issues a week? Well kind of, this issue was written last year for the Easter Period, but ultimately got forgotten about. As such I felt it was time to unleash it on this festive season. Hope you guys enjoy and remember to check out the library to find past issues.
Easter Special Issue – Brown Hare
Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Mammalia
Order – Lagomorpha
Family – Leporidae
Genus – Lepus
Species – europaeus
Related Species – Brown Hares are part of the genus Lepus which includes species such as the Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus), Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus) and the Black Jackrabbit (Lepus insularis) among others. (1)
The Real Easter Bunny
The Brown or European Hare is among the largest members of the Order Lagomorpha, with a body length that can be anywhere between 50 and 75cm in length, and reach a weight of up to 7kg. Brown Hares can be distinguished from the European rabbit (Oryctolaguscuniculus), that lives in similar habitats, by their elongated legs, longer black tipped ears and overall larger size. Hares are mostly nocturnal, choosing to spend the day concealed in a depression known as a ‘form’, and only moving when disturbed by human activity or when targeted by a predator.
Like the majority of the species in the order Lagomorpha, Brown Hares are predominantly herbivorous, feeding off grass and weed species, although with the intensification of agriculture the species has been forced to make a shift to eating agricultural crops in addition to their normal diet (2). Hares are communal feeding, with multiple animals providing additional eyes to spot predators such as Red Foxes (Vulpus vulpus) or Buzzards (Buteo buteo). When threatened the Brown Hare bolts, quickly reaching speeds of up to 43mph (70kmph), often running in a zig-zagging pattern to shake off predators. Unlike rabbits, hares are built for endurance running, and can maintain their top speed for many miles and through several obstacles.
Brown Hares have a long mating season, ranging from Janurary through to August, with the majority of the reproductive behaviour occurring in March. While mostly nocturnal, male hares become active during the day in March to April, in the search for females, and will fiercely compete for access to the female, and is the source of the term ‘Mad March Hare’ and ‘March Madness’. During this breeding season Brown Hares are often seen standing on their hind legs boxing with each other and is often incorrectly labelled as males competing over a female. It is however, initiated by an infertile female not ready to breed with the male hares. After breeding the female hares gestates her young for 40 days before giving birth to fully formed young ready to run within two hours of being born.
Animals in Folklore #1 - Brown Hare
In amongst the numerous religious icons associated with Easter there is one that seems very different to the sombre aspects of sacrifice and rebirth. I am talking of course, about the Easter Bunny and the brightly coloured eggs he delivers. While readopted for commercial use fairly recently in the late 18th century (3), the imagery itself is ancient, dating back to Ancient Germanic and Scandinavian faiths, and perhaps even further. The animals behind these Easter symbols are the Brown Hare and the Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus).
Perhaps it is easier to explain the biology behind the Saxon belief of Ostara before dipping into the faith aspect. Both Brown Hares and Lapwings breed early in the season, with Lapwings laying eggs at the same time the Hare’s are experiencing ‘March Madness’. The Lapwings lay their eggs on the ground, often in abandoned forms made by the hares, thus connecting the bird to the hare, as well as invoking the classic ‘Easter Nest’ imagery so commonly associated with this time of year.
That image brings us on to Ostara or Eostre, one of the myriad of dawn goddesses found in various mythologies and faiths around the world. Eostre’s somewhat reluctant dawning was connected to the Vernal Equinox (21st of March in the Northern Hemisphere), with feasts held in her honour for bringing rebirth of the plants and animals back to the land. Such festivals would have coincided with both the Hares and Lapwings breeding cycles, with forms full of eggs probably a common enough sight to be connected with Eostre.
As time went on newer faiths such as Christianity adopted both the spring ceremony and its rebirth message for their own religious figures, as well as the symbol of Hares and Eggs, particularly in Germanic areas. And while the Christian Easter now has a changeable date connected ironically enough to celestial events revolving around the Vernal Equinox, the pagan imagery relating to Eostre has survived.
To that end I took a look on the internet and found some things about the Christian viewing of the pagan aspects of Easter that made me, as an eclectic wiccan, shudder. There were sites suggesting that the Easter Bunny should be removed from Christian imagery, that Christians had the sole rite to celebrate Easter, even that Pagan beliefs had nothing to do with the creation of the holiday. While the story of Jesus being crucified on the cross is indeed an image unique to the Abrahamic faiths, and may even be inspired by a true person, the rebirth is likely an adaptation of either Eostre or an even older pagan figure. In essence Easter should be a celebration of the intertwining of faith, with both the Christian and Pagan elements celebrated together in unison.
To that end I want to wish my Christian friends a Happy Easter, and my Wiccan friends a Merry (and much belated) Ostara.
2 - Smith, A. T.; Johnston, C. H. (2008). "Lepus europaeus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature
3 – Gruß vom Osterhasen: Oschter Haws Song : GERMAN WORLD MAGAZINE". Germanworldonline.com. 2011-04-23.
1 - http://www.mikerae.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/BL3A5659.jpg
2 - http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/naturelibrary/images/ic/464x261/e/eu/european_hare/european_hare_map.gif
3 - https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3737/14310280575_f9b4ed3994_b.jpg
4 - http://www.martinridley.com/images/hares_plovers.jpg