Rabbits are sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and marriage -- for rabbits have “the gift of Aphrodite” (fertility) in great abundance. In ancient Greece, the gift of a rabbit was a common love token from a man to his male or female lover; in Rome, the gift of a rabbit was intended to help a barren wife conceive. Carvings of rabbits eating grapes and figs appear on both Greek and Roman tombs, where they symbolize the transformative cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
Hares are associated with the Artemis, goddess of wild places and the hunt, and newborn hares are not to be killed but left to her protection. In Teutonic myth, the earth and sky goddess Holda, leader of the Wild Hunt, is followed by a procession of hares bearing torches. Although she has descended into a witch–like figure and boogeyman of children’s tales, she was once revered as a beautiful, powerful goddess in charge of weather phenomena. Freyja, the headstrong Norse goddess of love, sensuality and women’s mysteries, is also served by hare attendants. She travels with a sacred hare and boar in a chariot drawn by cats.
Kaltes, the shape–shifting moon goddess of western Siberia, likes to roam the hills in the form of a hare, although she is usually pictured in human form, wearing a headdress with hare’s long ears. Ostara, the goddess of the moon, fertility and spring in Anglo–Saxon myth, is often depicted with a hare’s head or ears, and with a white hare standing in attendance. This magical white hare lays brightly colored eggs which, in centuries past, were given out to children during spring fertility festivals. This ancient tradition that survives in the form of the Easter Bunny today.
If you'd like to read more about the folklore of our leaping, hopping, cotton-tailed cousins, I recommend The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans & David Thomson, and Rabbits Everywhere by Alicia Ezpeleta.
My bedroom here in Tucson is in a former horse barn, surrounded by mountains, cacti, and wildlife. In the morning, the desert beyond my porch is hoppin' with white-tailed desert bunnies, ignoring me and going about their business as I drink my morning coffee. . . .
"Rabbit Maiden," from a desert sketchbook
I've just traveled from Dartmoor back to the Arizona desert...from deep green hills to dusty blue mountains...from sheep in the fields to coyotes in the wash. My eyes are still adjusting to a subtler color palette; my body is adjusting to the time zone change; and I have to keep reminding myself which side of the road to drive on in my battered old pick-up truck.
Here's a drawing of a shy desert spirit, related to the mule-eared deer who delicately pick their way through a prickly terrain of cactus, creos0te, and scrub. She's a melancholy soul -- probably because I'm missing someone who is an ocean away.