Thank you, Harvey—I prefer you too!
–Elwood P. Dowd (not to be confused with J. R. Bob Dobbs)
Thanks to the movie Donnie Darko, human-sized rabbits—once the purview of Easter photo-ops and “nice” flicks like 1950’s Harvey—have taken on somewhat of a sinister cast. But if you haven’t yet picked up on the more unsettling—or at least uncanny—aspects of Oryctolagus cuniculus, you haven’t been paying attention!
Let’s start with the most common symbolic use of the rabbit—fertility. Known for their prodigious and rapid breeding skills, the creatures were a natural for the Spring season that kicks off on the Vernal Equinox & has been syncretized over time with the Christian holiday Easter.
Often paired with the image of the egg (because of course all rabbits lay multi-colored chocolate eggs) and connected to female deities such as Aphrodite and the Virgin Mary, bunnies are this symbol of fertility, rebirth (we’ll get back to this attribute shortly), and abundance.
But that’s just the first layer.
Doing more research, you find that the nocturnal rabbit is also a symbol of the moon…and death/resurrection. (The moon which “dies” every morning only to be reborn in the evening)
And so we start to get into Jesus territory…bringing us again right smack in the middle of the Spring season (specifically, from late March/Vernal Equinox, through Easter, to the start of May/Beltane).
Now, rabbits were apparently even used in ancient Egypt to symbolize Osiris—hares sacrificed in his place in Nile rituals. Even Buddhism connects the animal to the concept of self-sacrifice (as of course the rabbit-suited character Frank in Donnie Darko, with his shot-out eye, was a type of sacrificial symbol; and Elmer Fudd continually seeks to “sacrifice” Bugs Bunny).
In the Middle Ages, the rabbit burrow was explicitly connected to Christ’s tomb—the “Rabbit Hole.” And if you find yourself caught in a rabbit hole (possibly poking your head where it’s not supposed to be), you may acquaint yourself with the 3rd major symbolism of the rabbit—Trickster.
Because the rabbit is not a “clean,” easy-going sorta resurrection type figure. He’s adept at traveling the underground and above-ground worlds. He can be somewhat “crafty”…
…and even exuding a sexuality a bit on the androgynous side.
The trickster god and shape-shifter, per Native American mythology. The pooka, per Celtic folklore; inspiration for Harvey, inspiration for Frank. The creature that famously leads Alice into another dimension of reality, and then gets a “callback” in the 1999 movie The Matrix.
Is it any wonder that the “birth date” for Bugs Bunny is April 30th—the day Hitler allegedly shot himself in the head, the day Saigon fell, the day the electron was discovered, the day Washington takes his oath to become 1st president of the United States…the day Richard M. Nixon announced White House Counsel John Dean was fired & aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman had resigned, pretty much sealing his fate.
April 30th, when Walpurgisnacht—”Witches’ Night”—is celebrated.
The rabbit is available to those who want to take the true initiation—an imitation of Jesus in a mystery school ritual, in the cave/hole & emerging anew. Reborn. Like Christ, it offers his body to eat in an Easter sacrament (the chocolate bunny). The walker between worlds, as Frank did in Donnie Darko and Roger Rabbit had done before him.
And every resurrection is made from the “dirt,” as it were…creeping up from the soil, from the remains of the dead, in this eternal paradox that we celebrate each year, around this very time.
Do you choose to follow it?