Rabbit in the moon
February 3, 2011 marked the beginning of the Chineese Year of the rabbit, and since Ostara is coming up, it's a good time to look at how the "ostara bunny" came to be. The name for this Ostara actually comes from that of the Teutonic lunar Goddess, Eostre. Her chief symbols were the bunny (for fertility and because the Ancient Ones who worshipped her often saw the image of a rabbit in the full moon and the egg representing the cosmic egg of creation. It is commonly believed that this is where the customs of "Easter Eggs" and the "Easter Bunny" originated, but if you dig deeper you'll find Rabbit Lore going back to the Pre-Aztec era.
The Moon rabbit (also called the Jade Rabbit) lives on the moon. Dating back as far as 278 BC and based on pareidolia that identifies the markings of the moon as a rabbit. The story exists in many cultures, particularly in East Asian folklore, where it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle. In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the moon goddess Chang'e, constantly pounding the elixir of life (immortality) for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions it is just pounding the ingredients for rice cake.
A famous poet of the Tang Dynasty period, Li Bai, relates how: "The rabbit in the moon pounds the medicine in vain" in his poem "The Old Dust " about a White Rabbit in the Moon making the elixir of immortality. A monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the day of the full moon (Uposatha), believing a demonstration of great virtue would earn a great reward.
When an old man begged for food, the monkey gathered fruits from the trees and the otter collected fish, while the jackal wrongfully pilfered a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. The rabbit, who knew only how to gather grass, instead offered its own body, throwing itself into a fire the man had built. The rabbit, however, was not burnt. The old man revealed himself to be the God and, touched by the rabbit's virtue, drew the likeness of the rabbit on the moon for all to see. It is said the lunar image is still draped in the smoke that rose when the rabbit cast itself into the fire.
Similar legends occur in Mexican folklore, where people also identified the markings on the moon as a rabbit. According to an Aztec legend, the god Quetzalcoatl, then living on Earth as a man, started on a journey and, after walking for a long time, became hungry and tired. With no food or water around, he thought he would die. Then a rabbit grazing nearby offered himself as food to save his life. Quetzalcoatl, moved by the rabbit's noble offering, elevated him to the moon, then lowered him back to Earth and told him, "You may be just a rabbit, but everyone will remember you; there is your image in light, for all men and for all times."
Another Mesoamerican legend tells of the brave and noble sacrifice of Nanahuatzin during the creation of the fifth sun. Humble Nanahuatzin sacrificed himself in fire to become the new sun, but the wealthy god Tecciztecatl hesitated four times before he finally set himself alight to become the moon. Due to Tecciztecatl's cowardice, the gods felt that the moon should not be as bright as the sun, so one of the gods threw a rabbit at his face to diminish his light. It is also said that Tecciztecatl was in the form of a rabbit when he sacrificed himself to become the moon, casting his shadow there.
A Native American (Cree) legend tells a different variation, about a young rabbit who wished to ride the moon. Only the crane was willing to take him. The trip stretched Crane's legs as the heavy rabbit held them tightly, leaving them elongated as crane's legs are now. When they reached the moon Rabbit touched Crane's head with a bleeding paw, leaving the red mark cranes wear to this day. According to the legend, Rabbit still rides the moon to this day.