When we think of Easter, the “Easter Bunny” is a main topic for festivity and play.
In ancient Egypt, the rabbit, or hare, was the Goddess Wenet. The Egyptians venerated the hare because of its swiftness and keen senses. The hare’s form was also taken by other deities who had associations with the Otherworld. In one scene from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a hare-headed god, a snake-headed god, and a bull-headed god sit side by side; a hare-headed deity also guards one of the Seven Halls in the Underworld.
Wenet is further described in a portion of spell 17 of the Book of the Dead, which reads: “…Who is he? ‘Swallower of Myriads’ is his name, and he dwells in the Lake of Wenet…” To interpret the meaning of this passage, one remembers that hares can swim, and the Egyptian creation first came about in the watery abyss of Nun, out of which rose the primordial mound where newly born gods manifested. To “dwell in the Lake of Wenet” means to live renewed, revitalized, to be reborn, to live, forever and ever, renewed after death, as the god Atum-Re. Spell 17 goes on to identify the dweller in the Lake of Wenet as Atum-Re, the creator of all, whose father is said to be Nun, because he rose out of the “watery abyss.”
Other passages in the Book of the Dead mention Wenet. Spell 149 describes the “Mound of Wenet” though which the spirit travels to be reborn, rejuvenated while in the Otherworld or Duat:
“…As for that Mound of Wenet which is in front of Rosetjau, its breath is fire, and the gods cannot get near it, the spirits cannot associate with it; there are four cobras on it whose names are ‘Destruction.’ O Mound of Wenet, I am the greatest of the spirits who are in you, I am among the Imperishable Stars who are in you, and I will not perish, nor will my name perish. ‘O savour of a god!’ say the gods who are in the Mound of Wenet. If you love me more than your gods, I will be with you for ever…”
Not only is the Mound of Wenet a site of sacred creative energy, the ability of the hare to elude destruction, shows the Goddess Wenet, as associated with the hare, to provide a haven for the spirit, where it is rejuvenated on its journey through the Otherworld, a place where it cannot perish.
“In many ancient civilizations the hare is a “lunar animal,” because the dark patches (maria, “seas”) on the surface of the full moon suggest leaping hares….In Buddhist, Celtic, Hottentot and ancient Egyptian cultures as well, the hare was associated with the moon…known for it’s vigilance and for the myth of it sleeping with it’s eyes open. The early Christian Physiologus mentions a further peculiarity of the hare: with its shorter front legs, it can run fastest uphill, eluding its pursuers…It’s speed and vigilance, according to Plutarch (AD 46 – 120), have a “divine” quality…A trickster figure, the hare outwits larger and stronger animals…For psychologically oriented symbologists, neither the speed nor the “timidity” of the hare is critical, but rather the rate at which it multiplies: this makes the animal a symbol of fertility…”
~ Biedermann, in the Dictionary of Symbolism
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