Playboy Bunny, perhaps, is the most popular reference to rabbits, alluding playful sexuality. This relates, in a way, to the perception of innocence and to rabbits’ repute as a prolific breeder. Western Europe regards these small mammals as emblematic of fertility or rebirth, having been allied with spring and Easter. Moreover, rabbits usually are looked upon as prey animals. This aspect too, symbolizes innocence, an Easter connotation.
Mystical beliefs about rabbits and hare are present even in Aztec mythology which mentions the presence of 400 rabbit gods, led by Ometotchtli, meaning Two Rabbit. Ometotchtli represented fertility, parties as well as drunkenness. In Jewish folklore, rabbits are associated with weakness and cowardice. According to the Native American Ojibwe myths, Nanabozho (Great Rabbit) is one of the chief deities who has a hand in the creating the world.
Bunny or rabbit was documented as an Easter symbol in the late 1500s in Germany and the Germans were also the first ones to create edible Easter bunnies in the 1800s. The Pennsylvania Dutch are credited to have carried the ‘Easter Bunny’ concept from Europe to the US in the 1700s.
Rabbits and eggs are emblems of Eostre or Ostara, the fertility goddess. The moon is also one of her symbol in which, some cultures discern a rabbit and not a face. Eggs too symbolize the moon and forms the ultimate icon of creation and new life. The basket is symbolic of the womb which carries this new life. The Feast Day, believed by most as initiated by Christ, is actually a pagan custom, celebrated much before Jesus Christ. However, the purpose of both, the pagan symbolic feast and the Resurrection day was to celebrate the birth of life and the hope of persistence.
A rabbit’s foot has, since a very long time, been considered lucky. In the 7th century BC, rabbit were looked upon as talismanic symbols in Africa and Celtic Europe. Their foot was considered ‘handy’ in benefiting from the animal’s luck.
The reason for the assumption of a rabbit’s foot being lucky stemmed from the conviction on a religion called animalism. This religion, practiced in Europe, Africa, North and South America, believed that spirits resided in nature, including plants, animals, rocks as well as water. These traditional beliefs did not fade even at the onset of Christianity and Islam. As Christianity spread through Europe, old Celtic beliefs got linked to hell. Rabbits, it was believed, had protective powers, therefore, a rabbit’s foot came to be regarded as a shield against evil spirits.
Other civilizations, too, associated rabbit’s foot with luck. For instance, the Chinese see it as a symbol of prosperity. Since, rabbits are known for their proclivity, some cultures consider the animal’s foot to be good for enhancing reproduction potentials. In the ancient times, women carried the rabbit’s foot to improve their sexuality. The rabbit’s procreative potentials were also linked to fertility of crops, abundance and pleasant weather.
Certain other traditions use a variation of this myth. Certain civilizations believe that only the left hind of the animal is lucky. Others believe in shooting rabbits only during the full moon phase with a silver bullet.