At this time of year the shops are full of chocolate easter eggs and bunnies.
Around this time, the Spring Equinox, is the feast of the Spring Goddess known as Eostre or Ostara. The christian Easter festival takes both its name and its timing by the moon from this ancient Goddess.
In many cultures the egg is the obvious symbol of new life. At this season the birds are nesting and laying eggs, and there are many ancient legends which say that the Universe first appeared in the form of an egg, which then cracks open to reveal and release the stars and planets.
In ancient Greek myth it was Cronos, Old Father Time, who was originally a giant serpent, who wrapped his coils around the cosmic egg, together with his wife the equally serpentine Ananke (Inevitability). Their movements cracked open the egg, giving birth to the Universe and it is said that it is their undulations which keep the planets rotating and spinning about the sun.
This is a very similar tale to one of the ancient Egyptian myths which says that the Great Cackler, a giant goose, laid the cosmic egg on the only piece of dry land which had risen from the waters of chaos.
In Voodoo the serpents are Damballah and his wife Aida-Wedo, the Rainbow Serpent. The pictograph or veve for Damballah is an egg with a serpent wrapped around it.
So why do we have eggs and rabbits in our shops? From all the foregoing it would seem that we should have chocolate serpents to go with our eggs.
The rabbit or hare is another creature associated with Spring time. If you are very lucky, at this time of year you may come across pairs of hares boxing in the fields, these were known as Mad March Hares. It was thought that these were male hares, competing for the right to mate, but we now know that these are pairs of male and female hares. The female is fending off the amorous male by boxing him until she is ready to mate.
The hare or rabbit is also associated with the Moon and the Moon Goddess. In China it is the shape of the Moon Hare that people can pick out on the surface of the Moon. The rabbit/hare is said to be the messenger of the Moon Goddess - although he is not altogether a reliable one.
One story I heard is that the Goddess was awake in early Spring and walking through the forest came across a little bird which had died from the cold.The Goddess felt that at this time of new life, no creature should die, so she breathed into the bird and brought it back to life. But then she thought to herself, that as it was still liable to be cold and frosty, to give the creature a better chance of survival perhaps it ought to have a fur coat rather than feathers. So she turned it into a rabbit.
But the little creature was now rather confused, and every year around the festival of Eostre, the rabbit of the Goddess lays a nest of eggs, and anyone who finds them is especially blessed.