Ghost Rabbit

October 25, 2019
Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Several years ago, I ran over a rabbit in the car on a lonely stretch of highway. I don’t remember what kind of rabbit; it wasn’t important at the time, probably not even to the rabbit. What mattered was that the rabbit was alive, and then it was dead.

As is typical of deserted roads in the Adirondacks, it was several miles before I could find a place to turn around, but I felt it was important to return, to take responsibility for my action, inadvertent as it was, and honor the life taken. When I returned I discovered the rabbit had hopped or been thrown to the side of the pavement, where it died. I was struck not with pity or regret or self-recrimination, but with confusion and then with wonder. Because the rabbit was not there. The body lay beside the road but the rabbit was gone gone gone. The rabbit had hopped away, with no attachment to the physical form or the place of death. Perhaps I could call its spirit back and ask forgiveness, but why do that, except to placate my own spirit? It happened. The rabbit had moved on. I needed to do the same.

I tend to think that the ease with which the rabbit slipped out the world had to do with the temporal nature of cornerstone species, their short lives making their foothold in this world a tentative one. I imagine that the long-lived elephant would leave with a long good-bye, especially from what I have read about elephant funerals and elephant graveyards. Then too, our North American leporidae are not social creatures, unlike elephants and Old World rabbits. A social hierarchy seems to anchor a species to the earth, creating as it does a more complex system of obligation.

Given the rabbit’s ease in slipping into the world of the dead, it is interesting that graveyards provide such a hospitable living environment for rabbits, hosting open grassy spaces in metropolitan or densely forested areas. While we usually think of bats and spiders at Halloween, the rabbit seems like a highly appropriate animal to meditate upon as the veil grows thin.

In my book, Invoking Animal Magic, I devote a whole chapter to folklore about rabbits and hares.

The Myriads of Wenut

March 6, 2015


If you’re wondering who Wenut is (and most people are), this is the name of the Egyptian hare goddess.

The Egyptians had a hare goddess?

Yes, her name is also spelled Wenet, if that clarifies things for you.

Wenut is considered an obscure goddess, and she gets little or no mention in my library of books on ancient Egypt, not even the books on animals or goddesses. Yet I have seen a fair number of leporids in Egyptian art, usually presented without explication. In some cases I am not sure that I’m really looking at a hare, because the desert foxes also have long ears, and the Jungle Cat is sometimes drawn with exaggerated ears to distinguish it from the Libyan Wildcat. Yet Egyptian drawing conventions are so standardized that I’m confident that most of these long-eared creatures are hares.

Hare funerary offering. 1500 BCE.
Hare funerary offering. 1500 BCE.

One explanation for the ubiquity of the hare is that it is the hieroglyph for a common verb or sound. For example, Hilary Wilson in Understanding Hieroglyphs writes that the symbol for the hare corresponds to the sound wen and is the verb for “being.” To me this explanation begs the question. Why would the hare correspond to a common verb if it were unimportant?

Furthermore, one of the provinces in northern Egypt was called Hare, and the city of Hermopolis within this province had a hare as its emblem. Hermopolis had the main temple to Wenut.

The litmus test for whether an animal (or anything else) had religious importance in Egypt is its presence in funerary materials, and here, too, the hare does not disappoint. Hares appear as votive offerings, and are mentioned in funerary texts as well as illustrations accompanying those texts. Spell 17 of The Book of the Dead says the “Swallower of Myriads” lives in the Lake of Wenut. There are other references to Wenut in the Book of the Dead and the Coffin Texts. Wenut is not prominent in funerary literature, to be sure, but neither is she trivial.

Cape Hare
Cape Hare

Meditating on Wenut, whose name means “the swift one,” is a reflection on the meaning of obscurity, for hares with their genius for camouflage have a tendency to hide in plain sight. Understanding Egyptian mysteries requires extraordinary perspicacity, because what is important is not so much hidden as overlooked.

March is a March Hare
Online Webinar
Monday, March 9, 2015
7:00 Eastern Time (Daylight Savings)
Cost $25
Webinar will be recorded

Register Here


Dunn, Jimmy. “El-Ashmuneim (Ancient Hermopolis)” in Tour Egypt.

Germond, Philippe. An Egyptian Bestiary: Animals in Life and Religion in the Land of the Pharaohs. Barbara Mellor, trans. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.

Houlihan, Patrick F. The Animal World of the Pharaohs. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Iles, Linda. “Wenet the Swift One” in Mirror of Isis vol. 5, Samhain 2010.

Bronze hare weight, Late Period.
Bronze hare weight, Late Period.
Goulet Jr., Ogden, et al, trans. The Egyptian Book of the Dead rev. ed. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015.

Lesko, Barbara. The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman, OK: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Wilson, Hilary. Understanding Hierogyphs: A Complete Introductory Guide. London: Brockhampton Press, 1993.

White Rabbits I Have Known

February 20, 2015

One of the things that fascinates me about hare magic is that it continues to evolve. In my book Invoking Animal Magic I put forth the theory that the hare is a vessel for whatever values are strong within a culture, whichever culture that is, and that the hare becomes denigrated when cultural values are undergoing a dramatic shift. In that sense the hare is a symbol of what the culture sees as its strength.

For the ancient Celts, that strength was prowess in warfare, particularly hand-to-hand combat. Here are two European Brown Hares duking it out.

These guys and ladies live in rough world. They fight in the spring, usually during March and April, during mating season. Males will fight other males, females not ready to mate will fend off males, females ready to mate will test males. Brown Hares are not the only species that fight, by the way, but they get the most camera footage.

Americans tend to conflate hares and rabbits, which sometimes irritates natives of the British Isles, but from a Eurocentric point of view a lot of our rabbits act like hares while our hares act like rabbits. We need to get technical for a moment here, however, in order to talk about a very famous hare battle, Monty Python’s Rabbit of Caerbannog. As rabbits had not made their way to Britain in King Arthur’s time, this leporid could only have been a hare. More importantly, King Arthur and his men would have been extremely suspicious of a hare guarding a cave. Here’s the skit:

Today rabbits are often synonymous with magic. While the rabbit hat trick is a standard illusion of magician-entertainers, the phrase “pulling a rabbit out of hat” is used to refer to any surprising and impressive feat that seems miraculous. Then there is the White Rabbit who starts Alice on her adventures when she chases him into his burrow, making “down the rabbit hole” a reference to a fantastic ineluctable journey.

White Rabbit illustration by John Tenniel from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
White Rabbit illustration by John Tenniel from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

On March 9, 2015 I will be hosting a webinar entitled “March is a March Hare,” where we will explore the magical significance of the rabbit/hare. While not neglecting traditional Pagan symbolism, this webinar will have more focus on modern interpretations than my other webinars, as I am interested in the evolving mysteries of the hare.

March is a March Hare
Monday, March 9, 2015, 7:00 pm EDT
Cost: $25
Webinar will be recorded
Register here