We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rabbits in Mythology: The Story Behind the Moon Rabbit



As Wiccans, I am sure you are all familiar with the hare/rabbit and its' connection to the goddess Eostre, the Teutunic Lunar Goddess of Fertility. But, how many of you have ever heard the story of the "Moon Rabbit?"

The Moon Rabbit has a very ancient and colorful history indeed.  Based on the belief that identifies the various markings of the Moon as a rabbit, this tale exists in many different cultures, most especially in East Asian folklore and Aztec mythology.  In East Asia, the rabbit is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle, but the contents of the mortar vary among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore.  In the Chinese version, the rabbit is portrayed as a companian to the Moon goddess, Chang'e, and is constantly pounding the "elixir of life" for Her.  In Japanese and Korean folklore; however, it is pounding the ingredients for rice cake.


One of the earliest stories mentioned regarding this rabbit on the moon appears in the Chu Ci, a Western Han anthology of Chinese poems from the Warring States period which notes that, along with a toad, there is a rabbit on the Moon who continuously pounds herbs for immortals.  This idea is also supported by later texts which include the Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era encyclopedia of the Song Dynasty where Han Dynasty poets refer to the rabbit on the Moon as "Jade Rabbit" or the "Gold Rabbit," and these titles or phrases were often used in place of the word for the Moon.

In the Buddhist Sasajataka (Jataka Tale 316), a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit all agreed to practice charity on the day of the full moon, believing that a demonstration of great virture would earn them equally great reward.  When an old man begged them for food, the monkey gathered fruits from the trees, the otter collected fish, and the jackal wrongfully pilfered a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. The rabbit, who knew only how to gather grass, instead offered itself, sacrificing its' own body into the fire which the man had built. The rabbit, to everyone's surprise, was not burnt! The old man had then revealed himself to all to be Sakra. And, touched by the rabbit's virtue, he had decided to draw the likeness of the rabbit on the Moon for all to see. It is said that the lunar image is still draped in the smoke that rose when the rabbit cast itself into the fire.

There are similar legends which occur in Mexican folklore where people also identified the Moon's markings as a rabbit as well as the myth of the god Quetzalcoatl in Aztec legend. In more modern reference, the Chinese lunar rover Yutu, which landed on the Moon on December14th 2013, was named after the Jade Rabbit as a result of an online poll. 

And, speaking of spaceflight, the Moon Rabbit was also mentioned in the conversation between Houston and the crew of Apollo 11 just before the first Moon landing in 1969:

Houston:  "Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl named Chang-o has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companian, a large rabbit who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported."

Michael Collins:  "Okay, we'll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl."


  1. Kim, this is a fascinating post! I loved it! Thanks so much for sending me the link ;o) Big Hugs and many blessings ;o)

  2. Eggs, rabbits etc, All of them are fertility symbols... Easter --> Ishtar,,,,

  3. Great post, I really enjoyed it. I know a slightly different version of the rabbit and fire story, You can read it at my "Wiccan in Kyoto" blog.