The Garden Gate: Easter Bunny's all in the stars

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By Ellen Probert Williamson

Easter traditions and religious references are everywhere right now, and lilies and churchly references are universal.  

So how did rabbits get in the picture? And how could a rabbit lay many-colored eggs?

The Easter Bunny legend finds its roots in the mythology of a constellation of stars. In this case it is the constellation of Lupus the Hare.

In Greco-Roman mythology, Hermes, messenger to the Olympian gods, placed Lupus among the stars to honor its swiftness.

It is often considered to be the prey of the hunter Orion and his very large dog, Canis Major.

Other cultures had some different stories associated with these same stars. Ancient Egypt imagined not a hare, but a boat for Osiris.

The Arabic people believed the four brilliant stars in the Lupus constellation represented four camels drinking from the river Eridanus.

In Anglo-Saxon mythology, the hare was actually a bird that was transformed by Ostara, the goddess of spring.

To compensate for its new inability to fly, Ostara gave the hare speed and agility.

Legend says that once a year, in the spring, the hare could lay eggs the way it did when it was a bird and they would be brightly colored.

So, in the spring, people would hunt for the eggs laid by the hare, or as we say today, by the Easter Bunny.

Every March we all, whatever our own ethnic heritage may be, become enthusiastically Irish. Green is the color of everything, and shamrocks become the flower of the month.

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Legend has it that the good saint used the trifolate leaves of the shamrock to illustrate sermons about the Trinity.

Irish peasants put shamrock leaves in their shoes to ward off evil spirits. Finding a four-leaved clover or shamrock was, and still is, considered a sign of good luck.

Shamrocks are a variety of Oxalis, or clover, with little white or yellow flowers.

They do well outdoors but are not very long-lived as house plants, even though the stores are full of them in March in little pots with green ribbons around them.

Shamrocks are the national flower of Ireland, and the state flower of Vermont.

Shamrocks, or Oxalis, were an old Druidic mystic emblem in Ireland, the symbol of the Sunwheel, long before 432 A.D.

St. Patrick, preaching before a powerful chieftan and his people, was asked, “How can one be three?”

St. Patrick, searching for a simple and easily understood answer, looked down and saw a shamrock. He gathered it up and held it before the chieftan.

“Here in this leaf,” he said, “three in one, the old lucky symbol of the sunwheel, three parts in one, divisible, yet indivisible.”

The point was made.

There are all kinds of images connected with March. Lions and lambs. The bridge between the seasons. The voice of the turtledove. And of course, the wearing of the green on St. Patrick’s Day.

March in the Native American calendar is called the month of the awakening moon, recognizing that the most significant thing about this month is that in it the transition from winter dormancy to spring flowering takes place with both plants and animals.

In the Chinese flower calendar the flower for March and spring is the tree peony, symbol of love and affection.

In Japan, the cherry blossom is the flower for March.

The trees are beginning to bud and before many weeks will be in full leaf.

Most of us look forward to summer’s green leaves, forgetting all about what a pain it was to rake them all up last fall.

According to Professor T.M. Das of the University of Calcutta in India, a tree living for 50 years will generate $31,750 worth of oxygen to provide $62,500 worth of air pollution control, regulate soil erosion and increase soil fertility to the worth of $32,250, recycle $32,500 worth of water and provide a home for animals and birds worth $31,250.

This list does not include the value of fruits, lumber or beauty of the tree. So one tree could be said to be worth nearly $200,000.

Even though the last of winter’s chill lingers on, the unmistakable signs of spring are burgeoning on all sides. There are the very first of the wildflowers in the woods and in our gardens the crocuses have given way to forsythia and daffodils.

It will not be so very long before we will welcome violets and forget-me-nots and dogwoods and we look forward to fruit blossoms and the little faces of pansies.

From shamrocks, clover and blossoming trees and the vegetable seed packets on grocery store shelves, we look forward to summer and the showers and sunshine of April.

An Irish blessing says, “May the love and protection of St. Patrick be yours in abundance as long as you live.”

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Ellen Probert Williamson lives in Kingston. Her column appears regularly in the Roane County News.