Monday, October 24, 2011

Rabbits and Symbols

I found this in the Egypt Museum in Turin and took a detail shot. It looks like it's on stone but as I recall the material is painted fabric. Ever since I became interested in rabbits I wanted to have a look at their place in history. So when I'm in a museum, I have a small side project! Rabbits are the third most popular pet after cats and dogs - but alas they are also the most ill treated. Rabbits are prey animals and don't like being picked up - so they are probably not suitable for very young children. Often they are kept in cages that are too small and fed food that is totally inappropriate. Yet they are very companionable, affectionate and rewarding pets, if treated carefully and thoughtfully. Rabbits and hares have been around for 55 million years. They were venerated in Ancient Egypt and throughout the Celtic world they had great respect. Because of their cleverness and speed, rabbits were thought to have the ability to shape shift or turn into people and back again. As moon creatures, rabbits come out at night to play and they can vanish at will. There are quite a few cultural prohibitions on eating rabbits. Shi'ite peasants of Anatolia refuse to eat hare because they believe it is a reincarnation of Ali, who intercedes between the Prophet and his True Believers. Although there is definitely one Rabbit Goddess, Unut from the Greco-Romano period in Egypt, the Aztec believed that not one but 400 rabbits guarded their crops. But like all good symbols, rabbits are ambivalent. They can be either wise and productive or lazy and idle. In other words, they hop from one side to another!