The Rabbit On The Moon
-By Angelique Duncan
Some folks look at the moon and see a Man in the Moon. Others see a rabbit. Depending on how one looks at it the rabbit on the moon takes different shape. The rabbit on the moon has appeared in many different cultures with varying explanations as to how he arrived to his lunar destination. In early Chinese texts a story is told that the rabbit is mixing herbs or medicine for the Gods or immortals and is seen as holding a mortar and pestle. Some say that the rabbit was put on the moon to dim it’s light as to not be brighter than the light of the sun.
A common folklore that has been repeated in Chinese, Japanese and South American cultures is that the rabbit’s image on the moon is in honor of a lone rabbits generosity and sacrifice. The story goes that a test is set upon three animals on a night with a full moon. In some tellings the rabbit’s companions are a fox and a monkey, in others it is an otter rather than a monkey. A weary traveler is starved and in need of nourishment. The fox gathers fruit for the traveler. The otter or monkey gathers fish. The rabbit with an inability to gather proper food other than blades of grass leaps into the fire that had been built and offers him self as the meal. A rendition of the fable tells that the fox and monkey refuse to help the traveler, yet the rabbit is willing to sacrifice himself. The traveler, who in some versions of the tale is the Buddha, sometimes the Śakra or other respected sage, reveals himself and is so touched by the rabbits generosity to make such a sacrifice of compassion removes the rabbit unharmed from the flames and bestows immortality on the rabbit through the moon.
In some versions the rabbit is lifted to the moon and returned to Earth. In other versions the rabbit is lifted to the moon to run free. Some say that the image of the rabbit on the moons surface is the reflection of the smoke from the fire and others say it is the Rabbits immortal spirit casting a shadow. In these the tales the rabbit’s image is a reminder of his compassion. The rabbit is sometimes perceived as running across the moon and sometimes seen as sitting in an upright position. Others see the rabbit as laying with paws tucked in.
Another fable tells of a rabbit who wanted to fly to the moon. No one was willing to make the journey to take him. Finally a crane offered to make the flight. They flew with the rabbit clinging to the cranes neck. The weight of the rabbit stretched out the cranes neck and legs. The rabbit clenched so tight to the crane one of his paws began to bleed. As they reached the moon the rabbit brushed the cranes head with a bloody paw as he reached out to touch the surface. It is said that this is why cranes have stretched legs and necks as well as the red spot on their heads; it is a reminder of the brave journey made to help the rabbit. When the moon is full one can still see the rabbit who rode to the moon.
Image copyright 2014 Michelle Angelique Duncan
Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.