The Toad and the Hare

The Toad
The Hare

The Toad

How to see the toad in the moon
Click here for picture

The Kimbundu tribe of Angola tell the following story:
Once upon a time, there was a king of the whole world, who had only one son. When the time came for his son to marry, the son declared that he would only marry the daughter of the king of the moon.
No one knew the path to the moon except for the frog, who offered to travel to the moon with a letter.
The frog knew that the Moon king's daughters descended to earth every day, to gather water from a clear spring on a wooded hill.
The next day, when the daughters of the moon king went to gather water, the frog hid in one of their buckets, and was carried up to the moon. The frog delivered his message and returned carrying a letter from the moon king, agreeing to the marriage, a large dowry of gold coins, and the title of "Mainu, Ambassador to the court of the Moon King".
When the frog returned he feasted on pork* and chicken. Secretly though, no one really trusted the frog, but two days later, the Moon Princess descended on a thread woven by the spider who lives in the moon [3]. (The crater "Tycho" has streaks of impact debris around it, making it look rather like a spider hanging on a thread).
The Machiguenga of Peru have a legend that the Moon once descended to earth and aquired a taste for corpses (The moon is often associated with death and resurrection). Moon (who they consider to be masculine, and the father of the sun) Set up a fish trap across a river, to catch the corpses floating downstream. ( The Machiguenga dispose of their dead by casting them into rivers ). A toad sat by the trap and kept watch, croaking: "Tantanaroki-iroki, Tantanaroki-iroki" Which means literally "The toad Tantanaroki and it's eye " [5]

These are two of many legends in which the moon is associated with a frog or toad. There are several reasons for this: Toads are amphibious, spend the first part of their lives underwater and shed their skins, all of which are symbolic of resurrection. The main reason, however becomes clear if you look at the full moon. The body of the toad is formed from the Oceanus Procellarum, the Mare humorum and the Mare Nubium, with the Mare Imbrium marking its head (Click here to see the toad in the moon)
There is even a floating corpse washed up on a fish trap nearby. This is the man in the moon . Some people see a frog formed from the Mare Serenitatis, Mare Tranquilitatis, Mare Nectaris and Mare foecunditatis. It is not clear from many legends, which toad is being referred to. I am sure that the Machiguenga legend refers to the toad formed from the Oceanus Procellarum and Mare Nubium.

For more on images seen in the craters of the moon, see the sections on The Man in the Moon, The Utchat and The Crab and the Bookworm, or click here for pictures)

In China it is said that the toad was once a woman who had given away the dew of immortality (see the link below for more on Chinese moon legends). It is also said that the toad has three legs. Some "experts" say that this is symbolic of the three phases of the moon. Ignore them. The toad has three legs. That's all there is to it!

ceramic 3 legged toads feature as part of Chinese tea sets and have powerful Feng shui . They often have 7 stars representing the constellation of the plough on their back. Three legged toads are said to bring wealth when they appear at full moon. They remind me of a recurring nightmare i used to have.

According to the Sunday Times of September 13th 1998, there is a rock shaped like a toad near to the village of Alcala de la Selva in Eastern Spain. According to legend, anyone touching the toad during full moon becomes a vigorous lover. The previous Sunday, 1000 people had turned up for the ceremony. Benito Ros, the major of Alcala, said he touched the stone, but not to enhance his performance in bed. " I have four children," he said "I don't need any more fertility".

I think that this would be a good time to mention "Still life with woodpecker" by Tom Robbins
, because it is a rather eccentric novel, which seems relevant to this section of the website. The story concerns (among other things) the moon, the story of the frog prince, Camels (cigarettes not dromedaries), love, the difference between outlaws and criminals (the main character has a number of similarities to the unabomber) and having red hair .

"Frogs: Art, Legend and History" by Patrizia Ribuoli and Marina Robbiani (Bullfinch Press, 1990) has loads of pictures of frogs in art, jewelery and sculpture from all over the world and all ages of history, as well as fairy tales and legends. [top]

The hare

How to see the hare in the moon
George Ewart Evans and David Thomson [12] comment that "....the moon and the hare occur together in myth and folklore - in India, China, Africa, Mexico, North America and Europe; and the immediate question we have to answer is: why is it the hare rather than any other creature that is so identified?" They devote a whole chapter to this question, but fail to find the correct answer.

There is an old African legend, found in many different versions in different parts of Africa, which goes something like this:
Shortly after the creation of the world, the moon goddess decided to make mankind immortal, and so she sent a wise but slow toad down to earth, with the following message:

"People will not die for ever, but come back to life like the moon"
The toad wandered off and 14 days later reached earth. However, in the mean time, the moon goddess grew impatient, and began to wonder if the toad had got lost along the way, and so she sent the fast but foolish hare after him with the same message. The hare rushed off before he had memorised it properly, overtook the toad and delivered the message:
"The moon says that you will all die forever"
The toad arrived later, but the damage was already done, and from that day forth, we have all been mortal. The Moon Goddess hit the hare with a stick, splitting his lip. The hare ran off and is still running to this day
**. [3].

In many African legends, the hare plays a "trickster" role. Slaves may have carried these stories across the Atlantic, giving rise to Brer Rabbit.
This story also seems to have inspired "Masquerade" by Kit Williams, in which the moon sends her two messengers, the hare and the toad, to the sun, with a jewel, which will be his if he can find the answer to a riddle:

"Fifty is my first,
Nothing is my second,
Five just makes my third,
My fourth a vowel is reckoned"

"Now to find my name,
Fit my parts together,
I die if I get cold,
But never fear cold weather."

But when the hare reaches the sun, at the end of the book, he says:

"Great lord Sun, I bring you a precious gift from a noble and gracious lady, and it would be yours if it were not the answer to this riddle:

"Fifty is my first,
Nothing is my second,
A snake will make my third,
Then three parts a cross is reckoned.
Now to find my name, fit my parts together,
I am all your past, and you fear me in cold weather?"

Once again, the hare has messed up and garbled the message!

The hare is much easier to see than the toad. Its head and ears are formed from the
Mare Tranquilitatis, the Mare Foecunditatis and the Mare Nectaris. The tail (or bun***) is the mare Nubium. The hare appears to be holding an egg (the Mare Imbrium). Some people imagine this group of craters to look like a donkey [11] (click here to see the hare)

The Sanscrit word for the moon is "Cacin" , which means "That marked with the hare". Baring-Gould misinterpreted the Indian legends of the hare in the moon, believing the hare to be the same as the man in the moon's dog [9].

There are also legends of a hare or rabbit in the moon from China. Chang Ki'en is said to have seen the hare when he visited the moon.

In Japan, the hare is called Tsukoyomi ( Moon-counter or Moon-bow ), and is said to have killed Ukemochi the rice goddess [4]. (perhaps this represents the harvesting of rice with a sickle****). Tsukoyomi is often portrayed pounding rice in a pestle and mortar. The characters for "moon" and "pounding rice" are similar in Japanese. This may be a pun, or the connection between the moon, the hare and rice may have influenced the development of the written language*****. In many legends from around the world, crop plants are believed to have originated in the moon. The Machiguenga imagine, manioc, potatos and maize to be the daughters of the moon [5]

In Shanghai, on the 15th day of the 1st Lunar month, is the Yuanxiao lantern festival, in which lanterns, mostly in the shape of rabbits are carried through the streets. This generally falls fairly close to Easter.

The Mayans often pictured the moon goddess accompanied by a hare. For more on this subject, click here

Osiris was sometimes called Wepuat or Un-nefer, and portrayed with the head of a hare (click here. for a picture ) See also The Stairway to heaven

The Tinner's guild of Devon and Cornwall carved their badge of three rabbits or hares (click here for picture) in a number of West Country churches. I suspect that this is mainly because miners and rabbits both dig tunnels, but the Tinners are linked to the Birmingham Lunar Society, through Rudolph Erich Raspe

The tinners rabbit symbol is extremely widespread, examples have been found from Iran, China and Mongolia. It seems to be mostly found near to the "silk road".

According to the Encyclopaedia Britanica, the connection between the moon and the hare, originated in Ancient Egypt and resulted from the chance similarity between the words for "hare" and "period". I must disagree: The Egyptian word "un" did mean "hare" and "period", but I don't believe that this is coincidence*****. Rabbits and hares are also obviously excellent fertility symbols (frogs and toads are also highly fertile, as anyone who has collected frogspawn will know).[top]

In Europe hares are surrounded by a lot of strange folklore. At harvest time, the cutting of the last sheaf of corn was called cutting the hare. In some places the reapers would all stand around and throw their sickles at the "hare"[13]. In the light of this, the Irish story of The Liar is quite interesting


I need to say something at this point about Easter and Oestra. When I first dabbled in this subject I encountered a lot of books and websites stating the same "well known facts": That there was a goddess Oestra or Ostara, she was associated with hares, or even had the head of a hare. She was an Anglo Saxon goddess of the moon and/or spring time and/or fertility who gave her name to the festival of Easter.

However I had great difficulty tracking down sources for these claims, everyone was quoting someone else. So I was already pretty sceptical when a message went viral on facebook declaring that Easter was named after the Goddess Ishtar a.k.a Isis
So time to set the record straight. All we know about Eostre comes from St. Bede. in his De Temporum Ratione ("On the Reckoning of Time"), He says of the Anglo Saxon calendar:

"The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath [.....] Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month" and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance."

That's it. Nothing else to go on. Some have even suggested that Bede was making stuff up. He also says that Hrethmonath is named after the goddess Hretha, of whom we also know nothing else. IMO it's entirely possible that there were two goddesses being worshipped in England in the dark ages whose cults have disappeared without trace. Most of what we know of "Norse mythology" is actually Icelandic mythology, written down by a Christian bishop at the end of the pagan era. Bishop Snorri Sturlesson's eddas shouldn't be taken as a comprehensive guide to the beliefs of all Germanic people from Ukraine to Newfoundland over more than 1000 years. Hretha and Eostre may have been local names for better known goddesses such as Hulda or Freya.
In the 19th century Jacob Grimm speculated that there had been a Germanic goddess called Oestre/Eostre/Ostara, and that her symbol was the hare. It was in my opinion a fairly reasonable speculation. It would be surprising if Europeans DIDN'T have a moon goddess associated with hares, everyone other continent does! Hard evidence however is lacking.

After much searching I found what was claimed to be a picture of the goddess, not hare headed but wearing a hood with the ears of a hare, you can view it here. It is apparently actually the Saxon Moon GOD Mani. What the ears represent I don't know.

The word Oestrogen probably derives from a word for gadfly (meaning frenzied passion), not from Eostre.

It's tempting to connect Eostre with the Greek goddess Eos (dawn) and words like East, but stuff like this is still being debated. Many of the fallacies I discussed above have been spread by neo pagans keen to reclaim Easter as a pagan festival. Others have been spread by Christian cults who reject the festival of Easter as pagan.
Romano inscriptions have been unearthed from 2nd Century AD Germany mentioning a Goddess named Mother Austriahenea. Is she the same as Ostara/Eostre? The jury is still out. I've put links to a couple of sceptical websites at the bottom of the page

So what can we say about Easter and hares? The hare was said to lay an egg at Easter. This legend probably originates from the similarity between the lapwings nest (little more than a hollow in the grass) and a Hares form (resting place). ( Robert Graves had a lot to say about the Lapwing, but I'll leave it to him to say it). This is probably also the origin of the Easter bunny, until recently folklorists were unable to find references to the Easter Bunny any earlier than "Scribners Illustrated Magazine for boys and girls" in 1909******[7] .....but update: there is evidence for the easter bunny type traditions going back to the 1600's in Germany...which is still a long way off saying that it is a pagan tradition. Some experts say that the hare was sacred to the ancient Britons (Julius Caesar said as much in Gallic wars V 12), while others say that it was introduced by the Romans (As Charles Fort wrote: "For every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert"). Generally, these legends are taken to refer to the Brown Hare, and this is the variety which may have been introduced, but there is also a type of hare native to Ireland, and the Mountain Hare of Northern England and Scotland which changes from white to blue/grey with the seasons. Perhaps it was the mountain hare which was sacred

Charles Bilston (link below) collected a lot of interesting hare folklore, including numerous traditions of people ritually hunting and eating hares in Springtime. He cautiously summarised Grimm's theory but admitted that the evidence was lacking and that other experts were sceptical. One of the most interesting comments in his essay is:
"The hare is said to have been sacrificed to the goddess Flora; and at the Floralia there were hunting games in the circus, at which, instead of wild African beasts, goats and hares were driven into the net."
Flora was a Roman goddess of flowers, her festival, the Floralia was celebrated on April 27th. He gives his sources as "Phaedrus, translated by Riley (Bohn), 1853, p. 450, note." and "Ovid, Fasti, Lib. v, 371-2." I've provided a link below. Floralia wasn't a solar-lunar festival though, it fell closer to Mayday.

Hares and goats? That rings a bell:

"The love-chase is, unexpectedly, the basis of the Coventry legend of Lady Godiva. The clue is provided by a miserere-seat in Coventry Cathederal, paralleled elsewhere in Early English grotesque wood-carving which shows what the guide-books call 'a figure emblematic of lechery':a long-haired woman wrapped in a net, riding sideways on a goat and preceded by a hare. Gaster in his stories from the Jewish Targum, collected all over Europe, tells the story of a woman who when given a love-test by her royal lover, namely to come to him 'nither clothed nor unclothed, neither on foot or on horseback, nither on water or on dry land, neither with or without a gift' arrived dressed in a net, mounted on a goat, with one foot trailing in the ditch, and releasing a hare." - Robert Graves The White Goddess

Lady Godiva was a real person. The story of her naked ride through Coventry probably isn't true. The event was commemorated on May 31st.

So maybe we are barking up the wrong tree. Instead of looking for a hypothetical Germanic Goddess Ostara to explain the pagan elements of Easter, we should look for the Roman Goddess Flora in the dark ages. So why would Anglo Saxons have been worshipping a Roman Goddess? Well, the Anglo Saxon pagan era was actually pretty brief. The Anglo Saxon invasion of Britain is believed to have started around 450AD (although linguists suspect that they may have begun settling in the British Isles some time earlier, as their language had diverged considerably from Germanic languages on the continent). By 590 AD the Anglo Saxons were converting to Christianity. The actual invasion in most regions was a case of elite dominance: an ethnic minority imposing their language and culture on an indigenous majority. Genetic evidence suggests that Norfolk experienced a genocide. Around this time the native people built massive defensive ditches blocking the Icknield way against invaders from Norfolk. To the south of this area lies the major Roman city of Colchester, known then as Camulodunum. It may well have been Camelot. Further west, in places like Coventry close to the border with Wales the people would have been overwhelmingly Romano Celtic, ruled over by a very small Anglo Saxon elite. These Romano Celtic people had converted to Christianity in the Roman era but in many cases probably lapsed into Romano Celtic paganism in the years following the Roman withdrawal from Britain.

Have you ever noticed how some animals have A LOT of folklore and legends attached to them? More than other animals? e.g donkeys, toads, owls and the like. Britain doesn't actually have very diverse wildlife. George Ewart Evans managed to write a whole book about hare folklore. If he had written about folklore of the pine marten he would have struggled to fill a page! Doesn't this suggest that at some time the hare was somehow special or sacred?
I'm willing to trust Bede's word that there was a goddess named Eostre celebrated in April, I can't see why he would lie about it. The High German word for April, Ostarmanoth is most likely related to the Saxon word Eosturmonath. That seems like a no brainer to me. If Ostarmanoth was Eosturmonath then Ostara was another name for Eostre...unless Bede had decided to spread some anti-Christian propaganda. So there probably was a goddess named Eostre or something similar, her festival coincided roughly with Easter, and probably gave its name to it. The date of easter is determined by the date of the Jewish Pesach or passover. Unlike Christmas, the bible makes it very clear when Jesus was crucified (although the date of Palm Sunday seems to be 6 months out), so Christians would have been commemorating the crucifiction at this time, pagan festival or not. It occurs to me as a possibility that Pesach may just have originally been the Jewish version of a more widespread springtime solar lunar festival, but I can't produce much evidence to support this, unless you count the Spring lunar festival in Shanghai, with its rabbit shaped lanterns. Occam's razor says that the date of Easter comes from Judaeo-Christian tradition.

So is Easter a pagan TRADITION? Possibly. It's possible that the festival of an old Germanic or Roman Goddess associated with hares and/or the moon and/or the dawn and/or spring was celebrated in spring (perhaps even on the first moon after the equinox) and that this festival merged with the Christian commemoration of the crucifixion which occured at the same time. It's a plausible theory, we just don't have enough evidence to come close to proving it.

Is Easter pagan? Yes. Heavily. Whether the eggs and rabbits are part of a continuous tradition extending back to pre Christian times or not, they are symbols of springtime, fertility and nature. How can any Christian say, with a straight face that the egg, a universal symbol of creation actually represents the round stone in front of the tomb of Jesus? Hares have been associated with witchcraft, rabbits with sexual promiscuity, neither has anything to do with a man being horribly and slowly tortured to death. So what are they doing in this festival? Christians may respond that Easter is about a miraculous resurrection, and the springtime, eggs and chicks are all symbolic of new life. This is as good as admitting that Christianity is at root a pagan fertility cult.

A newspaper journalist decides to use the word "jinx".....the first person in centuries to invoke the wryneck....and he doesn't know why or where he heard the word.
Youths dance ecstatically wearing the benignly smiling face of the sun god
A royal assasination fails, and people commemorate it by burning an effigy of a man on Samhain
The jolly god of midwinter appears out of nowhere
Bob Kane, mysteriously inspired, writes a comic book story about an ass eared man, a boy with wings on his heels and a trickster....but…How dare they mock his idol?
Clowns laugh at politicians on Mayday
Englishmen in red coats demand the right to kill the red haired trickster on December 26th. "we must do this" they say "or the land will die!"
The priests of Apollo have no time for this superstitious nonsense. So they put on their white robes and sacrifice the white mice in their quest to understand consciousness

* Pigs also feature in moon legends a lot. Herodotus wrote that "...the Selene [of Egypt] sacrifice swine at full moon and eat their flesh. It is not fitting that I should say why". I vaguely remember similar traditions on Pacific islands[back]

**In all honesty, I ought to point out here, that while I agree with Kit williams, that this is primarily a lunar myth, and that this version is probably nearest to the original meaning of the story; in other versions, the messengers are a chamaeleon and a lizard or a serpent, and sometimes they are sent by God rather than by the moon goddess. Many of these other versions may have been influenced by Christianity, for example, in one the serpent's message is :
"thou shalt not surely die"

***Brewers dictionary of phrase and fable says that the provincial word "bun", refers to a tail, especially that of a hare. If you think that this is a cue for a link to the Playboy page, forget it. This is (mostly) a family site.[back]

****I think there may be a connection here with the Egyptian legend of, long-eared Set, who dismembered the corn god Osiris. (click here for more about jack-rabbits and Jack-asses). Perhaps Wepuat, the hare-headed Osiris was a sort of Samson figure, combining the attributes of Osiris and Set, hero and rival, waxing and waning year, harvest and reaper, in one. [back]

*****In a similar way, the Egyptian moon god, Thoth, was portrayed with the head of an ibis. This is said to be due to the similarity between the words for "ibis" and "moon" ("tekh" and "tehu"). For more on this subject, see Bayley, "The lost language of symbolism"[1][back]

******In the same way, it has been speculated that Santa Claus is based on the Lapp Shamen who wore red and white (the colours of the fly agaric mushroom); entered the traditional domed huts of the region through a hole in the roof, which doubled as chimney and doorway (thus symbolically descending the axis mundi ) and had frequent hallucinations of flying on reindeer, owing to said fungi (my source here is New Scientist, 1st March 1997, p 93, which cites "Mushrooms, poisons and panaceas" by Dennis R. Benjamin). On the other hand, Santa Claus was frequently portrayed in green or blue, in the years following the rediscovery of Christmas (which had been banned in England by the puritans) by Charles Dickins; and the Coca Cola corporation like to take the credit for the red and white outfit. (between 1931 and 1966, they commisioned the artist Haddon H. Sundblom to produce a series of posters featuring Santa Claus, wearing the coca-cola colours). I find the idea that Christmas was invented by Coca Cola, too horrible to contemplate. Spaced out Shamens are much more in the spirit of things. Perhaps Coca Cola based their cans and bottles of sickly Cocaine and Caffeine "tonic" on the fly agaric mushroom. (O.K. so I don't have any evidence for my theory, but then neither does anyone else. Isn't folklore wonderful?)For more on Santa Claus and Christmas, click here . Ronald Hutton notes that the portrayal of Father Christmas in red became traditional soon after 1863, which undermines Coca-Cola's claims. He is also sceptical of the "shamanic theory", which he attributes to Rogan Taylor ("Who is Santa Claus?" Sunday Times Magazine, 21st December 1980)< a href="Bibliography.html#toad_and_hare">[10][back]

Links to other sites on the Web

Solution to Masquerade
Frog Kings:
folktales about slimy suitors

'Tis the season to be giving

Another theory about Santa Clause
About Hares
Brewers dictionary of phrase and fable
Moon Lore, by Timothy Harley, [1885]
The Rabbit in the moon
An incredibly interesting site about Mayan civilisation
Rabbit and the moon man
This is a legend from the M'iqmaq people of New Brunswick. I'm not sure if it belongs here, or whether it should go on a page devoted to legends about the moon having his/her face marked, which are widespread in north and south america. What I'm trying to say is that although this is a story about a rabbit and the moon, it would seem that the M'iqmaq see a face in the full moon, rather than a rabbit.
The Easter Hare.
by Charles J. Billson Folk-Lore Volume 3 Number 4 (December 1862).

The following websites take a sceptical look at the Easter fakelore:
It's Eostre time again or a parade of logical fallacies
Eostre the making of a myth

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