Just as there is an abundance of milk and dark chocolate bunnies this time of year, rabbits themselves possess both light and dark folkloric aspects. The sweet side is well known far and wide, not only as the Easter Bunny, but also as Tsuki no Usag the cute Japanese rabbit who mashes mochi on the moon, as well as that erratically delightful body part (the left foot) which bestows upon its owner good luck.
The dark side of rabbits is as vast and as old as any legend about them can be. And just as interesting.
The lucky rabbit foot is just that: lucky. But the luck can be good or bad depending on circumstances. If you don’t stroke the foot three times before invoking its good luck power, it will bring bad luck instead. If you keep the foot in the wrong place on your body (there is debate concerning the proper place, but the majority of opinion says the foot must be kept in the left pocket of the owner to bring good luck) or if you possess the wrong foot (many people buy a rabbit foot without understanding that the left hind foot is the one to own if you want good luck) or if you happen to lose your rabbit foot, bad luck will plague you as surely as a rabbit plagues a farmer’s garden.
Because rabbits are creatures that dwell under the ground, they are seen as messengers of the underworld, moving among the dead and the undead freely. This has led them to being seen as the evil familiars of witches and other denizens of the dark arts. As a matter of fact, they are so deeply associated with witches that accused witches themselves still claimed to be able to turn into rabbits as late as 1662—completing a pattern of witchcraft and rabbit pairings that extended through ancient legends of Frau Holda keeping rabbit-familiars who hold torches for her, all the way back to the Egyptian Goddess of the Underworld, Weynet, who has the head of a hare and symbolizes the swift path that winds between life and death. Interestingly, the Druids said that rabbits brought death, and should one run toward a person, that person was being readied for a fast journey to the next world.
Curses caused by rabbits abound, like rabbits themselves. Some of these curses have to do with water (which may not be so odd when you remember that many otherworldly spirits have issues with water): any part of a dead rabbit (including its left foot) on a ship or boat will bring nothing but bad luck to the craft through storms and terrible seas, a fisherman who even hears the word ‘rabbit’ will have bad luck with his catching abilities, and to see a white rabbit from a ship or boat will bring on terrible storms.
Dreaming of rabbits of any color running around means that you will have misfortune, as does having a rabbit run counter-clockwise around you or your property. Furthermore, if you see a white rabbit in particular, or one crosses your path, particularly in the morning before breakfast, the bad luck that all rabbits bring will be even worse. Black rabbits do not have this ability, but that is evidently because rabbits are tricky – like the devil – and like to confuse people.
While Easter/Ostara/Eostre season brings us rabbits of all sorts, and in abundance, remember this: they may certainly bring luck, but not always the good sort. Take care and happy Spring.