Citing folk Easter customs in Leicestershire, England where “the profits of the land called Harecrop Leys were applied to providing a meal which was thrown on the ground at the “Hare-pie Bank,” late 19th century scholar Charles Isaac Elton says that these customs were likely connected with the worship of Ēostre. In his late 19th century study of the Hare in folk custom and mythology, Charles J. Billson cites numerous incidents of folk custom involving the hare around the period of Easter in Northern Europe. Billson says that “whether there was a goddess named Eostre, or not, and whatever connection the hare may have had with the ritual of Saxon or British worship, there are good grounds for believing that the sacredness of this animal reaches back into an age still more remote, where it is probably a very important part of the great Spring Festival of the prehistoric inhabitants of this island.”
Writing in 1972, John Andrew Boyle cites commentary contained within an etymology dictionary by A. Ernout and A. Meillet, where the authors write that “Little else […] is known about [Ēostre], but it has been suggested that her lights, as goddess of the dawn, were carried by hares. And she certainly represented spring fecundity, and love and carnal pleasure that leads to fecundity.” Boyle responds that nothing is known about Ēostre outside of Bede’s single passage, and that the authors had seemingly accepted the identification of Ēostre with the Norse goddess Freyja, yet that the hare is not associated with Freyja either. Boyle writes that “her carriage, we are told by Snorri, was drawn by a pair of cats — animals, it is true, which like hares were the familiars of witches, with whom Freyja seems to have much in common.” However, Boyle adds that “on the other hand, when the authors speak of the hare as the ‘companion of Aphrodite and of satyrs and cupids‘ and point out that ‘in the Middle Ages it appears beside the figure of Luxuria‘, they are on much surer ground and can adduce the evidence of their illustrations.”
This fantastic sculpture by Emma Rodgers is one I would love to own. It completely gives me the feel of the female hare sorting out the male :-). Boxing hares is not a couple of males fighting but the female going for the courting male … perhaps, like the Celtic goddesses, trying him out to see if he’s “up for it”.