Besides the Raven (with whom I am apparently obsessed lately), the Rabbit in legends has also played the role of the Trickster. Of course, this word “Trickster” was not a name given by any Indigenous tribes of North America, but was instead a Eurocentric term applied to the character of Raven, or Rabbit, or Coyote, or any other hero of strange stories.
How could the Coyote slay a monster, scatter the flesh of it and create tribes of people, but also in another story pretend to be a healer and take advantage of a family and a sick girl? Must be a Trickster.
The duality of the hero is deeper than that. In creation stories, man is almost always portrayed as being another animal in the wild. It isn’t until someone intervenes (a Culture Hero, God, or Shaman) that we transform to take on our human forms. In this context, anyone who does the community an enormous good is instantly elevated to a place of prestige, honour, or worship. Of course, no one is immune to mortal frailties or weaknesses, apparently including the immortal. So when in a later story the Coyote abuses the trust of a family by disguising himself as a respected and revered member of the community, there is no puzzling logical fallacy at play.
No, what we have is a very important lesson. A warning that even those we have put on a pedestal can fall. This is not to say people shouldn’t trust each other, it is instead saying that we all have the potential to betray the greatness and goodness of our selves. We don’t have to, and certainly many good people never do, but we should keep in mind that it can happen, and knowing that simple truth, we can guard our hearts against self-harm.
Another aspect of the lesson is to be thoughtful to what our leaders tell us is true. It is easy to sit back and let others steer our destiny, but it does no one any harm to keep one eye at least half open.
In this little painting, I was thinking about Solstice. The rabbit has been digging for something to eat during the Long Night of winter. He is so hungry, it has been cold for so long. He thinks he has found a cache of food but instead has found the Sun! It was sleeping, lulled by the snows and the gentle moonlight, but now it will slowly rise, filling the world with warmth and a new spring.