Tuesday, 13 October 2009

I’m Dreaming Of A White Rabbit...

“I've seen many white rabbits - but what is the symbolism behind them?”

Harvey, Miffy, Roger and Bugs... Rabbits are everywhere. And one particular fellow, the white rabbit, keeps popping up all over, in folklore, literature, music and film, "Wake up, Neo. The Matrix has you. Follow the white rabbit."

Rabbits have burrowed deep into our psyche, their meaning varying greatly across cultures and time. In North American and Europe saying “white rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit” (or variations thereof) on the first day of the month is thought to bring good fortune. Similarly, East Asian folklore celebrates the Moon Rabbit, a humble and virtuous character who can be seen each lunar month amongst the shadows on the full moon's surface.

However, white rabbits also have more sinister connotations...

In Pagan cultures, rabbits and hares were foremost symbols of fertility and rebirth, linked with the festival of Eostre (now Easter). But with the growth of Christianity and consequent demonization of Paganism across Europe, rabbits and hares (white ones in particular) adopted a far darker role as familiars or hosts for witches, warlocks and demons. Perhaps it’s from here that the idea of a white rabbit inside a magician’s hat hails?

Further, the rabbit has become associated (often negatively) with female sexuality. The old English term 'coney' (pronounced cunny) from the latin 'cuniculus' means rabbit, but was also used as a pejorative term for both a woman and female genitalia, leading to the derivative vulgarism in modern English. It is for these reasons that some scholars suggest the white rabbit depicted in Titian's religious masterpiece 'Madonna and Child with St. Catherine and a Rabbit' is symbolic of the Virgin's triumph of religious piety over carnal desire. Certainly the connection between women, rabbits and sex can still be seen today in Playboy's iconic corporate identity for example.

But for me, the most significant white rabbit dwelt in Lewis Carroll’s kaleidoscope consciousness, depicted not only in his novels, but in animated dramatisations past and present, from Jan Švankmajer's macabre nightmares to Tim Burton’s vivid visions. For this white rabbit leads Alice into the infinite impossibilities of Wonderland, where she will quite literally, pursue her wildest dreams...

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a MiLK HaRE to feed. ;)