As far as animal symbolism goes, few are as mysterious and mystical as the rabbit. A sign once associated with witches and the occult in the Middle Ages, rabbits are gaining popularity in tattoos, especially in the wake of works such as The Matrix and Alice in Wonderland.
Some cultures – such as the Chinese – view rabbits as a good omen of luck, while rabbits are regarded as an omen of evil and malady in African mythology.
The rest of this article will explore the symbolism behind the rabbit as it relates to body art, as well as its history, meanings, and cultural significance.
What is the History of Rabbit Tattoos?
Since rabbits exist on almost every continent, it’s no surprise that each culture attributes their own unique meaning to this versatile animal.
Despite their defenselessness and vulnerability to many predators, rabbits have long succeeded in keeping up their booming populations through their sharp intelligence, speed, and adaptability.
They have long been hailed in many cultures as bringers of fertility, prosperity, and good luck. This isn’t surprising, as rabbits breed more often than many animals and their population directly correlates with how much food there is.
What Do Rabbit Tattoos Symbolize?
Few animals have such a wide range of symbolism than the rabbit.
From an omen of luck and fertility to a dark sign of fear and malady, the rabbit holds different meanings depending on the culture.
Most people are aware of the tradition of carrying around a rabbit’s foot for good luck.
To get a better understanding on the symbolism of the rabbit, we will examine what the rabbit means to different cultures.
Rabbit Symbolism: Native American
In most Native American tribes, the rabbit is widely considered a trickster god. However, many tribes also attribute fertility to this animal, due to female rabbits’ short gestational period and ability to give birth to many litters throughout a single year.
In the Anishinaabe tribe, the Great Hare is a descendent of the Sun and is seen as a wise teacher and friend to humankind.
Despite its reputation as a trickster to most Native American tribes, the rabbit is never seen as an evil or dangerous entity. It is a friendly spirit and is even believed to act as a spirit guide.
Known to the Aztecs as “Tochtli,” the rabbit is a symbol of the goddess Mayahuel – the Mesoamerican goddess of fertility, the womb, and the maguey plant. From the pulp of the maguey plant the Aztecs brewed a powerful alcoholic beverage they’d consume to honor the goddess.
Rabbit Symbolism: Ancient Greece
One of the first recorded meanings of the rabbit is as the loyal steed of Hermes (Mercury to the ancient Romans), the heavenly messenger of the gods. Hermes was considered the speediest and most clever of the gods, with quick wit and ability to avoid trouble.
Rabbit Symbolism: Eastern Philosophy
The rabbit is seen as a symbol of longevity in China. Due to its nocturnal nature, the rabbit is widely seen as having a connection to the Moon. In China, the rabbit is also used as a totem to identify tribes or households.
In the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit is one of the twelve main symbols, and people born during the Year of the Rabbit are believed to be particularly clever, quick-witted, ingenious, and vigilant.
The myth of the Moon Rabbit – also known as the Jade Rabbit – is widely known across Chinese and Korean folklore. In the story, three animals – a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit – are tasked with bringing food to the Emperor of Heaven. The fox brings a fish while the monkey brings fresh fruit.
The rabbit, able to bring only grass, burns the grass and throws himself into the fire – effectively offering himself up as a meal for the Emperor of Heaven. The Emperor, impressed by the rabbit’s sacrifice, makes the rabbit guardian of the Moon.
Rabbit Symbolism: Christianity
To the early Christians, the rabbit was symbolic of the Virgin Mary, which explains why the Virgin Mary is depicted in ancient art alongside rabbits. It is also a symbol of spring and renewal, with connections to Christ’s resurrection.
Rabbit Symbolism: Celtic
To the ancient Celts, the rabbit was a shapeshifting spirit capable of powerful magic. For a time, eating rabbit meat was forbidden in Ireland, as the Celts believed that rabbits could bring great misfortune upon those that harmed them.
Because the Celts also associated rabbits with moon cycles, the animals came to represent women’s menstrual cycles and therefore fertility and femininity.
Because of their close proximity to the ground, rabbits were also believed to be messengers from the underworld who could send messages between the living and the dead.
Rabbit Symbolism: African
In African mythology, the rabbit is a sign of bad luck if it crosses one’s path. It is also believed to be responsible for bringing death to the world when it was supposed to bring immortality to humans.
What Do Rabbit Tattoos Mean?
The meanings of rabbit tattoos include the following:
- Good luck
If you are considering a rabbit tattoo, think about the symbolism that means the most to you.
Characteristics and Styles of Rabbit Tattoos
If your aim is to represent your own culture through your rabbit tattoo, consider the style that would best communicate both your culture and the significance of the rabbit symbolism. This could mean having a rabbit placed inside a Celtic knot for someone of Irish origin, or the Chinese characters that mean “Moon/Jade Rabbit” for those of Chinese heritage.
Artwork depicting rabbits are widely available in many cultures, so there is no limit to the styles and characteristics you can choose for your rabbit tattoo.
Pop culture is always a great inspiration for contemporary tattoos, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has served ample inspiration for tattoos in recent years. Especially those that feature white rabbits.
Where Do Rabbit Tattoos Usually Go?
Rabbit tattoos can go anywhere on the body. If you want to show off your tattoo, placement on the neck, arms, legs, hands, shoulders, and chest are great choices. Smaller rabbit tattoos can go on the fingers, wrists, ankles, toes, and even behind the ears.