Okay, the Wheel of the Year is slightly off already, as I got a little complacent and made a bit of a mistake. Ostara is a fixed solstice but Easter, which came later, is not. So I’ve missed my mark on that one.
We’re not derailed as yet. This becomes a great initial topic to unpack, before we move on to having some Spring adjacent folklore monster stories to enjoy.
SECTION BREAK – Equi-not
I lulled myself into a false sense of security with this one, due to the connection between Easter and Ostara. Up until I started seeing my pagan friends celebrating the Spring (or, from Australia, Autumn) equinoxes and realised I had done goofed. It’s now a learning opportunity that bridges the two dates, so let’s all pretend I meant to do this and unpack what the key differences are.
Easter has a lot of pagan trappings lurking just below the surface, as we’re already gone over way back when in April 2021 for The Many Secrets of Easter. Definitely give that a listen if you haven’t yet for a broad explainer, plus a load of fairy folklore. The short version though is that Easter isn’t especially Christian, except for Lent which is where you want to focus if you are an observing Christian. Observing Christians are still more than welcome to the pagan party, but there’s a world cultural schism to be aware of in there.
Ostara itself, truly separate from Easter as the modern world knows it, always has a bit of a wobble on the exact date since it’s an Equinox and based on the Earth’s rotation around the sun. The balance of the wider cosmos doesn’t much give a crap what the Gregorian calendar thinks, so it will bounce around a little in defiance of mere mortals trying to impose strict order on the Universe. It’s the Vernal Equinox for the Northern Hemisphere, the tipping point of nights becoming as long as days where days will then begin to become longer.
This has huge significance among assorted pagans and wiccans. The day itself is balanced on an edge between light and darkness, with a heavy emphasis on rebirth. It’s actually the second of three spring celebration the Wheel of the Year, life just returning in Imbolc (which we have already covered) and then finally Beltane after Ostara which we will be covering when we get there. It’s a significant time for renewal; cleaning up your household, reflecting on bad habits you can work to be rid of, and planting new seeds for food or ritualcraft.
Now, Easter gives even less of a crap what the Gregorian Calendar thinks, as Easter is tied to moon cycles. It just kind of wombles about the calendar doing whatever it feels like, turning up at any point between the 22nd of March and the 25th of April. This still relates to the Vernal Equinox, as it’s the first full moon after it. This is the Paschal (Pass-cull) Full Moon, which means “Passover” in Greek and comes from the Hebrew word for it Pesach. Easter as the Christian observance of the resurrection of The Christ then adjusts around this “Passover” moon, and Easter Sunday is the Sunday after it. If the Paschal Moon is on a Sunday itself, then it rolls back a week to the next Sunday over.
If you’re pagan leaning and this is making you feel a little uncomfortable about Easter, first of all: share your toys! Second of all, there’s another old European name for this first full moon of Spring: It’s the Egg moon, representing new life, and the Goddess Eostre sneaks in to the festival again with her primary fertility symbol!
There is one key thing that helps with my mistake here, though. Easter themed treats are pushed so early for extra seasonal sales revenue Ostara always has the assorted stealth paganism available at the right time. Corporate greed has us covered there, now we just have a great excuse to indulge in pastel colour bunting, chocolate eggs, and Easter themed cakes twice a year now!
SECTION – But Why Is There An Easter Bunny?
Okay, chocolate rabbits are an easy shout. Rabbits are a fertility symbol of the Goddess Eostre, among others. If the symbolic fertility of rabbits needs explaining, pause the show and go ask your parents. That is definitely their problem and not mine.
But how did we get to a giant anthropomorphised rabbit charging around with colourful eggs?
It’s not simply the case of Goddess Eostre getting a good laugh in at the modern world’s expense, although as an answer I quite like the idea of that one. It’s a tradition that begins in Germany.
In general, a hare is a symbol of spring. They go a bit loopy this time of year, getting down to the business of making more hares, which in itself is where you get the phrase “crazy as a march hare”. Little bit of context: there’s two broad evolutionary branches of bunnies, adorable balls of floof who are too precious for this world, and then there’s hares. Hares look like they would fight you for your loose change in a dark alley, and might win despite being a rabbit, so when they go into a hormonal frenzy sights got SEEN. This folk truism that the strung out meth addict looking lagomorphs are best avoided in March takes a strange turn in the 1600s.
17th century Germany introduces an odd morality figure of folklore, or at the very least it’s the 1600s when this gets written down. Children are told that if they are good, and if they make a nest to leave out at Easter, then the ”Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws”, the Easter Hare, will lay colourful eggs in the nest they had made.
This can then be tracked to the United States in the 1700s as German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, bringing the “Oschter Haws” with them. The tradition then evolved. Nests became woven baskets. Painting eggs became an activity by the children, not as a surprise for the children. Gift eggs became easy to commercialise chocolate treats. And at some point someone wisely pointed out that a giant Easter Hare is nightmare fuel children would expect to break into their homes to knife people up for sport, so a cute Easter Bunny got substituted in.
I have a horrible suspicion the Oschter Haws is out there in a German Forest somewhere, a seven foot tall fae wilding that headbutts lost travellers who cross its path on Spring nights. Call that one an educated hunch, and stick to the Bunny branded anthro-lagomorph for Easter Sunday celebrations.
SECTION BREAK – A Bad Egg
As something special for Easter, I have a black magic spell involving an egg!
So the spell goes...
You need the yolkless egg of a cockerel, and I use cockerel over the abbreviation here due to knowing how like me some of my audience are. With this cock egg (that's what it's called, don't clip me out of context) you then need to get a toad to incubate it on a manure heap under moonlight. In the bible it's a little simpler, just referred to as an egg from a cockerel hatched by a serpent. Your eventual reward either was is a deadly feral monstrosity.
The cockatrice is best known as one of the chimeric creature mash ups of the middle ages, although it can also adorably be described as a "small dragon". It's a long tailed lizard that stands on two legs, with batlike wings and a cockerel head. How much feathery-down-to-scale ratio it has is debated or else variable, but the bird part extends down its chest at least somewhat. It's about the size of a big chicken, although don't rule that out how intimidating that can be looking at how big some chickens are, and it's remarkably dangerous. It oozes potent poisons, coating the feathery down it has with this lethal drool, and to make eye contact with it can kill. In some stories, you just drop dead from eye or poison contact. In others eye contact will petrify you, potentially even the poison kills through turning flesh to stone. Whichever particular combination of doom it comes with: Not a great pet. It doesn't even need petrification, chickens are rowdy dumbasses that still think they're dinosaurs in the best of circumstances, that this is a monster chicken miniature dragon probably means you shouldn’t tangle with it anyway.
As unlikely as it is to end up with a cock egg from your male chicken, there is a bit of folk magic for making sure you don't accidentally get a toxic cockatrice rampaging among your coop before murdering you in a bid for freedom. You need to throw this strange egg, and I'm not naming it again, over the family home without hitting the roof. Upon hitting the far side, even if this doesn't shatter it, you should now have dispelled whatever bad energy is trying to spawn a rampaging mini dragon overflowing with poison.
Aside from turning up in medieval heraldry and being doodled in the margins of books by bored monks, the cockatrice is a relatively obscure monster. Modern fantasy will occasionally dig them up for an unconventional monster attack, but generally the similar basilisk gets all the limelight when you need a lizard that can petrify the unwary. Despite this, I’ve always had a soft spot for the cockatrice, they’re an interesting blend of absurd with lethality, plus they have an egg related origin as well as being generally Spring/Easter linked junglefowl making for a fun seasonal monster!
I happily challenge any creative listeners to start bringing Easter cockatrice to the festival. Art, stories, songs… Let’s start spookifying Easter as well as Christmas. Our work is not done until it’s Halloween all year long!
SECTION BREAK – Don’t Mess With This Bunny
I'm getting the weirdest deju vu I've already done this one, but I couldn't find it in my scripts anywhere I would expect to see it... Even if it's an encore though, this is the perfect time and place for it.
Let's get a bunny of folklore into the mix, and talk about the Jackalope!
From North America, the Jackalope is a portmanteau of "Jack Rabbit" and "Antelope". As far as appearance goes, it does what it says on the tin. It's a rabbit with horns, usually deer despite the name but sometimes antelope as you might expect. A tiny turbo prey animal with shin high spikey bits, that you should probably be wary of it suddenly leaping to crotch high if you've startled one.
At its most basic, the tales of jackalopes go that they're generally sweet but quick to fight when threatened. In the frontier days, cowboys singing around campfires may attract a jackalope to join in, and they would croon along to the tune being played, "singing" with the cowboys as they are able to mimic humans. Weirdly specifically singing in a tenor. This is then followed by either leaving in peace, or mauling dumbass cowboys who thought it would be clever to try and eat the bizarre bunny who was chilling with them.
It's a popular truism that a jackalope is a "curious critter" invented by Douglas Herrick. A taxidermist who put antlers onto a jack rabbit to create the creature, and spreading a tale about how he was inspired when the corpse of a jack rabbit he threw on the table slid over to that of an antelope, framing the head and giving him the idea to create the Jackalope as his next project with his brother. Little gross, but moving on...
The chimeric stuffed sculpture that followed was snapped up in a flash to be installed at the Bonte Hotel in the town of Douglas (presumably what the taxidermist was named after, not the other way around). It was an immediately popular curiosity that spiked demand among locals and guests alike, leading to a booming jackalope trade for both Herrick brothers. Not unlike living rabbits, the jackalope began to multiply rapidly. The town erected an 8 foot jackalope statue, a 13 foot tall jackalope cutout was added to a nearby hillside, and images of the little stabby bunny got added anywhere and everywhere. The town proudly proclaims “Watch out for the jackalope” on warning signs around Douglas, all part of the fun of their adopted monster rabbit. Wider Wyoming keeps floating legislative bills to codify the jackalope as the State’s official mythological creature. The Tall Tale only grew in the telling, with hunters being warned to wear stovepipes to avoid being gored, the sale of jackalope milk being scoffed at because obviously a jackalope is too dangerous to be successfully milked, rumours that jackalopes only mate during lightning flashes, and it is now known that whisky is the favourite drink of the jackalope.
There is, however, a bit of a wrinkle to the Douglas Merrick "eureka" story wherein he turns to his brother and exclaims "Let's mount it the way it is!" after a fortuitous carrion collision.
The jackalope kind of already existed.
Now, some of this is the tales of the Merrick brothers as they talked up their sculptures for sales, but there do indeed seem to be legitimate older tales mixed into the pop culture soup.
Central American Huichol (wee-chl) legends passed down tales in their oral tradition of a horned rabbit who was the one to give deers their horns, giving a possible progenitor story in the New World. In medieval mash ups, there is of course horned rabbits. This is an easy one compared to something as bonkers as the cockatrice, and there’s even some sort of unicorn rabbit that pops up on medieval manuscripts too, so there could have been a traditional tale carried over from Europe in this case as well.
There’s also a rather gross parasite called Shope Papilloma that cause horn like growths on cottontail rabbits, which has turned my stomach somewhat and I can heartily recommend you do NOT Google that. This gross but demonstrably real phenomenon could have resulted in all kinds of stories.
Then there’s also the Gordian Knot approach here. Some brothers with a hobby that makes use of animal corpses thought it would be cool to stick antlers on a rabbit one day, and a legend was born.
I kind of like to think humans around the world just decide a stabby bunny would be neat, so the story keeps popping up wherever there are rabbits. Any which way we got jackalopes they’re well and truly embraced in the town of Douglas now with a day of celebration in June for the critter, and joke “official hunting licenses” are one of the many themed souvenirs tourists can pick up over there year round.
This is the most wholesome LukeLore we’ve had in a while, notwithstanding the theory that the Oschter Haws is stalking remote pathways in Europe somewhere as we speak… Oh, and ignore how dangerous the cockatrice is. Focus on it being a cool chicken dragon. Also don’t think about jackalope maulings… You know what? Never mind, it’s still very on brand, remain indoors where The Outside can’t get you!
I’ll be watching Beltane carefully as it comes around to get the Wheel of the Year series back on track, but you know what? I’m happy we came down between Ostara and Easter for this one. We got a lot of ground covered bridging the equinox to the festival. Let’s all pretend it was deliberate.
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Goodbye for now.
Also, Wyoming politicians? Make the jackalope your official mythological animal! The time of the Stabby Bunny is upon you.