The Ancient Modern
The Rabbit Creation Myth / Joshua Alan Sturgill
I recall another occasion during which my usually laconic friend opened up to share his wisdom with me more freely.
My wife was travelling for a few days, so I invited him over for a meal and a glass of wine. I extend invitations like this occasionally, but my friend is difficult to pin down, so we don’t always make definite plans. I made soup, cut some garden asparagus and baked a loaf of bread.
Before the bread was quite out of the oven, we poured a first glass of wine and caught up. My friend mentioned a few of the places he’d been “hiking in” recently. He always says in—hiking in, camping in—with a kind of delicate stress that hints at intimacy. When he goes somewhere, I get the impression he enters it more deeply and with more awareness than most. Others walk by or pass through. My friend embraces.
For my part, I talked about difficulties in finding a place to live, and about the ups and downs of newly-married life. Things are good. We both like the quiet and simplicity. Jobs and finances are tight, but not cramping. Extended family is remarkably well at the moment.
Bread cooled and asparagus steamed, we fixed our plates, generously spread butter over everything, asked a blessing and poured more wine. I brought up our last conversation while hiking in the Dome Wilderness, when my friend told me the Ravens Creation Myth and we had discussed how different it is from the Coyotes’—as unlike as Ravens and Coyotes themselves, we’d determined.
“Of course,” my friend continued, “altogether different from both is the Rabbits’ tale. It’s more like a ‘just-so story’ and explains how Rabbits came to look like they do. Most people only tell the first part of it, and after Hawk and Wolf appear, they finish by saying ‘and that’s why rabbit has big ears and digs holes in the ground’ or something like that.”
“But there’s more to it?”
“Yes. In fact, I think the first part is very uninteresting without the second. The second makes sense of the first. Frankly,” here my friend looked at me with a stern expression, “telling only the simple parts of the story without the real depth is a lot like what passes for ‘religion’ these days.”
He looked rather annoyed as he said this, and ate the last few bites of his asparagus. I didn’t press for details, only waited for him to continue. But he only added, cryptically, “most versions have the word ‘sleep,’ but some versions say ‘come up here.’”
Whatever this meant, I trusted it might make sense after I’d heard the story. “Let’s finish our wine outside,” I suggested, and we rinsed our plates and bowls and left them in the sink. My backyard is small, but has a beautiful westward view. Early rain left a few scattered clouds that promised a beautiful sunset.
We settled side by side into some old lawn furniture while the sky slowly bent from blue toward yellow and outlined the clouds a pale rose.
“Well?” I said after a bit of silence. “Tell me the Rabbit Creation Myth. And don’t leave anything out. I want to hear both halves.”
This is what my friend told me:
At first, there is no time and no place and no body. Rabbit is alone and a Voice is speaking to him.
The words of the Voice are “Sky” and “Land.” Rabbit listens, and the Earth appears. The Voice speaks again, and says Grass, Trees and Clouds. Rabbit listens, and the grass and trees and clouds appear.
Then the Voice says to Rabbit, “War is coming.” Rabbit listens, and Fear and Courage appear.
Rabbit hears a sound other than the Voice. It is Flood. Flood rushes over the earth, smothering the grass and trees. “Run” says the Voice. Rabbit listens, and strong legs appear. Rabbit runs from the Flood.
Grass and Trees return after the Flood, but soon Rabbit hears another sound. It is Fire. Fire rushes over the earth, burning up the grass and trees. “Dig” says the Voice. Rabbit listens and strong claws appear. Rabbit digs deep into the ground below the Fire.
Grass and trees grow again, and this time Rabbit watches them carefully. The Voice speaks many words to Rabbit about them, and about the Sun and Moon, and about seasons and weather.
Rabbit listens, and Eyes appear to see the Sun, which is like the Fire. Thick fur grows to protect against weather, which is like the Flood.
But War is not over. Enemies are coming.
The Voice says, “hear,” and long ears appear. From far away, Rabbit hears the wings of Hawk searching for him. The Voice says, “smell” and a sharp nose appears. From far away, Rabbit catches the scent of Wolf searching for him.
My friend’s voice slowed as he continued with the story. This was obviously the important transition he’d mentioned before, and I could tell he was thinking deeply about it as he was speaking.
“I have legs and ears and many things,” Rabbit thinks, “but are they enough? What will happen if Hawk and Wolf find me? Hawks fly faster than I run and Wolves dig just as deep.”
Then the Voice speaks to Rabbit again. It says “sleep.” Rabbit sees all of the World like a dream. Stars are flowers and the Moon is the ocean. Sun is the Mountains. Bones are rocks and blood is the Rivers.
Rabbit awakes. He is now Two Rabbits: Male Rabbit and Female Rabbit. Male Rabbit names himself Ti’an. He names Female Rabbit Dichu.
Male Rabbit knows what has happened before. Female Rabbit knows what will happen after.
Male Rabbit tells Female Rabbit about the Voice, and about Flood, Fire, Wolf and Hawk. He teaches her to run, dig, smell and hear. Female Rabbit tells Male Rabbit about birth and death, and teaches him how to be a family.
Male Rabbit is very sad. He longs to return to the time before War, when everything was peaceful. Male Rabbit says, “birth is death.”
Female Rabbit teaches him that the earth is a small place, a womb, with War only happening inside it. There is no War outside. Female Rabbit says, “death is birth.”
Ti’an gives Dichu Fear and Courage. Dichu gives Ti’an Grief and Hope.
My friend was silent, and I realized the story ended here. It seemed concluded but not complete. “It’s a beautiful Myth,” I said after a while. “I will think about it more. But I have a question. Maybe it’s a stupid question.”
“What question?” my friend asked, taking a sip of wine and continuing to look out at the sunset.
“I want to know how Rabbit heard the Voice at the beginning, when the story says that he only received his ears later on, when there were hawks.”
“Actually, I think that’s a good question,” my friend replied. “In a lot of traditions, hearing and sight are metaphors. Or better said, they’re outward versions of a deeper sense of knowledge. I suppose at the beginning, Rabbit ‘heard’ with his being. It wasn’t a hearing that involved sound and then a logical deduction. It was the Voice speaking directly into the heart of Rabbit.”
“So in this story, Rabbit is created or formed from the inside out…? Or he is only an ‘inside’ at first? In Genesis, it seems the opposite. There’s a dust-body, and then God’s breath enters it. But then again, it could all be happening at the same time. If there is time yet.” I suddenly felt that even the Genesis story was a lot more than what it appeared to be.
“I suppose so,” my friend mused. “It’s interesting that Rabbit hears the words ‘tree’ and ‘cloud’ at the same time that they are made, almost like the Voice is making them through or along with Rabbit. Maybe like the way a musician plays a flute. It’s the musician’s breath, but the sound is formed by the shape of the instrument. The sound fits the instrument. You can always tell a flute from a trumpet, though it’s the same breath in both.”
“And the breath is silent until it goes through the flute, and then breath and sound are the same? But here’s another thing. Maybe another stupid question. I’m uncomfortable with Male Rabbit—Ti’an?—having the courage and Dichu making the babies. That seems stereotypical to me.”
“That’s because you’ve been taught to put career ahead of family and self ahead of community,” my friend said, laughing again. “But really, is that right? Is ‘domestic life,’ as we call it, really secondary? I think the Story has it right. Ti’an and Dichu each have something vital to teach the other. Truly vital. And, it’s important to remember that both are Rabbit. Without both, you only have beginning. There’s no continuation or conclusion. Without both, you only have the profound but fairly simple story of the making of the world. There’s no understanding or enjoyment or—like the story says—hope for things that might happen after the story.”
“After the story?” I asked.
“Of course,” said my friend. “Rabbits also are born and live and die. And if you take their story seriously, it seems that all of this is just a start, a preliminary, to something greater. For them, what happens after death is very different from what happens before it—as different as life before and after birth. We grow and learn and change now. It’s only after death that we truly begin to live.”
I thought about the life of rabbits—always watching, running, eating, making more rabbits. It rarely occurred to me to consider that it all might have a purpose. It just is. Functional, but flawed, like everything else. Don’t stars do something similar? Ignite, expand, explode and make more stars? Not very satisfying. But I suppose it’s what I’ve been taught to believe—and what I do believe in some sense. “Why do we tell creation stories, anyway?” I asked.
“I often think about that, too,” my friend replied. “And I suppose it must be something like ‘the flower is already in the seed,’ or ‘the purpose is in the form.’”
“Ok.I understand what you’re saying. To know where we should go, we should know where we’ve been or something like that?”
“Yes. Like a hammer sitting on a shelf at the hardware store. It’s never been used before. ‘What an odd shape I am!’ it must think. Then, it gets picked up by a human hand. ‘Well that explains one half of me,’ it says. Then, it meets a nail, and suddenly all is clear.”
I laughed. “Maybe there’s a Hammer Creation Myth.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said my friend. “You know, the older I am, the more I feel that everything is alive in some way, everything is moving forward. All moving together toward something we’ve forgotten about, but our ancestors used to know. Maybe that’s why they told stories. So that even if we forget, we will still be able to wonder.”