18 March 2013 a post by Pauline Warner

March Madness - Hares And Birds’ Nests

Catherine’s Long finger Over Shadows Earth Buried Yellow Amulet Mid-day Points The Hour In Light of equinox, Look you

hare in long grass

Back in the 1970s there was a Treasure Hunt. Kit William’s Masquerade book gave the clues in pictures and words. You could sit in your armchair and solve them and if you did you would arrive at the above sentence and work out that the initial letters spelled out CLOSE BY AMPTHILL. But if you wanted the prize, you needed to get digging at St Catherine’s Cross, Ampthill, Bedfordshire – at the extreme point cast by its shadow at mid-day on the spring equinox. And you would find a Golden Hare with golden eggs, symbol of the Spring Equinox.

Why is a Hare the symbol of the equinox? It’s the symbol of Eostre, pagan goddess of spring. But why? And why does the hare have a nest of eggs? Is it all to do with Mad March Hares?

Well maybe, but this particular bit of March madness has got a simple and quite logical explanation. The hare makes its home of grass and twigs (called a ‘form’) on the ground and when it moves on, the empty form is often taken over by plover birds who also make a nest on the ground. Why build your own when a vacant property has just become available! Farmers saw eggs lying in a hare’s form and concluded that the hare had laid them. And so the mythology of the Easter Bunny was born……..

Another apparently mad story about a bird’s nest from Celtic Christianity probably has a simple explanation as well. St Kevin of Glendalough was praying with hands outspread one day when a blackbird flew onto his palm, laid a twig on it and flew away only to return with another twig……Realising that the bird was building her nest in his hand, Kevin stood still – apparently not needing to eat, drink, sleep or perform any normal bodily functions- until the nest had been built, eggs laid and hatched and birds fledged. Another bit of madness? Or is it significant that that entire process takes about 40 days? Was the blackbird’s nest a metaphor, a symbol of the 40 days of Lent in which we are encouraged to watch and pray as the Spirit of God broods over creation like a mother bird and births new life and freedom for all on Easter Day?

It’s perhaps not surprising that in Hebrew thought bird’s nests are always associated with the feminine aspect of God’s presence. The word for nest, shechinot, is virtually the same as shekinah which means the feminine glory of God come to dwell on earth. It literally means ‘dwelling’ or ‘presence’. Mother birds and their nests are used to describe divine presence and attributes quite often in the Bible – Jesus’ comparison of himself to a mother hen (Matthew 23:37) and the mother eagle’s fierce encouragement to fly (Deuternomy 32: 11-12) are the most well known. But I think the best of all is hidden in Hebrew. The mother stork will stay faithful to her young to such an extent that if the nest goes on fire and her young are unable to escape, she stays with them and dies with them rather than abandon them. So she is called hasid, the faithful one. It is virtually the same word which is used to describe the greatest characteristic of God’s love – hesed, loving faithfulness.

Jesus spoke of birds nesting in the mustard tree.

What is the kingdom of God like? To what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and put in his own garden. It grew and became a large tree and the birds of the air built their nests in its branches. Luke 13:18-19

At first sight, the parable seems very simple – saying much the same as the English proverb. From small acorns large oaks do grow.

But is it perhaps saying something more subtle? Some commentators believe that it is significant that the mustard seed was considered to be a dangerous wild plant. Did Jesus deliberately chose a plant that was known as troublesome and scandalous to describe the kingdom of God? If so, did he also deliberately choose an image of the feminine divine coming to dwell within that wildness? Certainly, one leading New Testament commentator, Ben Witherington, suggests that Jesus deliberately used an image of something that was recognisably scandalous to describe God’s reign on earth – some would find shelter in it and others would be so offended that they sought to root it out.

Sound familiar? Intriguing thoughts…and certainly a bit disturbing if you want a Christian faith that is safe and straightforward….but if (like lots of us) you suspect that it’s a bit more wild and subversive than we let it be, if you think the fact that Jesus was considered mad by many people is an important part of his story then that parable might be very dangerously foolish indeed. Perhaps the kingdom of God is madder even than the average March Hare.


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Your comments:

Hi Pauline,
I would very much love to speak with you….you dissolve the boundary which has divided long separated Christ and God from my Goddess and Wiccan path…...I haven’t wanted this divide to exist, but somehow for all my intellectual ability to recognise Oneness, I have been drinking half a cup because of this, always missing the flavour and truth of the half left aside unintegrated.  So thank you!

#1. By Laura on September 15, 2013

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