Wild Hare. Photo by Gabi Uhrova.

Messenger Spirit: The Great Hare and the Trickster Rabbit
Cosmic Sister | Ancestor Medicine
by Nephertiti Amen

“Our ancestors leave us breadcrumbs in hopes that we will eventually arrive in a whole space of enlightenment, cradled by the wisdoms of our bloodline and its connection to Mother Earth.” - Nephertiti Amen

As a child, I never thought about who my ancestors were and what my heritage was. As I grew older, questions kept being posed to me: “What is your race? What is your ethnicity?” Those questions were on every application and official test I had to fill out. I began to wonder why I never really questioned myself as I checked “black” or “African American.” One day it fell on me. What is black? How am I African American? Who assigned these identities to me, and what is this culture that I feel so disconnected from?

I was taught in school about slavery and the genocide of the native tribes and Indigenous peoples in America and worldwide, but I wasn’t sure where I fit in. Family members said I should check the boxes that represented Indigenous people as I understood them.

The question of my identity resounded louder and louder as I fell in love and conceptualized family for myself and began exploring my spirituality outside the realm of Christianity.

Deeper and deeper I dove into the rabbit hole, with help from the creative lift cannabis medicine gave me as I searched for answers. Most ancient and native knowledge was transmitted as an oral tradition, so I tried to recall what my grandparents had shared about my ancestry. On my father’s side, my grandmother and her other 10 siblings could trace their bloodline to grandparents from a Virginia Powhatan reservation. The Powhatan were an indigenous American tribe that was part of the greater nation of the Algonquin, or Eastern North Americans. One of their most famous members was Pocahontas. The Algonquins were among the largest Northern Indigenous American populations who were colonized and intermixed with slave-traded Africans.

The story goes that my great-great grandmother was exiled from the tribe for loving and being impregnated by a foreign tribesman, a colored sharecropper, which was exile-worthy because only inner-tribe coupling or coupling with a white man were encouraged at that time. They married and left the territory, birthed children who birthed children who birthed children, including my father and aunt, and then there was me.

Most Indigenous people didn’t write down their history and traditions, but instead turned them into a host of archetypal stories that were passed along in arts and oral traditions. As a child, I was gifted the book “The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales,” by Virginia Hamilton, which connected me to my heritage. It was the closest thing to sitting around the fire and hearing the history of my people from my ancestors, about their struggles and successes and the overall energies that they brought into the world. It contained a tricky rabbit and many other relatable characters like Tar Baby and the Beautiful Girl of the Moon Tower that helped transport me into another world—their world—a world more alive and more magical than my own Christian, restricted world. These stories taught me there was more to life and that adventure existed. They allowed me to dream, and in that dream space, I felt my true self awaken.

In Trickster Rabbit and the other characters in the story, I felt like I had found friends—something to relate to me, this little brown girl already on her own, having to be strong and wise and courageous at such a young age. Those stories helped me see through Rabbit’s eyes. I understood the capacity of their strength, creativity, and sacredness. Following Rabbit’s trail, I was introduced to more of my heritage, and I felt proud to be Black. When I grew up and began researching my “Black” and Algonquin identity, Trickster Rabbit kept appearing, bringing us closer together in character and spirit.

“Trickster” archetypes/beings were an identity coined by anthropologists to sum up a character who protects and even creates life. They’re associated with mischief and breaking the rules, and their adventures and misadventures are meant to teach right from wrong and how to live a good life. In other words, the anti-hero. I related to this image as a youth and even now—well into adulthood as a Black-Indigenous woman living in America and a revolutionizing visionary constantly pushing past the normal boundaries of culture and identity.

Indigenous people viewed rabbit/hare as a great spirit. Called by different names, this great spirit was self-sacrificing, a great teacher of sacred ritual, bringer of light and fire, and in some cases, identified with the Creator force itself. For many, the rabbit/hare totem was a symbol of the sacred feminine possessing the power to create and sustain life, as well as destroy it through great floods controlled by the moon. Its association with the moon and the feminine made it the modern-day representation of magic and a powerful and paradoxical creature of both extreme sexuality and virginal purity.

Indigenous peoples believed cultural figures like the Great Hare would long be remembered and serve as societal reminders of traditional learning that was suppressed by colonization. These archetypes live apart from our ancestors and help us find our way back home, to our roots and identity, so we may understand what it means to be Indigenous and autochthonous.

Trickster Rabbit is the indigenous part of me that has learned how to shift between the spirit world and natural world, adapting in order to survive. It is the curious nature that guides my sacred feminine being and teaches me about my power to create and destroy. It is with this knowledge that I honored my partner’s ancestors (from Colombia) and my own by naming my first child/daughter Ix Chel after the beautiful Mayan moon goddess always seen with her dutiful messenger, the rabbit, at her side.

The Great Hare/Trickster Rabbit identity resonates deeply with my work in ritual, with plant medicines like cannabis, and in healing spaces. Christianity and colonization wiped out so many of my people’s practices, demonizing them as “black magic.” Many elders (including my grandmother) are afraid of connecting to the sacred memories of their ancestral practices for fear that it is “ungodly” and “un-Christian,” but I feel called to revive these traditions just as the Great Hare serves as a reminder and transmitter of that ancient knowledge. To revive these traditions means to practice ritual, to explore sacred plants and their psychedelic experiences, to share in cultivating the land, and to trust in my intuition. It means witnessing the archetypes and symbols around me and interpreting their messages.

Our ancestors leave us breadcrumbs in hopes that we will eventually arrive in a whole space of enlightenment, cradled by the wisdoms of our bloodline and its connection to Mother Earth. I am grateful to the Great Hare for reuniting me with my heritage through our kinship and to my ancestors for helping me find my way down the rabbit hole.

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April 2021