I was surprised to learn that so many people on the mailing list had never heard this story. Traditionally, you hear these stories over and over for years, until one day you have a burst of insight and realize the meaning or moral of the story. Don't worry, I'll hand you several of the meanings after the story...
In the long-ago time, the Animals were quite different than they are today. Turtle was much bigger, and fierce, with sharp teeth and a thick one-piece shell. Rabbit was much bigger, too, about the size of a human. Deer had long sharp teeth but no antlers.
He was a fast runner and Rabbit was a great jumper, and the animals were all curious to know which could go farther in the same time. They talked about it a lot, and at last agreed to a match between the two, and had made a crown shaped like lightning for a prize to the winner.
They were to start together from one side of a thicket, go through it, then turn and come back. The one who came out first was to get the crown.
On the day off the race all the animals were there, with the lightning crown set on the ground at the edge of the thicket to mark the starting point. While everybody was admiring the crown the Rabbit said: "I don't know this part of the country; I want to take a look through the bushes where I am to run." They thought that all right, so Rabbit went into the thicket, but he was gone so long that at last the animals suspected he must be up to one of his tricks. They sent a messenger to look for him, and away in the middle of the thicket he found Rabbit gnawing down the bushes and pulling them away until he had a road cleared nearly to the other side.
The messenger turned around quietly and came back and told the other animals. When Rabbit came out at last they accused him of cheating, but he denied it until they went into the thicket and found the cleared road. They agreed that such a trickster had no right to enter the race at all, so they gave the crown to Deer, who was admitted to be the best runner, and he has worn them ever since. His antlers remind us of the lightning and of the rains they bring. Rabbit was told that since he was so fond of cutting down bushes he would do that thereafter, and so he does to this day.
Rabbit felt belittled because Deer had won the crown of lightning, and resolved to get even. One day, soon after the race, he stretched a large grapevine across the trail, and gnawed it nearly in two in the middle. Then he went back a piece, took a good run, and jumped up at the vine. He kept on running and jumping up at the vine until Deer came along and asked him what he was doing?
"Don't you see?" said Rabbit. "I'm so strong that I can bite through that grapevine at one jump."
Deer could hardly believe this, and wanted to see it done. So Rabbit ran back, made a tremendous spring, and bit through the vine where he had gnawed it before. Deer, when he saw that, said, "Well, I can do it if you can." So Rabbit stretched a larger grapevine across the trail, but without gnawing it in the middle. Deer ran back as he had seen the Rabbit do, made a spring, and struck the grapevine right in the center, but it only flew back and threw him over on his head. He tried again and again, until he was all bruised and bleeding.
"Let me see your teeth," said Rabbit finally. So Deer showed him his teeth, which were long like a wolf's teeth, but not very sharp.
"No wonder you can't do it," said Rabbit; "your teeth are too blunt to do anything. Let me sharpen them for you like mine. My teeth are so sharp that I can cut through a stick just like a knife." And he showed him a black locust twig, of which rabbits gnaw the young shoots, which he had shaved off as well as a knife could do it, in regular rabbit fashion. Deer thought that was a great idea, so Rabbit got a hard stone with rough edges and filed and filed away at Deer's teeth until they were worn down almost to the gums.
"That hurts!" said Deer; but Rabbit said it always hurt a little when they began to get sharp; so Deer kept quiet.
"Now try it," at last said Rabbit. So Deer tried again, but this time he could not bite at all.
"Enjoy the antlers, sucker!" said the Rabbit, as he jumped away through the bushes. Ever since then Deer's teeth are so blunt that he cannot chew anything but grass and leaves.
Deer was very angry at Rabbit for filing down his teeth, and determined to get revenge, but he kept still and pretended to be friendly until Rabbit was off guard. Then one day, as they were going along together talking, he challenged the Rabbit to jump against him. Now, since everyone knows that Rabbit is a great jumper, he agreed.
There was a small stream beside the path, as there generally is in that country, and Deer said "Let's see if you can jump across this branch. We'll go back a way, and when I say GO! we both run and jump."
"All right," said Rabbit. So they went back to get a good start, and when Deer gave the word GO!, they ran for the stream, and Rabbit made one jump and landed on the other side. But Deer had stopped on the bank, and when Rabbit looked back, Deer had conjured the stream so that it was a large river. Rabbit was never able to get back again and is still on the other side. The rabbit that we know is only a little creature that came along afterwards.
- On one level, this is a children's story about being a good person: don't cheat others, don't be spiteful, and so forth. It's a lesson in human motivations.
- On another level, this is about selecting leaders. Deer is strong and noble, but a little naive. Rabbit is smaller but shrewd, willing to cheat to get what he wants. He's a back-stabbing little Machiavellian. He may not even see preparing the course as truly cheating. But the referees do. Deer is the one you want to have top position in a leadership structure. Rabbit needs to stay close as an advisor, because Rabbit is more likely to spot another back-stabber approaching. It takes one to know one. This year, we are selecting a leader for our nation, who by default is really president of the world. This lesson is timely.
- In the sky Deer is the constellation Galagina (roughly equivalent to Taurus), Rabbit is Venus, and River is the Milky Way. "The thicket" is the dense patch of stars, and the course through it is roughly circular - a recurring cycle or orbit.
- In another version of the story, Deer and Rabbit go ahead with the race, and each takes the lead for a spell. We can also see how each appears to have the upper hand for a while.
- The recent solar eclipse produced a crescent or "horned" disc for a few minutes. The partial lunar eclipse on Monday will as well... Horned Crowns in the sky.
- Rabbit/Venus has already doubled back and will cross the face of the sun on Tuesday and Wednesday as Sun and Venus appear to be between the antlers of Deer/Taurus at sunrise Tuesday and Wednesday.
I could go on, but just know that there are layers and layers of meaning to the ancient stories passed down by our ancestors. Some of you have wondered why the book "Even Heaven Falls Apart" is taking me so long to complete. Now you understand some of the complexity!
Whatever meaning you draw from it, the next Transit of Venus won't occur until 2117. If nothing else, take a moment and reflect on the usqanigodi, the wondrous and complex nature of it all! And give thanks for the departed Elders who preserved this wisdom that we might share it today.
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