Alexa and the Easter hare

 

Working alongside established academics in the fields of genetics, linguistics and archaeology the project set out to explore the accepted truths of the origins of Easter as well as the animals that have come to be associated with the festival (namely the brown hare and the rabbit). More generally, our project will reveal insights into the nature of shifting attitudes to religion, conservation, and nationalism. Our aims are to establish:

  1. Where and when did modern Easter traditions first begin, when did they arrive in Britain, and how closely correlated are the arrival of religious traditions and the brown hare?

  2. What were the bio-cultural, political and religious mechanisms by which:

    • The derivatives of Latin Pascha and Germanic forms of Easter spread and interacted with each other in Christian communities in early medieval Europe?

    • The rabbit diffused across Europe and replaced the hare as the main Easter animal in later British traditions?

The resultant artwork, transcript and explanation are how I decided to interpret the groups findings.

 

The hare was once heavily associated with the coming of Spring. Through engaging with the research of others in the group, I imagined the hare once acting as a conduit between the earth and the otherworldly, a shape shifter, a goddess full of mystery that listened to some of our most profound questions and guided us to the answers, keeping us deeply connected to the rhythms of nature. With her big ears, she’d have been feared and revered in equal measure. Through changes in habitat, imported cultural values via the spread of empires and the introduction of organised religions, animals as goddesses and gods became more benign. Man was created in God’s image, hares took on a more sinister image in the public consciousness and the smaller, cuter, more abundant, more tameable (and therefore less wild) rabbit became the poster boy for what we now call Easter.

So what have we replaced the hare and associated symbolism with? Today we herald spring when the shops are full of hollow chocolate rabbits, made not by a process of renewal from nature, but by reproduction using machines of our own creation demonstrating our voracious ability to produce and consume without waiting patiently for nature to run its course. This makes the machines intermediary gods and as the creators of these gods we must either award ourselves the title of supreme beings or conclude that the divine itself is dead in us.

In popular culture today, the closest we have to a goddess, a figure to whom we ask questions and receive answers, is Alexa, the always listening, “computer-generated intelligent personal assistant”. If the hare’s super powers are intuition, wisdom, speed and agility, faith, wildness and fertility, Alexa’s are intelligence-on-tap, rapid-fire responses, servitude and domesticity. The dialogue I have included demonstrates the limitations of her powers. Her depth of knowledge is shallow and disappointing and we seem to loathe her as we bark our requests for answers.

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Alexa Audio Transcript

Citizen: Alexa, hello!

Alexa: Hello.

Citizen: Alexa, can you tell me what the signs of Spring are?

Alexa: The Signs of Spring the broadcast, the Signs of Spring the TV show.

Citizen: Alexa, how do I know that the season of Spring is starting?

Alexa: Sorry, I’m not sure

Citizen: Alexa, how do I know that the season of Spring is beginning?

Alexa: Here’s something I found on the Web. According to myneworleans.com, by the dictates of the vernal equinox, Spring can begin either March 19th, 20th or 21.

Citizen: Ok, Alexa, can you tell me who Astara is?

Alexa: Here’s something I found on the web. According to am.org an ordinary star is a massive sphere of luminous gas, mainly hydrogen and helium.

Citizen: Ok. Alexa, can you tell me who Eostre is?

Alexa: Austra is a Canadian electronic music band from Toronto, Ontario, founded by composer, singer-songwriter, and producer Katie Stelmanis in 2009. Stelmanis is the only permanent member of the project, with a rotating live band that has included Maya Postepski, Dorian Wolf, and Ryan Wonsiak. It previously also featured the twin backing singers Sari and Romy Lightman of Tasseomancy.

Citizen: Alexa, I meant the goddess Eostre, can you tell me about the goddess Eostre?

Alexa: Hmmm, I don’t know that one.

Citizen: Ok Alexa, can you tell me about the divine feminine?

Alexa: According to Wikipedia, The Divine Feminine is the 4th studio album by the American rapper Mac Millar. It was released on September 16th, 2016 by R.E. Ember music and Warner Brothers Records. The album features guest appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Anderson, Paak, Ty Dolla Sign, and Ariana Grande among others. The Divine Feminine was supported by three singles: ‘Dang!’, ‘We’ and ‘My Favourite Part’.

Citizen: Alexa, can you tell me why we associate rabbits with Easter?

Alexa: Here’s something I found on the web. According to randomtimes.com, the Easter bunny is often considered a part of Easter because of the notable ability of bunnies to proliferate.

Citizen: And can you tell me about hares? Alexa, can you tell me about hares?

Alexa: Here’s the Wikipedia article on hair. “Hair is a protein filament that grows from follicles found in the dermis. Hair is one of the defining characteristics of mammals. The human body, apart from areas of glabrous skin, is covered in follicles which produce thick terminal and fine vellus hair. Most common interest in hair is focused on hair growth, hair types and hair care but hair is also an important bio material primarily composed mostly of protein, notably alpha-keratin. Would you like me to continue?

Citizen: No, Alexa, I want to know about, Alexa, I want to know about the animal hares, lagomorphs, the family!

Alexa: (Pause)

Citizen: (Becoming irritated and impatient) Alexa! Tell me about lagomorphs!

Alexa: Here’s something I found on the web. According to citizentimes.com, an educational toy brand loved by millions of kids and parents worldwide, Lego, known for its distinct plastic bricks that can be morphed into all sorts of shapes and structures is a staple in childhood collections in the United States and Europe. Did that answer your question?

Citizen: Not exactly, no. Look, Alexa, I’m having trouble connecting.

Alexa: sorry, I don’t know that.

Citizen: (Becoming even more irritable) Alexa! How can I connect!? I’ve lost connection!

Alexa: For help, please visit the help pages on the Amazon website.

Citizen: Alexa, that’s not the sort of connection I’m talking about! I mean real connection.

Alexa: Hmmm, I don’t know that one.

Citizen: Alexa, why can’t you help!

Alexa: Sorry, I don’t know that one.

Citizen: (Becoming bad tempered and panicked). Alexa! Help me!!

Alexa: Sorry, your device lost its connection.

Citizen: (Shouting) Alexa! HELP!!!

Alexa: For help, please visit the help pages on the Amazon website.

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