The Legend of Yù tù
The Moon rabbit, also called the Jade Rabbit, is a rabbit that lives on the moon in folklore, based on pareidolia that identifies the markings of the moon as a rabbit. The story exists in many cultures, particularly in East Asian folklore, where it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle. In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions it is just pounding the ingredients for rice cake.
The Legend says The Divine Jade Emperor decided to find someone reliable and of good character to be responsible for producing the divine elixir, but humans were too clever, and did tricks and deceptions. Finally, the Divine Emperor of Jade became fond of animals and sent three deities to the mortal world with the task of choosing the most suitable animals to be cultivated in divine beings.
The three deities came down to Earth in the form of three old and prepared to search in the woods. They sat on the forest floor begging, "Please some food for us, since we have no energy to find food, we're hungry!" The animals who heard the cries came. Among these, a fox, a monkey and a rabbit gained much sympathy for the three old ones and separated looking for food. The fox found some manioc, the monkey picked up some fruit, but the rabbit looked around the forest and found nothing to eat. When he saw the three old men eating manioc and fruits, he felt much regret and sadness that jumped over the fire burning on the ground, intending to cook himself to give the elderly something to eat.
The old saw the rabbit heart and decided to take him to Heaven. When the Divine Jade Emperor heard what happened, found that the rabbit was benevolent and responsible, and appointed by the gods to teach him to produce the divine elixir. The rabbit learned diligently and soon knew everything. Very satisfied, during the conversion ceremony of the rabbit in a deity, the Divine Emperor Jade decided to give a new look. So, the rabbit skin was transparent as crystal, and it was brilliant. Seeing the whole body of the rabbit looked like white jade, the gods in Heaven called him "Yu Tu", the Jade Rabbit. And, touched by the rabbit’s virtue, drew the likeness of the rabbit on the moon for all to see. It is said the lunar image is still draped in the smoke that rose when the rabbit cast itself into the fire.
Similar legends occur in Mexican folklore, where people also identified the markings on the moon as a rabbit. According to an Aztec legend, the god Quetzalcoatl, then living on Earth as a man, started on a journey and, after walking for a long time, became hungry and tired. With no food or water around, he thought he would die. Then a rabbit grazing nearby, seeing him suffering, offered himself as food to save his life. Quetzalcoatl, moved by the rabbit’s noble offering, elevated him to the moon, then lowered him back to Earth and told him:
“You may be just a rabbit, but everyone will remember you; there is your image in light, for all men and for all times.”