Hare Today and Yesterday
Written by Kerry E.B. Black
Rabbits hop through our gardens and our imaginations, just as they skip through the folk lore and mythology of our ancestors. From the Easter Bunny with its springtime symbols of rebirth and renewal to Buddha’s placement of the hare in a honored position on the Chinese calendar, bunnies fascinate us. These quiet creatures often conduct their business at night, some would say in secret, and many view the humble hare with suspicion.
Witches used hares as familiars, creatures who spied for their witchy friends. Some witches could transform into hares, disguising themselves to attend coven meetings or steal a neighbor’s milk or food. Hares ate crops, and many witches were blamed for ruining crops. According to www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk , a practitioner of the dark arts set up a scam using her transformative abilities to collect coins. She sent her grandson to the local squire’s manor to report a large spotted hare on the grounds. Since the squire enjoyed hunting, he paid the young man for the information. When he loosed his hunting hounds, however, they never caught their quarry. The crafty witch got away time and again with this ruse.
Many Native American tribes honored the Great Hare who created the earth. Others regarded hares as tricksters, wily and swift of both foot and wit. They challenge the unwary to races and scam gold and food from the naïve. Many natives honored Rabbit’s unquestioned intellect.
In ancient Greece, Artemis, Hecate, and Aphrodite considered the hare sacred. One legend places the constellation Lepus as a tormentor for the Hunter Orion and his dogs, forever evading their capture. Tortoise beat the Hare in a foot race because of Rabbit’s inflated ego, providing a moral for Aesop.
Pliny the Elder explained eating rabbits heightened sex appeal and cured sterility. In fact, rabbits’ association with renewal, creativity, and new beginnings continue. Oestra, Ostara, and Holda all associated with Hares. Brer Rabbit tricked Brer Fox and Brer Bear in the US Southern cautionary tales of the last century. Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit is sometimes referenced as a way to reveal one’s truest self, and the madness of March Hares was a common reference, probably because the mating season for hares begins in March, and randy bunnies act in peculiar ways. Beatrix Potter and Mel Blanc featured clever rabbits, and children world-wide adore Bambi’s friend, Thumper.
Yet somehow, perhaps because of their wily nature, rabbit feet are sometimes kept as good luck tokens. Invoking a rabbit three times as the first words uttered on the first day of a new month is said to bring a particular magic to the speaker. “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.” Be they lucky or a source of fright, rabbits fascinate and abound.