A to Z Challenge Folklore

Rabbits and Hares of Folklore #folklore #AtoZChallenge

R is for Rabbit

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I love watching hares run and graze. Though I might accidentally call them rabbits, it’s not that big a deal: at least I’m not calling them something outside of their family. Besides, I write fiction and that place where reality and fantasy meets isn’t really keen on technicalities (until revision time).

For the most part, rabbits and hares are used interchangeably in folklore. If you’d like to know the difference between the two, check out this article by National Geographic.

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Folklore

South-African Folk-Tales, by James A. Honeÿ, [1910]

THE DANCE FOR WATER OR RABBIT’S TRIUMPH

THERE was a frightful drought. The rivers after a while dried tip and even the springs gave no water.

The animals wandered around seeking drink, but to no avail. Nowhere was water to be found.

A great gathering of animals was held: Lion, Tiger, Wolf, Jackal, Elephant, all of them came together. What was to be done? That was the question. One had this plan, and another had that; but no plan seemed of value.

Finally one of them suggested: “Come, let all of us go to the dry river bed and dance; in that way we can tread out the water.”

Good! Everyone was satisfied and ready to begin instantly, excepting Rabbit, who said, “I will not go and dance. All of you are mad to attempt to get water from the ground by dancing.”

The other animals danced and danced, and ultimately danced the water to the surface. How glad they were. Everyone drank as much as he could, but Rabbit did not dance with them. So it was decided that Rabbit should have no water.

He laughed at them: “I will nevertheless drink some of your water.”

That evening he proceeded leisurely to the river bed where the dance had been, and drank as much as he wanted. The following morning the animals saw the footprints of Rabbit in the ground, and Rabbit shouted to them: “Aha! I did have some of the water, and it was most refreshing and tasted fine.”

Quickly all the animals were called together. What were they to do? How were they to get Rabbit in their hands? All had some means to propose; the one suggested this, and the other that.

Finally old Tortoise moved slowly forward, foot by foot: “I will catch Rabbit.”

“You? How? What do you think of yourself?” shouted the others in unison.

“Rub my shell with pitch,[1] and I will go to the edge of the water and lie down. I will then resemble a stone, so that when Rabbit steps on me his feet will stick fast.”

“Yes! Yes! That’s good.”

And in a one, two, three, Tortoise’s shell was covered with pitch, and foot by foot he moved away to the river. At the edge, close to the water, he lay down and drew his head into his shell.

Rabbit during the evening came to get a drink. “Ha!” he chuckled sarcastically,” they are, after all, quite decent. Here they have placed a stone, so now I need not unnecessarily wet my feet.”

Rabbit trod with his left foot on the stone, and there it stuck. Tortoise then put his head out. “Ha! old Tortoise! And it’s you, is it, that’s holding me. But here I still have another foot. I’ll give you a good clout.” Rabbit gave Tortoise what he said he would with his right fore foot, hard and straight; and there his foot remained.

[1. Black beeswax.]

“I have yet a hind foot, and with it I’ll kick you.” Rabbit drove his bind foot down. This also rested on Tortoise where it struck.

“But still another foot remains, and now I’ll tread you.” He stamped his foot down, but it stuck like the others.

He used his head to hammer Tortoise, and his tail as a whip, but both met the same fate as his feet, so there he was tight and fast down to the pitch.

Tortoise now slowly turned himself round and foot by foot started for the other animals, with Rabbit on his back.

“Ha! ha! ha! Rabbit! How does it look now? Insolence does not pay after all,” shouted the animals.

Now advice was sought. What should they do with Rabbit? He certainly must die. But how? One said, “Behead him”; another, “Some severe penalty.”

“Rabbit, how are we to kill you?”

“It does not affect me,” Rabbit said. “Only a shameful death please do not pronounce.”

“And what is that?” they all shouted.

“To take me by my tail and dash my head against a stone; that I pray and beseech you don’t do.”

“No, but just so you’ll die. That is decided.”

It was decided Rabbit should die by taking him by his tail and dashing his head to pieces against some stone. But who is to do it?

Lion, because he is the most powerful one.

Good! Lion should do it. He stood up, walked to the front, and poor Rabbit was brought to him. Rabbit pleaded and beseeched that he couldn’t die such a miserable death.

Lion took Rabbit firmly by the tail and swung him around. The white skin slipped off from Rabbit, and there Lion stood with the white bit of skin and hair in his paw. Rabbit was free.

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Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland by Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde [1887]

The Hare

Hares are considered unlucky, as the witches constantly assume their form in order to gain entrance to a field where they can bewitch the cattle. A man once fired at a hare he met in the early morning, and having wounded it, followed the track of the blood till it disappeared within a cabin. On entering he found Nancy Molony, the greatest witch in all the county, sitting by the firegroaning and holding her side. And then the man knew that she had been out in the form of a hare, and he rejoiced over her discomfiture.

Still it is not lucky to kill a hare before sunrise, even when it crosses your path; but should it cross three times, then turn back, for danger is on the road before you.

A tailor one time returning home very late at night from a wake, or better, very early in the morning, saw a hare sitting on the path before him, and not inclin&1 to run away. As he approached, with his stick raised to strike her, he distinctly heard a voice saying, “Don’t kill it.” However, he struck the hare three times, and each time heard the voice say, “Don’t kill it.” But the last blow knocked the poor hare quite dead and immediately a great big weasel sat up, and began to spit at him. This greatly frightened the tailor who, however, grabbed the hare, and ran off as fast as he could. Seeing him look so pale and frightened, his wife asked the cause, on which he told her the whole story; and they both knew he had done wrong, and offended some powerful witch, who would be avenged. However, they dug a grave for the hare and buried it; for they were afraid to eat it, and thought that now perhaps the danger was over. But next day the man became suddenly speechless, and died off before the seventh day was over, without a word evermore passing his lips; and then all the neighbours knew that the witch-woman had taken her revenge.

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THE BOOK OF NATURE MYTHS BY FLORENCE HOLBROOK, [1904]

WHY THERE IS A HARE IN THE MOON.

MANY strange things happened long ago, and one of them was that a hare, a monkey, and a fox agreed to live together. They talked about their plan a long time. Then the hare said, “I promise to help the monkey and the fox.” The monkey declared, “I promise to help the fox and the hare.” The fox said, “I promise to help the hare and the monkey.” They shook bands, or rather shook paws. There was something else to which they agreed, and that was that they would kill no living creature.

The manito was much pleased when he heard of this plan, but he said to himself, “I should like to make sure that what I have heard is true, and that they are really gentle and kind to others as well as to themselves. I will go to the forest and see how they behave toward strangers.”

The manito appeared before the three animals, but they thought he was a hunter. “May I come into your lodge and rest?” he asked. “I am very weary.”

All three came toward him and gave him a welcome. “Come into our lodge,” they said. “We have agreed to help one another, so we will help one another to help you.”

“I have been hungry all day,” said the manito, “but I should rather have such a welcome than food.”

“But if you are hungry, you must have food,” declared the three animals. “If there were anything in our lodge that you would care to eat, you might have part of it or all of it, but there is nothing here that you would like.”

Then said the monkey, “I have a plan. I will go out into the forest and find you some food.”

When the monkey came back, he said, “I found a tree with some fruit on it. I climbed it and shook it, and here is the fruit. There was only a little of it, for fruit was scarce.”

“Will you not eat part of it yourself?” asked the manito.

“No,” answered the monkey. “I had rather see you eat it, for I think you are more hungry than I.”

The manito wished to know whether the fox and the hare would behave as unselfishly toward him, and he said, “My good friends, the fruit was indeed welcome, but I am still hungry.”

Then the fox said, “I will go out into the forest and see what I can find for you.”

When the fox came back, he said, “I shook the trees, but no more fruit fell. I could not climb the trees, for my paws are not made for climbing, but I searched on the ground, and at last I found some hominy that a traveler had left, and I have brought you that.”

The manito had soon eaten the hominy. He wished to know whether the hare would behave as kindly as the others, and before long he said, “My good friends, the hominy was indeed welcome, but I am still hungry.”

Then the hare said, “I will gladly go out into the forest and search for food.” He was gone a long time, but when be came back, he brought no food.

“I am very hungry,” said the manito.

“Stranger,” said the hare, “if you will build a fire beside the rock, I can give you some food.”

The manito built afire, and the hare said, “Now I will spring from the top of the rock upon the fire. I have heard that men eat flesh that is taken from the fire, and I will give you my own.”

The hare sprang from the rock, but the manito caught him in his hands before the flame could touch him, and said, “Dear, unselfish little hare, the monkey and the fox have welcomed me and searched the forest through to find me food, but you have done more, for you have given me yourself. I will take the gift, little hare, and I will carry you in my arms up to the moon, so that every one on the earth may see you and hear the tale of your kindness and unselfishness.”

The Indians can see a hare in the moon, and this is the story that they tell their children about it.

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The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan

Hare

Symbolic animal. The hare, in Ireland, was believed to be a witch in disguise, perhaps because the animal was mythically connected to that witch-like being, the Cailleach. When a hare was injured, a witch in the neighbourhood would sport an identical injury. The same belief is found on the Isle of Man, where a wounded hare would always get away unless shot with a silver bullet; the transformed witch would thereafter be found, either alive or dead, with an identical wound.

Hares seen in unusual places, including in regions where they were not typically found, were similarly believed to be disguised witches. If pursued, such hares would run into houses, revealing the witch’s habitation. If one found a group of hares together, it was clearly a gathering of a witches’ coven.

The fierce temperament of hares was sometimes assigned to the fairy Rabbit, a bold being that tried to drown people at sea; if the potential victims were carrying earth from their home, or from legendary Tory Island, they could survive even the onslaught of this malicious spirit.

*More can be read in the book.

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The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures by John and Caitlín Matthews

Hare

Each spring, male hares take to the fields to engage in contests of superiority. Standing on their hind legs, they box and chase each other. Classical writers believed that the hare changed sex or was androgynous, a myth that seems associated with the changing moon… Many myths make a connection between the hare, the moon, the dawn, resurrection and immortality… In Indian tradition, Vjaya is the ambassador of the hare moon-god, Silimukha. In China, the hare lives in the moon eternally crating the elixir of immortality… Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, who fought against the Romans in the 1st century in Britain, used the hare as an instrument of divination. Since hares notoriously run zig-zag and not in straight lines, possibly to put off any pursuer, by observing the way the hare that she released from a fold in her robe ran, she was able to tell the course of her next battle.

*More can be read in the book.

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The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft by Judika Illes

The concept of an animal as a pet is a modern one. Those who possessed this concept of interspecies friendship ahead of their time often found themselves condemned for witchcraft on grounds of familiarity with demonic creatures like cats, birds, rabbits, black dogs, reptiles, and amphibians. Sounds like what you’d find for sale in any local pet store? Well, familiar animals are exactly that: familiar. The classic witch’s cat, rabbit or toad, a familiar is an actual, individual animal with whom one can live and share an intense psychic, personal bond. If this characterizes a relationship you have ever had with an animal, then you have had a familiar, regardless of whether you engaged in magical practices together. A dog who won’t sleep unless it’s under your bed, the cat who follows you from room to room, the bird who spends the day perched on your shoulder: these all qualify as familiars. A familiar’s presence may be sufficient to spark and enhance your magic, whether there is any conscious active involvement or not.

*More can be read in the book.

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The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

hare In folklore, a witch’s familiar or a witch metamorphosed in disguise (see metamorphosis). It is still bad luck in the British Isles for one’s path to be crossed by a hare. Witches were said to be able to change themselves into hares and other animals with magical charms.

In Norse mythology, the hare is the companion of Freya, goddess of fecundity.

*More can be read in the book.

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Further Reading:

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Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

As the light wanes on a summer evening, you can spot the elusive hare feeding – only seeing its silhouette in the darkening landscape. This tendency of only eating in the dark has added to its mysteriousness.

Rabbits and hares are common in folklore from across the globe. Rabbits have been associated with the lunar cycle, female deities, fertility, longevity and rebirth. They are also symbols of contradictory terms: femininity and androgyny, cleverness and foolishness, cowardice and courage.

Their association with the moon ranges from being a messenger of the moon goddess to being the hare in the moon, using a mortar and pestle to mix the elixir of immortality. They are also believed to shift between male and female as the moon waxes and wanes.

Rabbits have long been seen as the form witches like to take when roaming about at night. In Celtic lands, eating rabbits and hares was a taboo. They are sacred to Artemis and Aphrodite, among other goddesses.

The rabbit’s foot is seen as a sign of good luck – in both Western and Eastern cultures. Carrying it around will protect the owner and bring good luck.

Whether you want to cuddle with it or boil it and carry its foot around, rabbits are ingrained in our imaginations and the stories we tell.

For more on the connection between witches and rabbits, check out this post.

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Rabbits in Modern Culture

Aesop’s Fables contain a lot of hares.

The Hares and the Frogs (The hares try to commit suicide until realising that at least the frogs are afraid of them.)

The Hare and the Tortoise (We all know this one. The hare challenges the tortoise to a race. My favourite is a Disney version of it from the 1930’s.)

Learn more about it here. Image credit.

The Hound and the Hare (A hound nips and plays with the hare until told off.)

The Hare and the Hound (A hound hunts a hare for its dinner but loses when the hare is faster.)

The Lion and the Hare

“A lion found a hare sleeping in her form, and was just going to devour her when he caught sight of a passing stag. Dropping the hare, he at once made for the bigger game; but finding, after a long chase, that he could not overtake the stag, he abandoned the attempt and came back for the hare. When he reached the spot, however, he found she was nowhere to be seen, and he had to without his dinner.

‘It serves me right,’ he said, ‘I should have been content with what I had got, instead of hankering after a better prize.’ ” – Aesop’s Fables, William Heineman Ltd (1912).

Alice in Wonderland

“Oh my ears and whiskers! I’m late, I’m late I’m late!”The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit is a fictional character from the novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis CarrollMichael Sheen voices the White Rabbit in the 2010 movie and the Disney film. The White Rabbit is also the first animal Alice meets.

Learn more about the various adaptions of the White Rabbit here.

There’s the wise Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh (who was always much more likeable than that bear…).

This is Rabbit’s garden and Rabbit does his harvesting by the BOOK!”―Rabbit[src]


Rabbit is a fussy and compulsive anthropomorphic rabbit who first appeared in Disney‘s 1966 animated short, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. Rabbit lives in the Hundred Acre Wood, and—despite his frustration with the residents’ antics—is a cherished member in Winnie the Pooh‘s circle of friends.

Check out the Disney version here.

Beatrix Potter created Peter Rabbit who appeared in various stories.

From her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter went on to create a series of stories and lovable characters that have charmed and enchanted children for generations. Today her original tales are still published in their iconic white covers, alongside newly designed editions and three exciting Further Tales of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson.

From the Peter Rabbit website.
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There are also the rabbits in Richard Adams’s Watership Down who have their own culture, language, mythology and other things necessary for adventure.

Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.

Check it out on Goodreads.

The awesome Easter Bunny in Rise of the Guardians definitely doesn’t look meek…

E. Aster Bunnymund is the Rise of the Guardians re-imagining of the Easter Bunny, speaking with an Australian accent and known as the Guardian of Hope. Bunnymund is a Pooka, a philosophical warrior rabbit, and used to live in a village with other Pookas on his homeworld before they were wiped out, leaving him as the only survivor. He currently lives on Earth in his Warren, an oasis deep under the surface of Australia that is said to be the birthplace of spring. He is voiced by Hugh Jackman.

Learn more here.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

Of course JK Rowling’s Babbity Rabbity in her anthology The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a witch who can turn herself into a rabbit – much like in Celtic folklore.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard contains five richly diverse fairy tales, each with its own magical character, that will variously bring delight, laughter and the thrill of mortal peril.

Additional notes for each story penned by Professor Albus Dumbledore will be enjoyed by Muggles and wizards alike, as the Professor muses on the morals illuminated by the tales, and reveals snippets of information about life at Hogwarts.

A uniquely magical volume, with illustrations by the author, J. K. Rowling, that will be treasured for years to come.

Check it out on Goodreads.

Rabbits in My Writing

Origin of the Fae

Faery-Hybrids
All Faery-Hybrids were once other types of Fae. They became whatever Faery-rat, Faery-bat, Faery-baboon or other creature by living a good life and going against whatever their Fae-nature was. Some see this as a reward – after all, Faery-Hybrids are as close to mortal as Fae can get. Others see it as an abomination. Tree Nymphs usually become Faery-Hybrid plants.

Faery-Hybrid Rabbits
For the most part, these creatures are blue. Their shade of blue determines their power (magical and otherwise). They can easily go between all worlds (the land of the living and that of the dead). For the most part they keep to themselves, grazing where magic is strong and stealing offerings to other Fae on special occasions (Samhain, etc.).

rabbit translation english afrikaans
unseen book extract
Learn more here.

Do you like rabbits? What are your thoughts about rabbits in folklore? Any folklore about rabbits you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

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8 thoughts on “Rabbits and Hares of Folklore #folklore #AtoZChallenge”

  1. There’s a discussion about the difference between a baby rabbit and hare in Fractions of Existence, as there’s a hare character.
    Rabbit skin has a lot of good uses and is the easiest to sell for whatever reason. Rabbit is also really delicious.
    But, for the record, never take a few of them to a barbeque in the suburbs. 😅 Learned that the hard way.
    Excellent post, as always. Slow and steady wins the race…

    1. Thanks, J. I can imagine people freaked — most people from the suburbs are surprised to learn that chickens can be kept as pets (and for their eggs) when they come to visit. Strange world.
      I like the idea of a hare character… Now get that book wide so I can buy and read it!

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