"Into the Woods" series, 53: The Wild Hunt
Happy Halloween from all of us at Bumblehill

"Into the Woods" series, 54: Following the Hare

Woodland gate in autumn

Today I have another folklore post for you in the run-up to Halloween. This time it's on the subject of "Witch Hares," a creature more common that you might think....

Moongazing by Jackie MorrisAs Carolyne Larrington observes in her new book, The Land of the Green Men: A Journey Through the Supernatural Landscape of the British Isles: "We tend to associate witches with black cats that operate as their familiar spirits, but more traditionally the witch transforms herself into a hare in order to steal milk from the neighbours' cows. The witch-hare has other moneymaking sidelines, however: in one rather jolly tale from Tavistock in Devon, she gives the hare hunters a run for their money. In a letter written in 1833, a certain Mrs. Bray relates how a young boy would would earn money by starting hares for the local hare hunters -- he was always able to find one when they seemed scarce. Somehow, the hare always managed to get away. This made the huntsman suspicious, so on one occasion the hounds were teed up to to get on to their prey's trail more quickly. The hare zigged and zagged to cries from the boy of 'Granny! Quick! Run for your life!' Aha! The hare just made it into the boy's grandmother's cottage through a little hole. When the huntsmen broke in, no animal was to be seen. But the old woman was quite out of breath, and she had scratches as if she had been running through brambles."

Three hares by Jackie Morris

The woodland's edge in autumn

Why, asks Larrington, are there so many stories of witches in the shape of hares all across the British Isles?

"They were familiar animals before the industrialisation of the countryside," she notes, "and their habit of rearing up on their hind legs and their distinctive zigzag run made them easy to pick out. They are swift and clever -- which explains how they always manage to get back to the witches' houses before they Song of the Golden Hare by Jackie Morrisare caught -- and the have long been indigenous to the British landscape. Hares thus appear in a good deal of folklore across the country....I've seen hares myself near where I live in North Oxfordshire, up by the Roman road that runs along the southern side of Madmarston Hill near Swalcliffe: two big beasts on their hind legs, boxing away at one another like a couple of prizefighters, until they spotted me and the dog. Then they swerved away over the stubbly March fields, only to take up their bout again at a more distant corner. These hares were probably a male/female pair, rather than rival males duking it out: the female was trying the repel the male's advances, with limited success."

A detail from the Hare and the Moon by Jackie Morris

The woodland in autumn

Two hares by Jackie Morris

Hares are sometimes seen to gather together in what looks like a convocation, says Larrington, "eight or ten of them sitting in a circle and gazing at one another as if in silent communication. The writer Justine Picardi mentions seeing just such a phenomenon in June 2012 in the Scottish highlands:

" 'On the way here last night, a magical scene: glimpsed in a field beside the lane, a circle of hares, all gazing inward, motionless in the moment that we passed. I've heard occasional stories of these rarely witnessed gatherings -- but never seen one for myself. No camera to hand -- although if we'd stopped, I'm sure the hares would have vanished -- yet a sight impossible to forget.'

"But we know of course that these were no ordinary hares, but surely a gathering of witches in hare form."

We Are All Moongazing by Jackie Morris

If you'd like to know more about about Witch Hares and other hare legends, then in addition to Larrington's book (which devotes part of a chapter to the subject), I recommend The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans & David Thomson, a volume completely devoted to hare history and legendry. Another one to seek out is The Hare Book, edited by Jane Russ for The Hare Preservation Trust (UK), which is a delightful and informative compilation of stories and facts about hares accompanied by photographs and art -- including contributions from Jackie Morris, Virginia Lee, and Hannah Willow. (I particularly recommend Jackie's story in the book, "The Old Hare in Spring: 1502," inspired by the art of Albrecht Dürer, and the charming true-life tale of the three hares beloved by the 18th century poet William Cowper.)

You'll find more magical hares in my previous post "The Folklore of Rabbits and Hares" -- as well as some Witch Hares leaping through a post on Devon folklore: "Tales of a Half-Tamed Land." Devon is a veritable hotbed of shape-shifting hares, so be wary if you're out after dark here....

Hare drawing by Jackie Morris

The gorgeous hare art in this post is by Jackie Morris, one of the finest painters of hares (and other animals) working today. After admiring her art and stories for years, I finally had the opportunity to meet her earlier this month when her travels brought her through Devon -- and to see her gorgeous new book: The Wild Swans (which I highly recommend), and to hear about her current project: a collaboration with Robert Macfarlane. (What a combination of talents that will be!) To view more of Jackie's work, please visit her website and seek out her beautiful books...especially, in light of today's subject, Song of the Golden Hare.

Hare watcher at the woodland's edge

from Song of the Golden Hare by Jackie MorrisThe quote by Carolyne Larrington is from The Land of the Green Men (I.B.Taurus & Co., 2015). The quotes in the picture captions are from The Hare Book edited by Jane Russ (The Hare Preservation Trust/ Graffeg Books, 2014). All rights to the text and art above reserved by their respective creators. A previous post on Jackie Morris' marvelous books: "The wild sky."

Comments

Thanks for this Terri. I still have more hares to write. The Hare Who Plays with the Moon is haunting me these days. I love the transformation of hares. I long for a pair of white fur slippers than transform me into a wild white hare.

magic is afoot!

Grandmother Rabbit

Grandmother Rabbi gazes
at the harvest moon,
that great carrot in the sky.
Remembers past gardens,
running through the hoeings,
dancing in the furrows,
Remembers howls of dogs
falling behind her.
Remembers zigging and zagging
till she finds the hole
beneath her cabin,
gets into her nightgown,
hops into bed.

The knock on the door,
does not faze her,
nor the out-of-breath hunters,
her sons and grandsons,
muttering curses
that dribble into apologies
under her unforgiving glare.
They think she is old,
incapable of moving
more than a moment
from her coverlets
They hate to disturb her,
pulling her from her warm bed.

Their wives will turn
cold shoulders to them,
make them sleep
in another room.
She sends them off,
laughs as the door closes.
Tomorrow she will dance again
with her daughters and granddaughters,
under the glow of Mother Moon.

©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Love this one Jane. Especially, "Their wives will turn/ cold shoulders to them,/ make them sleep/ in another room." !

Terri, Not quite a witch hare, but my youngest son has elected to be a bunny for Halloween tomorrow night (he turns 4 the very next day). Recently, he asked me about where bunnies sleep and when I said in a hole in the ground, he grew upset and agitated and insisted they sleep in beds. It was then that I realized he thought "being a bunny for Halloween" meant actually transforming into a rabbit and sleeping in a hole. I asked him if this was why he was upset and he burst into tears and I cried "I can't sleep in a hole!". Such a precious moment.

A wonderful poem/tale. "The harvest moon, that great carrot in the sky...."

What a tale to tell! What an honor, to be a bunny for Halloween. But still to sleep on your own little bed.

The Western Hare

Once more memory serves
The Jackrabbit, similar to
But not a Hare. They have
A place in the long ago,
The time of drums and dancing,
Tribes with animal, bird and
Fish names, reverence.

How we blundered into
This magical way, how now
Jackrabbit, coyote, elk.
Salmon, trout, raven
Became just out there,
Nothing magic. Tragic
To the little girl who ran
Into the woods, to sit
Silently on a rock,

As she sits, Jackrabbits
Stroll, all around her.
She knows they are magical,
And that she is honored
To watch their thudding
Dance, hop high as in
A rabbit ballet, bright eyes
Shine. Never can I forget
To enter the ancient rules,
Honor them. All, be quiet
And amazed and blessed.

Relinquishing The Run

Clouds move in, a pack of twilit hounds
straining to leap over the hill.
A woman watches from the stoop
of her farm house. The wild grace swollen in her veins
as she remembers running and running --
a girl running from gust and shadows
that stalked her through the woods.

She heard echoes in the evening rush
threatening to steal her soul
and stumbled over the roots of an oak
falling still. She woke at the edge of the grove
soaked in dew and drawn to the shadow
stretched beneath her -- a figure with wings
but on second glance

one with the flare of long , narrow ears,
the sleek outline of a feminine hare.
She closed her eyes and woke again
on the barn floor pillowed with sacks of grain

She could smell the breath of heather
on the distant moor and hear the spider slide
on its string of floss.

Speed gushed through her limbs
like stream water when fish begin to spawn
and she hungered to run
sprinting over fence and field, hunted by the moon.

Clouds move in, gray hounds storm the hill
and the woman turns. Her shoulder bone
silvered in the light, a knob
rubbed by magic and age.

What a wonderful tale. "Clouds move in, Gray hounds storm the hill and the woman turns. Her shoulder bone silvered in the light, a knob rubbed by magic and age."

Strangely, far away from hills and storms my old shoulder is rubbed by an unfortunate pneumonia shot, which literally "shot," up and down my arm and neck. Coincidence? Our bodies change but the child in us hovers -

Awww...what a story! How did Halloween turn out for him and his bunny self?

What wonderful poems I missed last week! And it took me a while to get through this post, as I was distracted several times by moving to look for copies of the books you mentioned, Terri. This is why it takes me a while to get and stay caught up with you... :)

Hi Phyllis

Never can I forget
To enter the ancient rules,
Honor them. All, be quiet
And amazed and blessed.

I love this poem and the way you characterize the "Western Hare". The details and language enchant as well as the overall mood of this piece! I ,too, want to honor and listen for their light-footed presence in the desert. Beautiful writing!

Thank you!
Wendy

Hi Jane

She sends them off,
laughs as the door closes.
Tomorrow she will dance again
with her daughters and granddaughters,
under the glow of Mother Moon.

I can picture this poem vividly and love that "grandmother
rabbit". This is delightful and I wish I ,too, could dance with them under the mother moon!

Thanks so much for sharing!
Take care
Wendy

Hi Edith

Indeed, a precious moment! Children never cease to amaze with their curiosity and imaginations. This is delightful and so touching! Thanks for sharing this one!

Blessings to you and your family!
Take care
Wendy

Hi Phyllis

So sorry to hear about your shoulder!! I pray and hope the pain diminishes soon. I love your observation here about how "the child within us hovers"! What a beautiful way of stating that idea and premise. So glad you enjoyed the poem and I thank you for commenting!

Much appreciation
Wendy

Thank you Wendy. When I was that little girl, I felt I needed to remember. It was as close to magic as I had ever been. The trick was to be silent and not to move. All the wild creatures caught on that I wasn't dangerous. That was what was so thrilling.

Thanks for the kind words. I would love to see hares dancing in the moonlight.

Jane

WOW:

"The wild grace swollen in her veins"


"Her shoulder bone
silvered in the light, a knob
rubbed by magic and age."

It's where I am now.

Jane

Not to forget Maddy Prior's marvellous, uncanny and very spooky "Fabled Hare", which, I believe, features lines from the transcript of an actual witch trial. The lyrics are included in this Youtube link below (click on the 'show more' to reveal them).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFWzPiGHd_Y

This is completely and utterly delightful, Jane. I think I may have to make it next month's Door Poem.

My apologies for taking so long to comment -- it's been a bit of an overwhelming week: Howard down with a cold, me fighting one off (successfully so far, touch wood), Tilly down with a skin infection. But everyone's starting to bounce back.

Awww, that is precious indeed. He might be interested to know that hares sleep in hollows in the ground rather than underground, plus they box and dance!

"Amazed and blessed" -- yes, that's it precisely. I love this one.

I agree with Jane, "wow" is my first reaction to this one. For a desert woman, you have evoked the wilds of Dartmoor perfectly. Pure magic, Wendy.

(I still want that book of poems...)

Well, I'm taking an Off-line Retreat week, so there's time to catch up!

I love that song.

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