Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Magic of the Hare

It seems like hares are having a bit of a moment; Every art show and gallery I go to features some kind of beautiful representation of these mysterious animals, yet we still can’t get enough of them. My hare designs are by far and away my most popular prints and cards, and I absolutely love to paint, draw and read about them.

So why are we so drawn to the hare?

'Midwinter Messenger'
Kate Betty Smith
Coming Soon as original, greeting card, small & large print

The hare features in many myths linked to the moon from all over the world. He was believed to be the messenger of the moon in many ancient legends and was linked to many gods and goddesses such as the Anglo Saxon goddess Eostre. In some stories he was though to travel between worlds under the cover of darkness when the moon was full. These mysterious creatures become associated with life and re-birth due to their appearance when the moon is full.

'Winter Moon'
Kate Betty Smith
Available as greeting card, small & large print

As well as being seen in a positive light, there are many myths and legends featuring the hare as a trickster closely tied to witchcraft. According to ‘The Lore of the Land’, almost every rural area in the country has stories of a witch able to shape-shift into a hare. The hare always managed to evade the local hunters but on occasion would become wounded and a trail of blood would lead back to an old woman’s cottage. Inside there was no sign of the hare, but the old woman had an identical injury. At this point her identity was usually revealed and her powers broken.

My favourite variation of this tale is from Tavistock where an old woman’s young grandson used to make a fair amount of pocket money by tipping off the local huntsmen as to the whereabouts of a particularly tricky hare to catch. They would always reward him for spotting the hare but could never catch her. One day, however, the hounds were too close to the hare for comfort and the boy was heard to shout,
“Run, Granny, run, run for your life!”
His grandmother arrived home panting, bleeding and exhausted, but safe and with her powers intact. There are also tales of children warning the witch in Breamore and Longtown, Hereford.

There was said to be a very well respected and powerful witch in Zennor, Cornwall. Well, she was treated with great respect by all but her own husband who did not believe in her magic. One night he threatened to kill her because his supper wasn’t ready. She put on her cloak and left the cottage, but there was no sign of her, only a large hare where she had been. She appeared soon afterwards with a hot and steaming feast and the husband, unnerved at what he had seen, never dared cross her again.

The feet of rabbits and hares were also used as good luck charms, with the foot being brushed against a baby’s face to ward off misfortune. Actors also used them to apply stage make up and kissed them for good luck.

'Moon Gazing'
Kate Betty Smith
Available as greeting card, small & large print

In Cornish legend if a young girl dies of a broken heart, she is said to return as a white hare to haunt her former lover. There is a particularly grizzly tale of Lord Pengersec- a man who sailed to a distant land in search of adventure. He met and fell in love with a beautiful princess and promised her his heart but returned home to his wife in Cornwall. He was horrified when the Princess appeared at his castle with their newborn child and turned her away. The princess cursed him and he pushed her over a cliff to her death. Her ghost came to haunt him in the form of a white hare with blazing red eyes during a storm whilst he was hunting. His hounds and horse abandoned him in fear and he woke half dead, without his sword and full of terror. He went on to live a cursed life and his only son Marec disappeared and was never seen again after seeing the same spectre one stormy night in a flash of lightning.

My dip pen and ink drawing from Hallmark's 1999 version of
'Alice in Wonderland'

Perhaps the most famous hare in literature is the March Hare- companion to the Mad Hatter in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. The phrase ‘mad as a March hare’ is thought to originate from their strange behaviour, such as boxing and jumping, during their breeding season. During the 18th century top hats were manufactured using hare skins. To prevent the fur from becoming matted, the skins would be kept in a bubbling vat of mercury nitrate and as we all now know, that’s quite enough to turn anyone into a ‘Mad Hatter’.

Messenger of the gods, moon gazer, trickster, shape-shifter, the ghostly form of the slighted lover. There’s such a rich history of stories surrounding the hare. I think they remind us of deep-rooted legends of the land and will always fascinate and inspire us.

If you would like to find out more about the folklore of hares, I thoroughly recommend two books I use to find inspiration for my work, as well as to write this blog post:
'The Lore of the Land' by Westwood & Simpson
'Spirit of the Hare' by Karen Cater

No comments:

Post a Comment