When I was a child growing up in Kent, I saw hares in the fields around our village, now they are becoming endangered as their habitats are being built on, together with the changes in farming methods, as they prefer open country, grassland, downs and flat marshlands.
The classic picture of two hares ‘boxing’ in March is actually not what it is sometimes thought, that males are fighting for territory or over a female. It is usually a non-receptive female giving an over amorous suitor a good telling off!
Hares are leporids belonging to the genus Lepus and are classed in the same family as rabbits. They are a little larger than rabbits, although they have a similar diet, hares also have longer ears, their fur is wonderfully soft, they tend to live solitary or occasionally in pairs, a rarely seen group is known as a drove. Hares can make huge leaps, apparently easily clearing a six-foot fence!
Hares do not give birth below ground in a burrow, but make a shallow flattened nest of grass called a form. Young hares are adapted to the lack of physical protection, by being born fully furred, with eyes open and are able to fend for themselves, a hare under a year old is known as a leveret.
They used to be hunted, known as hare coursing, fortunately this practice was banned in England and Wales in 2004.
The hare, like rabbit, has been used widely for food and cooked in the same way. Some recipes I found include:
Hasenpfeffer is a traditional German stew made from marinated rabbit or hare. Lagos Stifado is hare stew with pearl barley, onions, vinegar, red wine and cinnamon, is a dish enjoyed in Greece, Cyprus and Australia. Jugged hare, known as civet de Lievre in France, is a whole hare, cut into pieces, marinated, and cooked with red wine and juniper berries in a tall jug that stands in a pan of water. It traditionally is served with the hare's blood (or the blood is added right at the very end of the cooking process) and port wine. Hares and rabbits are a staple of much Maltese cuisine. In the Jewish tradition, the hare is deemed not kosher, so not eaten by observant Jews. Whilst in Islamic dietary laws, Muslims the meat is halal, and in Egypt, hare and rabbit are popular meats for mulukhiyah, a jute leaf stew. In England, an old recipe is for potted hare. The hare meat is cooked, then covered in at least one inch of butter which acts a preservative as it excludes air, meaning the dish can be stored for several months. It can be served cold, often on bread or as an appetizer.
On the other hand the hare can be found in mythology and folklore throughout the world:
The Celts are believed to think that the Goddess Eostre's favourite animal was the hare. It represented love, fertility and growth and was associated with the Moon, dawn and Easter, death, redemption and resurrection. Eostre was believed to change into a hare at the full Moon.
The hare was also sacred to the Earth Mother, and was considered to be a royal animal.
Boudicca is said to have released a hare as a good omen before each battle and to divine the outcome of battle by the hare's movements (in other sources she is said to have disembowelled the hare and divined from its entrails!).
One of Gwion’s transformations was into a hare, to escape Ceridwen after he accidentally stole the wisdom she was brewing for her son, finally being eaten by Her as a grain of wheat, to be reborn as Taliesin.
In parts of Scotland children used to say ‘rabbits’ on the last night of a month and ‘hares’ on the first morning of a new month.
It is believed by some that hares sitting in rings, known as a parliament, are a symbol of the witch’s coven, with the members disguising themselves as hares.
In some parts of Ireland hares are still celebrated. The legendary ‘White Hare of Creggan’ can be seen at the Visitor Centre in County Tyrone and its white silhouette is an emblem on local houses.
The Cornish legend of the otherworldly White Hare, which wound a path between the fishing smacks of the county’s harbours at sundown It was believed to be either a warning of bad weather or the spirit of a broken-hearted maiden haunting her faithless lover.
In remote parts of Europe there are remnants of a cult of a Hare Goddess.
In ancient Egypt the hare was used as a Hieroglyph for the word meaning existence.
To the Algonquin Native North Americans, the Great Hare brought summer to defeat winter.
From Ceylon, a hare threw himself into the fire to feed Buddha and was rewarded by being placed on the moon, Buddhists see the hare as a resurrection symbol.
The African trickster hare, who become the American trickster Brer Rabbit.
The Indian hare, who tricked a lion into fighting his own reflection, rather than eating the hare.
From Aesop’s fables, the fast hare who was beaten by the tortoise.
Hares and their sudden leaps have been associated with dawns, new months, and new beginnings. Their Otherworldly status seems to be due to the fact that they are silent, solitary and prefer to be active from dusk to dawn, making them mysterious and magical.
Element: Earth Planet: Moon, Saturn Deity: Eostre/Ostara, Earth Mother
Keywords: Abundance, balance, flexibility, fertility, fortune, intuition, change, rebirth, resurrection, transformation, moon magic, earth energy, emotions, reflection, caution, humility, resourcefulness, releasing of fears, luck.
Sources: Pocket Guide to Spirit Animals by Steven Farmer Animal Magic: working with spirit animal guides by Rachel Patterson Kitchen Witch School Grimoire www.alltotems.com www.folklorethursday.com www.transceltic.com www.thefield.co.uk www.irishabroad.com