Running the length of the ancient Silk Road, tales of the hare are found in China, Persia, Africa and Europe. Many stories hold the hare as sacred, a symbol of fertility, longevity and rebirth. The Siberian moon goddess Kaltes and the Celtic moon goddess Eostre were said to be shape-shifters who could appear in the form of a hare. Legend also tells that Lord Buddha lived as a hare in an early incarnation. The god Indra tested Buddha’s hospitality by disguising himself as a beggar and requesting food. The hare could not bring food so instead made a fire and sacrificed itself. Indra honoured Buddha’s sacrifice by transforming him into the hare in the moon.
As Christianity moved across the West hares soon became associated with witches and witchcraft. Abandoned women were said to take the form of white hares to haunt their unfaithful lovers, fisherman would not mention hares and if a hare happened across your path, the charm “Hare, hare, God send thee care” should be spoken to avoid misfortune.
In spite of changing beliefs the hare is not completely absent from present day customs. The Easter Bunny originates from Anglo-Saxon stories of a white hare accompanying the goddess Ostara. The hare laid brightly coloured eggs that were given to children in Spring fertility festivals.
Brown hares are increasingly rare in the UK; estimates suggest their population has diminished by over 80% in the last 100 years and many people have never witnessed their boxing antics that give rise to the phrase ‘mad as a March hare.’ It’s a shame because boxing hares are a sight to behold and a sure sign Spring has arrived.