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At the raw end of winter the mountain is half snow, half dun grass. Only when snow moves does it become a hare. If you can catch a hare and look into its eye, you will see the whole world. ~Anna Crowe, A Secret History of Rhubarb
We, and our children, echo that renewal when we remember to say, 'Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit' on the first day of each month to bring good luck and the successful realizations of our plans for the monthsfor that month. Lest you think this trivial, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also made it a practice.
Imbolc marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox in the British Isles. Beginning on the first of February each year and lasting through sundown the following day, it is associated with purification and rebirth.
The first of four fire festivals, in the ancient Celtic calendar, Imbolc was the festival that honored Brigid, the daughter of Dagda, the oldest god in the Celtic pantheon Tuatha du Daanann. When Brigid came into the world, a tower of flames rose from her head to the heavens. She was raised on the milk of a spirit cow. One of the most powerful of the Celtic gods, Brigid oversaw poetry, crafts, prophecy, and oh yes, fertility and renewal.
Before I move on to the discussion of hares and rabbits, Brigid is credited with the invention of the Irish mourning wail called keening; it is said that Bridgid is present in the faerie spirit whose keening can be heard at night when we are mourning the losses that stand before doors of passage and renewal. This mythological backdrop, so intriguing to us, would have been woven into the warp and weft of life for Morris, De Morgan, and the Preraphaelites.
And so we come to hares and rabbits. While both rabbit and hares are associated with fertility, as well as attributes of Venus, they appear in several of the spring month in the Les Très Riches Heures, the Labors of the Months of the Duc De Berry.
De Morgan's Leporids, while similar to rabbits, are most certainly hares. Hares are generally larger than rabbits and have longer ears and legs. If you live in North America and are wondering about Jackrabbits, they are indeed actually hares. If a hare pulls itself upright and looks at you, as De Morgan's hares are, it wants you to pay attention. Are you paying attention? Both rabbits and hares are associated with the moon, and it is a common misunderstanding to say that a hare's gestation cycle matches the moon. It doesn't. But a rabbit's does.
Rabbits, and hares, are Tricksters throughout much of Asian and European folklore. Caesar tells us that rabbits and hares were taboo foods, and that eating a hare was like eating one's own grandmother.2
For William De Morgan, like Morris, things are more than things; they help us to recognize our place in the natural world and to form our values. Philip Webb's rabbits are among the creatures that adorn The Forest. But of all the creatures in The Designs of William De Morgan, fewer than half a dozen are hares, and none with ears small enough that they could be taken for rabbit, while there are hundreds of exotic birds.
Like the other Pre-raphaelites, De Morgan tends toward such medieval and heraldic subjects such dragons, griffins, lions. Rabbits are social and suitable as pets; hares, however, are of a wilder and more solitary character, the 'noble savage'of the Lepus genus. Further, William and Evelyn De Morgan, as well as William's mother, had a strong interest in Spiritualism and the Occult, and while it would it be wrong to take that as far as withcraft, Isobel Gowdie1's confessions, including her famous hare spell, were published in 1833 and would have been well-known, and their inconsistencies debated. De Morgan's Merton Abbey Owl and Moon is in this same vein.
The De Morgan hares consist of two three-tile panels. The style is reminiscent of the Merton Abbey Owl and Moon. I do plan a backsplash based around these two images, to come out later this spring, time allowing.
Size: 8 x 18 inches
Material: Ceramic Tile
Price: $685 the set, $350 individually
I came late to rabbits, hares, and bunnies. It was Terri Windling to introduced me to the magical beauty of hares, for which I shall be forever grateful. You can read more about the folklore of leporids as well as the Tinner Rabbits, an ancient alchemical symbol of three hares in a circle, that appears in both Asian and European cultures on her website.
1 Isabelle Gowdie, the wife of John Gilbert (Scottish women did not take their husband's names) was tried during the witchcraft trials of 1662. Her confessions, though they contract accounts of other withcraft trials, presents as uncoerced and tell of her trysts with the devil and visits with the faeries. Several spells and chants of her own making are included, including a spell to transform the caster into a hare.