[Thomas, N. The Hare. In: Hastings, J. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. vol 1. Edinburgh (1908)]
One of the most important animals in the belief and practice of some. It cannot be said to be anywhere regarded as divine, unless among the Kalmucks who call it the Sahyamuni (Buddha), and say that on earth the hare allowed himself to be eaten by a starving man, and was in reward raised to the moon where they profess to see him.
The connection of the hare and the moon is also found in Mexico and South Africa, where Hottentots tell the story of how death came into the world, and explain it by a mistake made by the hare in taking a message from the moon.
In North America – all Algonquin tribes have as their chief deity a Great Hare – to whom they went in death. This hare deity lived in the east. Or, according to some, in the north. In his anthropomorphised form he was Manibosho, Nanabojow, Michabou or Messou. In one respect he was a culture hero who taught the Indians the medicine dance and the arts of life. In another aspect he is a buffoon who tries his magic art on various animals and fails ludicrously.
In a New England flood legend survivors took a hare with them to the mountain on which they took refuge, and learnt of the assuaging waters by its non-return.
The name of the hare is frequently tabu. It is unlucky to kill the hare [Folklore. xi, 259), or eat its flesh. There is a widespread belief that hare-lip is caused by a pregnant woman putting her foot in a hare’s form.
Like many animals the hare is hunted annually in many places [Folklore, 111, 442; xi, 250], and sometimes eaten ritually [Folklore, xi, 259].
Sometimes the hare is offered to the parish priest [Folklore, iii, 441]. The hare is more especially associated with Easter [Folklore, iii, 442], and is said on the continent to lay Easter eggs. It is an animal in whose form cakes are made at Christmas.
Among Slavs hare-catching is a similar game to Blind Man’s Bluff. In Swabia it is said that children come from the hare’s nest. Also the hare is said to change sex every year.
The hare is almost universally regarded as an unlucky animal. When a Kalmuk sees one he utters a cry and strikes a blow in the air. In Oesel it is however sometimes a good omen.
The Hottentots kill it but do not eat it. Its appearance in a village is thought to betoken fire both in England and Germany. The association of hares with witches is partly responsible for the hare’s evil augery.
In Gothland the so-called Milk-Hare is a bundle of rags and ships of wood, it is believed to cause cows to give bloody milk. Hare’s heads are found in the gables in the Tyrol, as a protection against witchcraft.
A hare’s foot is a counter-charm against witchcraft. Among American Negroes, in like manner, the left hind foot of a rabbit caught jumping over the grave in the dark of the moon by a red-headed cross-eyed Negro.
One of the chief figures – the rabbit – occurs in the Negro folktales of the southern USA, where he outwits Brer Wolf and other animals.
The hare is one of the forms assumed by the Corn Spirit [Golden Bough, ii, 269].