A post here from guest blogger, Penny Billington:
Penny Billington is a druid author and the editor of Touchstone, the magazine of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Visit Penny’s website at www.druidauthors.com
‘I will run and run forever Where the wild fields are mine I shall goe unto a hare I’m a symbol of endurance running through the mists of time Wi’ sorrow and such mickle care.’ The Fabled Hare. Maddy Prior
When I was at college, a flagging party could be revived by the following game: all make a circle and a designated person secretly selects one of the others. Everyone in the circle then fires questions to get clues as to who’s been chosen. Example: ‘If this person was a chocolate, what sort would they be?’ Answer: ‘A nutty whirl’. Anyone is at liberty to guess the person’s identity at any time, and whoever gets the right answer, “George!!!’ starts the game again
The answers to ‘day of the week/type of music’ and so on gradually built a composite picture: but I noticed that the catalyst for the right answer was frequently the classic, ‘ If this person was an animal…….’
And that’s when I realised that every human in the world can correspond with either fish, bird or mammal. Some of the resemblances were really uncanny. So when I started on the druid path, I was predilected to embrace the idea of totem animals. Not that one physically resembles one’s totem necessarily: but the human/animal connection had already been made. From there, it was a short step to imagining the totems of areas and countries. Why does England have the lion when it’s not a native? Why does Scotland have the unicorn?
And whilst individual totems can be life friends or come and go according to need, there is also the totem of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.
And I realised last year just what that is.
Why has the whole of the United Kingdom gone gaga about hares? Not just the spiritually minded; not just in Glastonbury. Hares as the small mammal of choice can be found everywhere – on decorative crockery, in museums, on tea towels, as sculptures, as paintings and on cards. Whole exhibitions are devoted to them.
Don’t get me wrong – I love them. I nearly got a wonderful example as a gift – the Victoria and Albert Museum had a set of mugs taken from de Morgan tiles: the perfect gift for the druid who has everything. But the hare was the only design that sold out within days. I could have had any other animal: ‘Hares’, as they say in comedy programmes, ‘was off.’
Just take a look around your local arty, gifty shops; there, I predict, you will find hares. No deliciously slinking foxes, no squat, tactile, knobbly toads. All hares.
I wonder if, in the face of this superfluity, I will soon officially be getting hare-d out. Heresy!
OK, it’s a magical Celtic creature; but – THE BIG QUESTION – why has it suddenly achieved such iconic status? What impetus is making hare energy so very attractive today?
In druidry we have animals representing the directions, but hares do not figure amongst the bear of the north, stag of the south and salmon of the west. Hare would obviously be placed with the hawk of the east, the place of air. After all, it runs ‘like the wind’; it can seem to disappear ‘into thin air’ and its most famous act of predictive magic was in emerging from Boudicca’s cloak to race for the east, signifying the initial victory of the British over the Romans.
Hares are associated with the moon, that magical light in which all may not be as it appears, and in which the veils between the worlds seem thinner; an energising time. Gypsies would travel at night because the pull of the moon would counter that of gravity and make the walking easier. A ‘moon bath’ is the most invigorating experience, and following a ‘moon path’ reflected in a wet street or track does seem to draw one into the world of adventure. And, high above, according to the Chinese, the face of hare can be seen in the shadows of the guiding moon.
Hare is one of the two animals in Medieval myth that can be involved in transformations: and there seems a general gender divide: men could become werewolves and (female) witches could transform into hares. And although jugged hare was a popular dish in Victorian times, there is a folk taboo that says to eat a hare is to ‘eat your grandmother’. Well, the moon with its hare-face is a major agent of magical enchantment in our druidic practice: the shifting, gentle light enables the inner senses to expand. And the transformative property of hare obviously corresponds to our inner connection with totem animals .
But I reckon our current obsession can partly be explained in terms of hare’s personality.
In world mythology, hare is a trickster, a deceiver. and he or she gets things wrong. May be that is why we identify so strongly with him? The world is frenetic: it saps our focus and makes us ‘hare-brained’.
Hare is actually a hybrid animal, looks-wise – and, apart from the few rare classic human beauties, most of us have a ‘57 varieties’ look about us, if we’re honest. We can identify with the oddball hare, His face is tiny, delicate and cat-like and the old names for the hare – kit, puss and malkin – reflect that. Hare’s back leg is hugely out of proportion, like frog’s; he is the kangaroo of our islands. Hare’s body is rectangular like that of the deer, whose sensitive large ears he has also borrowed.
We may not have the jigsaw glory of the duckbilled platypus in this country, but we can be pretty proud of hare.
And the stories about hare remind us that he gets things wrong, just as we do. Hare’s speed does not always work to his advantage. He is too fast for his own good. In folk tales he is overeager, which is a very forgivable fault. He is, of course, also overweening, overconfident and curiously childlike: he is truly engaging. Hare doesn’t start out in life with huge ears and a split lip; they are the result of getting across archetypal figures who decide that hare needs a sharp lesson. But does he learn it? Moon punishes him for getting the big message to humanity wrong – which is why we still don’t understand her waxing and waning lesson of reincarnation: moose laughs at him for frightening himself by wearing her antlers for a time; even tortoise wins the race. Yet still he remains unchastened. We have the overwhelming feeling that as we turn the page, hare will whisk out of sight, still at a hundred miles an hour full of goodwill and human frailties, to make a well-meaning hash of something else.
So, as druids or spiritual seekers of any kind, we can naturally associate with hare at his most impetuous at the beginning of a spiritual journey, when we are eager, excited at the myriad possibilities and full of life. Wanting to race along at a huge speed, to get to some mythical ‘there’, never looking back, is a typical hare attitude. As the pace of life gets more frenetic, perhaps that is the state, in its more negative sense, that most of us are in, most of the time, feeling that only our speed and ducking and diving will get us through. And on another level, every druid feels intuitively the need for a magical connection through the natural world. The hare is accessible here as a wonderful focus, with beauty, elusiveness, otherworldliness, the eldritch charm of an extraordinary body and unparalleled grace in motion.
So, many, many reasons for hare’s popularity then……
But now, for the sake of balance, let’s give some attention to the opposite qualities that underpin the magic of life…. the qualities expressed by, for example, badger: slow, steady; following the same tracks that his family laid down hundreds of years ago.
This seems very undramatic and rather reactionary, but, traditionally, the druids’ chief role, at least overtly, was as the keepers of the continuity of the tribe. All turned to them on points of law and genealogy, of protocol and tradition. And isn’t an important part of our druid lives engaged in trying to connect to the past? Don’t we feel that our ancestors of blood, location and spirit are to be honoured? That doesn’t sound like a lesson to be gained from hare, whose form is a depression in a bare field, who is here today and gone tomorrow, but from the badger, a settled and responsible householder, whose sett might have been inhabited for many years and added to by successive generations. And, always a plus in these hygiene-obsessed times, badgers are very clean! They are not overt, they do not dance and box like hare, but in the privacy of their family groups are very playful, which lightens their other qualities beautifully. Badgers do not trundle across a road; they bound and bounce.
With our druidic instincts, we celebrate balance, made up of the differing qualities of all our native animals, wherever we are on the globe. The joy of otter, loyalty of dog, vigilance of goose, tirelessness of shrew, cunning of fox, the wisdom of salmon. And yes, we do of course keep a place for hare especially at his own particular time: the spring, the greening of the land, when, folklore says, his eggs can be found in the fields; when the female, a real feminist icon, literally boxes suitors to deter the importunings of overeager bucks , and when their antics at twilight can delight and astound.
But beneath them, deep in the earth, the badger quietly goes about her business, waiting, seldom seen, infinitely cautious, for the perfect time to emerge in her prescribed way: cleaning her sett, disciplining her cubs, concerned with the continuity and stability of life, not its vagaries. She has no need of glamour: with habits built on solid foundations, with her ability to become invisible at will despite her bulk, she has her own magic. I believe, in a zeitgeist -y way, she could be a strong contender to take hare’s iconic place eventually as, if not the general public’s choice, then at least that of the druid.
So, who fancies a quick game? Here, sit round in a circle.
Now… “If the decade 2010 – 2020 were an animal, what would it be……?’