Wednesday, 20 March 2019

A Hare's Not Just for March

We are all familiar with the Mad March Hare from Lewis Carroll's classic tales of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but what is really mad about the hare? Well, for a start, the idiomatic phrase was actually used as early as the sixteenth century in the works of John Skelton ("As mery as a marche hare") where it could've referred to drunken behaviour.

As a species indigenous to the British Isles (even pre-dating Roman occupation), Hares have long been revered for their wild frolicks and effortless speed: the fastest land mammal in Britain certainly boasts an impressive, traditional and ancient legacy.

In early Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mythology, hares featured as sacred animals to the goddess Eostre or Ostara. The goddess was universally credited for the advent of spring, and all the new life that it brings. Lagomorphs (the same family as rabbits) such as hare, are also famed for their proclivity for ... ahem ... breeding like rabbits, and so the legend endures.

The root of their 'mad' antics does seem to stem from their bordering-on-bizarre courtship rituals. Whilst there's nothing out of character about animals competing for survival of the fittest/prettiest/strongest genes, and the right to continue the species, there's something that could be considered 'mad' in the hare's. For starters, the males box each other for the prize of a mate; their lithe bodies seeming at odds with their fiesty, muscular pugilism.


The hare's fertility status becomes ever more mystical when one considers that they are one of a handful of mammals who are able to conceive a second litter of leverets whilst pregnant with a first (known as superfoetation).

There's no disputing that the elegant hare certainly zips and darts all over the land, and that oral tradition has passed stories of the canny and shapeshifting creature from generation to generation: it's hard to not be captivated by them – even in the modern day.

The Celtic Iceni warrior queen, Boudicca, was said to have released a hare from the folds of her thick, heavy cloak before battle, and her tribesmen read the wild zig-zagging of the animal to mean that victory was sure to favour their side.

Whether in legend of times gone by, or leaping majestically through a field of gold, the hare is certainly a spectacle to behold!

May your March be as merry as the Mad March Hare!

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