Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rabbitry



All things that love the sun are out of doors;
The sky rejoices in the morning's birth;
The grass is bright with rain-drops;--on the moors
The hare is running races in her mirth;
And with her feet she from the plashy earth
Raises a mist, that, glittering in the sun,
Runs with her all the way, wherever she doth run.

William Wordsworth, from Resolution and Independence.


Spring, daffodils...and rabbits on my mind. This time of year the rabbits are coming out of their holes and looking around at the world, and my garden. Even with their thieving ways, I can't help but smile when I see them in the fields on my way home.

Most of you know that I'm a fan of saying Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit on the first of each moth. Why? Because, according to my English mother, it would bring luck and money my way. I've said it faithfully for years and while I'm not rich, I'm not destitute either. So maybe it works?

Wikipedia has a great article about this tradition, and includes the following information about rabbbits and luck:

As with most folklore, which is traditionally spread by word of mouth, there are numerous variant versions of the “rabbit, rabbit” superstition, in some cases specific to a certain time period or region. There are hundreds of variants, some of the most common of which include:

When the words, "Rabbit, Rabbit" are spoken to any person on the first of the month, for the rest of the month the speaker receives the luck of all who heard the phrase.

"In some parts of Lancashire and the adjacent counties, it is considered unlucky by some to shoot a black rabbit. This is because they were once believed to be ancestral spirits returning in that form.

In Somerset, white rabbits are said to be witches. That anyone really believes this now is improbable; nevertheless, white rabbits are not popular as children's pets, and they are sometimes left alone and not shot.

A luck-bringing custom found all over Great Britain is to say 'Rabbits' or 'White Rabbits' once or three times on the first day of the month. It must be said early in the morning, before any other word has been uttered, otherwise the charm loses its force. In some districts it is considered necessary to say 'Hares' or 'Black Rabbits' when going to bed on the night before, as well as 'Rabbits' or White Rabbits' in the morning. If, however, the speaker becomes muddled and says 'Black Rabbits' on rising, bad luck will follow. The looked-for result of all this is variously given as general good luck during the ensuing four weeks, or the receipt of a gift within a few days."

It is believed that saying "Rabbit Rabbit" on the first day of the New Year will bring yearlong good luck.


The converse: instead of believing that saying it will bring good luck, believing that not saying it will bring bad luck.


Being the first to say "rabbit rabbit" to a person on the first of the month will bring good luck.

Instead of saying “rabbit, rabbit”, saying just “rabbit”, or “rabbits”. Some also extend it to three rabbits: “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit,” which has some of the earliest written references.

The earliest referenced usage may be to saying “rabbits” three times before going to sleep the last night of the month, and then “hares” three times first thing upon waking, though just two years later, it was three “rabbits” in the morning with no “hares” at all.

Various ways to counteract forgetting to say it, most commonly saying it backwards (“tibbar, tibbar”) before falling asleep or saying "Moose Moose" upon waking on the second day of the month.
Making “rabbit, rabbit” be the last words said on the last of the month and the first words said on the first of the month.

Another variation is that the first person to say "rabbit, rabbit" on the last day of the month and "tibbar, tibbar" on the first day of the month wins bragging rights for the duration of the month.

Traditions also extend to saying on the first of each month: “A pinch and a punch for the first day of the month; white rabbit!” White rabbit is declared to be the “no returns” policy on the “pinch and the punch” the receiver felt. Origins of this saying is unknown. A small concession exists, for recipients of the "pinch and a punch," where white rabbit declaration (no returns) is not made. Recipients may in this case reply with "A flick and a kick for being so quick." In some areas, it is simply, "Pinch, punch, first the month, no returns back!"

Saying "White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits".

Around 1920 the following belief is common in many parts of Great Britain, with local variants: To secure good luck of some kind, usually a present, one should say ‘Rabbits’ three times just before going to sleep on the last day of the month, and then ‘Hares’ three times on waking the next morning.

In Ireland, children traditionally say "coinín bán" (Irish for "white rabbit") the first time they meet someone on the 1st day of any month.

In central Pennsylvania, the custom is to say "Rabbit" last thing before going to sleep on the last day of the month, and to say it again first thing on the first day of the month.

A folk law version of Rabbits 19th C - For luck, must be spoken before 12 noon on the first day of the month. "Rabbits Hot, Rabbits Cold, Rabbits New, Rabbits Old, Rabbits Tender, Rabbits Tough, Rabbits I've had enough." Origin UK, possibly London, Hampshire or Derbyshire.

Walter de la Mare references the idea of hares as witches in this poem:


In the black furror of a field
I saw an old witch-hare this night;
And she cocked a lissome ear,
And she eyed the moon so bright,
And she nibbled of the green;
And I whispered "Whsst! witch-hare,"
Away like a ghostie o’er the field
She fled, and left the moonlight there.

Walter de la Mare


Frank Stanton, in the following poem, seems to indicate that a rabbit in a graveyard doesn't seem to be a happy omen either:

Graveyard Rabbit

In the white moonlight, where the willow waves,
He halfway gallops among the graves—
A tiny ghost in the gloom and gleam,
Content to dwell where the dead men dream,

But wary still!
For they plot him ill;
For the graveyard rabbit hath a charm
(May God defend us!) to shield from harm.

Over the shimmering slabs he goes—
Every grave in the dark he knows;
But his nest is hidden from human eye
Where headstones broken on old graves lie.

Wary still!
For they plot him ill;
For the graveyard rabbit, though sceptics scoff,
Charmeth the witch and the wizard off!

The black man creeps, when the night is dim,
Fearful, still, on the track of him;
Or fleetly follows the way he runs,
For he heals the hurts of the conjured ones.

Wary still!
For they plot him ill;
The soul’s bewitched that would find release,—
To the graveyard rabbit go for peace!

He holds their secret—he brings a boon
Where winds moan wild in the dark o’ the moon;
And gold shall glitter and love smile sweet
To whoever shall sever his furry feet!

Wary still!
For they plot him ill;
For the graveyard rabbit hath a charm
(May God defend us!) to shield from harm.

by Frank Lebby Stanton, 1890





Perhaps these poems are just reflections of the rabbit's folkloric identity as a trickster. In Africa, the American South, in Korea, Japan, India, China and many other places, rabbits are cunning, wise and not always so nice, as in this poem about Brer Rabbit:


Brer Rabbit You's de Cutes' of 'Em All

Once der was a meetin' in de wilderness,
All de critters of creation dey was dar;
Brer Rabbit, Brer 'Possum, Brer Wolf, Brer Fox,
King Lion, Mister Terrapin, Mister B'ar.
De question fu' discussion was, "Who is de bigges' man?"
Dey 'pinted ole Jedge Owl to decide;
He polished up his spectacles an' put 'em on his nose,
An' to the question slowly he replied:

"Brer Wolf am mighty cunnin',
Brer Fox am mighty sly,
Brer Terrapin an' 'Possum — kinder small;
Brer Lion's mighty vicious,
Brer B'ar he's sorter 'spicious,
Brer Rabbit, you's de cutes' of 'em all."

Dis caused a great confusion 'mongst de animals,
Ev'y critter claimed dat he had won de prize;
Dey 'sputed an' dey arg'ed, dey growled an' dey roared,
Den putty soon de dus' begin to rise.
Brer Rabbit he jes' stood aside an' urged 'em on to fight.
Brer Lion he mos' tore Brer B'ar in two;
W'en dey was all so tiahd dat dey couldn't catch der bref
Brer Rabbit he jes' grabbed de prize an' flew.

Brer Wolf am mighty cunnin',
Brer Fox am mighty sly,
Brer Terrapin an' Possum — kinder small;
Brer Lion's mighty vicious,
Brer B'ar he's sorter 'spicious,
Brer Rabbit, you's de cutes' of 'em all.

by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)
I imagine most readers immediately recognize this picture as an illustration from Beatrix Potter's Tale of Peter Rabbit. Written in 1902, the story survives as one of the classics of childhood. I remember our dog-eared copy well; it was a Little Golden Book, if I remember right. With our childhood books, rarely would have have called one "mine." Books in our house were for the most part share and share alike--many belonged to my father when he was a boy. I don't think our Peter Rabbit was one of those, although by the time we were through with it the book looked 100 years old.

Another classic rabbit story is this Aesop legend:


THE HARE AND THE TORTOISE.
A hare teased a tortoise because he was slow, and boasted of her own great speed in running.

"Let us have a race," replied the tortoise. "We'll run five miles, and the Fox yonder will be the judge as to who wins."

The hare agreed, and away they both ran. But the hare, because of her speediness, outran the tortoise to so quickly that she made fun of the tortoise. She was a little tired, so she took a little nap in a spot of green grass.

"If the tortoise goes by, I can easily catch up to hime and pass him by," she thought as she drifted off to sleep.

Meanwhile, the tortoise plodded steadily on, passing the sleeping hare and continuing to the finish line. The hare woke up and took off running as fast as she could go, but she could not catch up with the tortoise and so the tortoise arrived at the end of the race first.

"The winner!" shouted the fox.

Poor hare. Every time I read this story, the hare loses. Maybe someone should write a different version where she has a chance to redeem herself?


Rabbits pop up in folk songs too. This one, a traditional tune, is of my favorites.

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, your tail is mighty white.
Yes, my lord, I've been gettin out of sight,
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine.

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, your coat is mighty gray.
Yes, my lord, it was made that way
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine.

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, your ears are mighty long.
Yes, my lord, they were put on wrong,
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine.

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, your ears are mighty thin.
Yes, my lord, they're a-splittin' in the wind,
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine.

Mr Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, I'll bid you good day.
Yes, my lord, and I'll be on my way,
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul's gonna shine, shine.

And another traditional song about the lowly rabbit and his friends:

Raccoon's Got a Bushy Tail

Raccoon's got a bushy tail,
Possum's tail goes bare,
Rabbit's got no tail at all
Just a little old bunch of hair.

Raccoon is a mighty man,
He rambles through the dark,
You ought to see him hunt his den
When he hears Old Ranger bark.

Possum up persimmon tree,
Raccoon on the ground,
Raccoon says to possum,
"Won't you shake them 'simmons down."

Rabbit up in the gum stump,
'Coon in the holler,
Possum in the 'tater patch,
Fat as he can waller.

Raccoon's got a bushy tail,
Possum's tail goes bare,
Rabbit's got no tail at all
Just a little old bunch of hair.

You can find one that's longer with more colorful lyrics here.

Rabbit Stories, Legends, Poetry and More:
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Here you can find an entire book of rabbit poems, with illustrations by John W. Audubon and other public domain artwork. It's a beauty of a book.


A story about Rabbit and Fox, or if you prefer, a story about Brer Rabbit and Mr. Fox.


Rabbit legends can be found here. And here is a song in Arabic about a little rabbit and a fox that chases him.

Native American legends about rabbits at the First People website.

All about that strange creature, the Jackalope.

The strange tale of the Hare Dryer can be found here.

If urban legends are your thing, check out what Snopes.com has to say about rabbits.

An interesting thread of rabbit legendry and lore is here on Mudcat.


For an interesting read about rabbits as tricksters and in folktales, Terry Windling's website is a must.

3 comments:

Matthew Burns said...

Great post Susanna. I do believe this is everything there is to know about the folklore of rabbits! Thanks for taking the time to compile all of this information into such a comprehensive post. I still haven't got around to looking at all the links you shared, but I've enjoyed all of them so far.

Matthew

Granny Sue said...

Matthew, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I could write a whole post about rabbits as trickster figures, and might do that sometime. I would like to know about other superstitions connected with rabbits, too--there have to be more.

Nance said...

Yes! Granny Sue, the story teller, stopped by! I did enjoy these timely bunny stories and I'm going to start saying "rabbit, rabbit, rabbit" the first of every month!

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