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hare, name for certain herbivorous mammals of the family Leporidae, which also includes the rabbit and pika. The name is applied especially to species of the genus Lepus, sometimes called the true hares. Hares generally have longer ears and hind legs than rabbits and move by jumping rather than by running. Unlike rabbits, hares are born covered with fur and with their eyes open. Hares are native to Eurasia, Africa, and North and Central America; they have been introduced into Australia in recent times. They range in weight from 3 to 13 lb (1.4–5.9 kg) and from 13 to 25 in. (33–63 cm) in length. They are usually brown or grayish in color, but northern species acquire a white coat in winter. Hares live in meadows, brushy country, and woodland clearings; they are largely nocturnal although they may forage in the day if undisturbed. Members of most species rest in shallow hollows, called forms, that they make in vegetation; they have regular trails from these forms to their feeding spots. Females make nests of their own fur for receiving the young. Hares feed on grasses, leaves, and bark. Like rabbits, they reingest their own droppings so that food passes twice through the digestive system. Most North American hares are very large, with extremely long ears, and are called jackrabbits. Other North American species are the varying hare (or snowshoe rabbit), Lepus americanus, which ranges over the northern half of the continent; the Arctic hare, L. arcticus, found on the coasts and islands of the Arctic Ocean; and the Alaska, or tundra, hare, L. othus, found in N and W Alaska. The large brown hare, L. europaeus, is native to Europe, where it is valued as game. Introduced as a game animal in the NE United States, it has become an agricultural pest. The so-called Belgian hare is actually a domestic rabbit.Hares are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Lagomorpha, family Leporidae.
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The hare is a close relative to the rabbit. This shy, fleet-footed animal looms large in Middle Eastern, European, African, Asian, and American Indian folklore. Among these peoples the hare represents such diverse qualities as cleverness, quickness, femininity, fertility, sexuality, and self-sacrifice, and is often associated with the moon and eternal life. European folklore concerning the hare emphasizes its association with certain of these themes, namely fertility, sexuality, femininity, and the moon. Moreover, European folk beliefs attribute strange powers and a distinctive personality to this timid creature. The hare is closely associated with springtime, a season in which it is especially active. This association, as well as those mentioned above, probably explains how the hare, and later the rabbit, became a symbol of the Easter holiday.

The Moon, the Hare, and the Feminine

Many peoples throughout the world have linked the hare with the moon. While American children are told to look for the face of "the man in the moon," storytellers from many other cultures have for centuries told tales about the "hare in the moon." How did so many peoples come to associate the hare with the moon? Perhaps it came about because the hare, like the moon, hides during the day and is most often seen at twilight or during the night. Since many people believed that the hare never closed its eyes, not even to sleep, it may be that the hare's unblinking eye reminded them of the moon, the "eye in the sky" that watches while all else slumbers.

Mythologists suggest that the moon serves as a natural symbol of femininity since its monthly cycle mirrors that of the female reproductive system. Because the hare was thought to have an affinity with the moon, it often shared this association with the feminine. Another common association links the moon with birth, fertility, death, and rebirth. This connection, too, is suggested by the moon's monthly cycle of waxing, waning, disappearing, and reappearing. Stories of hares that willingly stayed in flaming fields or leapt into fires appear in a number of different cultures. Perhaps this association between the hare and death helped to link the animal symbolically with the moon in the folklore of many different lands.

Ancient Middle Eastern Folklore

As early as 2,000 years before Christ, the hare had become a symbol of death and rebirth in Mesopotamia and Syria. In ancient Egypt the hare was associated with the god Osiris who came to represent life, death, and immortality. Some evidence suggests that the moon became another minor emblem associated with Osiris.

Ancient Greek and Roman Folklore

The ancient Greeks associated the hare with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and also with Eros, the god of sexual attraction. Indeed the ancient Greeks used hares as gifts signaling love and attraction. The hare's own reproductive practices probably suggested these associations, since the hare mates frequently throughout the spring and summer months. Indeed, the hare produces so many offspring that some ancient Greeks believed that the female hare could conceive while still pregnant. Dionysus, the Greek god best known as the patron of wine, might also be accompanied by a hare.

Scholars have discovered that the ancient Greeks and Romans often depicted the hare on gravestones and funeral art. According to one writer, this image represented the hope that love would conquer death. As belief in immortality became more widespread, the hare became an even more popular image in funeral art. The early Christians accepted this pre-existing symbolism and also used the image of the hare on their gravestones.

The Romans associated the hare with Diana, a goddess who presided over treaties, childbirth, and women in general, and one of whose symbols was the moon. The moon itself was seen as feminine by the Greeks and Romans. The hare shared this symbolic association with the feminine. In addition, the hare's great fertility made it a symbol of springtime in much of pre-Christian Europe.

The hare was also known for its fleetness of foot in the ancient world. This characteristic plays an important role in one of Aesop's Fables, a collection of moral tales attributed to an ancient Greek storyteller known as Aesop. In the famous tale known as "The Tortoise and the Hare," the quick-footed hare loses a race with the plodding tortoise due to over-confidence. The hare decides he can afford to take a nap before crossing the finish line, but he oversleeps, allowing the slow but diligent tortoise to win the race.

Ancient Northern European Folklore

Some folklorists have suggested that the ancient Norse goddess Freya was accompanied by magical hares. In Norse mythology Freya represented beauty, youth, and sexual attraction.

Medieval European Folklore

The hare continued to symbolize sexual desire throughout the Middle Ages. Though still widely known for its frequent matings and great fertility, medieval writers embellished the sexual reputation of the hare with many beliefs which we now know to be false. For example, some writings indicate that the hare was believed to change its sex at will. Other records reveal a belief in the ability of female hares to conceive without the aid of males, thus retaining their virginity even while bearing offspring.

Perhaps because of their earlier association with pagan goddesses, hares were also often thought to act as witches' familiars. Many people believed it possible for a witch to change her shape into that of a hare, in which capacity she often wreaked havoc on farmers'fields. In Germany, France, Holland and Ireland, the harvesting of the last stand of grain in the field was known as "cutting the hare."

The hare also acquired an association with ill luck, perhaps because of its connection to witchcraft, or perhaps because of the unusual sexual characteristics it was supposed to have. Many dreaded a chance meeting with one of these seemingly harmless animals. At some May Day celebrations hare-witches were ceremonially burned. In spite of these troubling associations, many medieval Europeans knew hares to be shy, fearful creatures. Thus writers and artists of the period often used the hare as a symbol of timidity.

Personality and Powers

In spite of its negative associations European folklore attributed powers to the hare that could be used for good. Amulets of hare's feet were at one time thought to confer potency or to have healing powers. The famous English diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) once wrote that he recovered from a "colic" by means of a hare's foot. Later the hare's, or rabbit's, foot became a general good luck charm. Superstition dictated that the best time to cull a rabbit's foot was during a moonless night. Perhaps the old association between the hare and the moon lingered on, suggesting that the moon might look down with disfavor upon anyone whom she spotted harming a hare. People also attributed distinct personality characteristics to the hare. Hares were believed to be sad and gloomy. Some avoided eating them for fear of picking up this tendency towards melancholy. Another folk belief attributed suicidal tendencies to the hare. Some farmers told of hares that stayed in burning fields until their skins were scorched.

Another set of European folk beliefs warned that in the springtime the hare turned from melancholy to madness. This belief may have been based on accurate observations of the hare's springtime mating habits. At this time of year hares suddenly leap straight up in the air, revealing their hiding places in the tall grass. Males competing for mates will often box with one another in this fashion. These habits gave rise to the expression "mad as a March hare." Perhaps they also inspired the word "harebrained."

Asian Folklore

The "hare in the moon" is a common theme in Asian folklore, as is the connection made between the hare, death, and immortality.

An ancient Chinese folktale explains how a hare came to reside on the surface of the moon. According to this legend the hare in the moon grinds the elixir of immortality while sitting at the foot of a cassia tree. One Chinese custom encourages children to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival by carrying hare-shaped lanterns to the tops of hills in the early evening, where they admire the moon's beauty and identify the immortal hare under the cassia tree in the light and dark shapes on the moon's surface. Indeed, in Chinese mythology hares symbolize longevity and are mystically linked to the moon. What's more, the hare is a symbol in the Chinese zodiac. Those born in the year of the hare are thought to share in its personality traits: kindness, diplomacy, good manners, a love of beauty, luck with money, and a boundless self-confidence which may turn into conceit.

Other peoples throughout Asia also see a hare rather than a man in the moon. The Japanese see a hare pounding rice cakes in the dark and light spots on the moon. A Buddhist folktale recounts that the Buddha, in an earlier incarnation as a hare, willingly gave his own flesh to help feed a hungry soul. He gained immortality through this good deed, rising in the shape of a hare to the moon, where he is still visible to us today. A legend from India claims that a hare once performed a great act of compassion for the god Indra. The hare spied Indra, disguised as a famished pilgrim, praying for food. The hare had nothing but his body to give so he cast himself on the fire so that the pilgrim might eat. The god rewarded the hare by granting him immortal life on the moon.

African Folklore

In many cultures of the world the hare was celebrated for its cleverness. Nigerians, Dahomeans, and other Africans told many trickster tales featuring the hare, or rabbit. Trickster tales revolve around a mythic figure who achieves goals through trickery. These tricksters are usually strong-willed, adventurous, amoral, comical, irreverent, insatiable, and capable of both great cleverness and foolishness. Folklorists believe that African slaves brought folktales about clever hares to the United States, where they became part of African-American folklore. The Bre'r Rabbit tales, popularized by Joel Chandler Harris' retellings, are examples of this African-American rabbit lore. These tales tell how Bre'r rabbit gets the better of his neighbors and outwits all those who try to trap him.

American Indian Folklore

Many American Indians also told tales about the cleverness of the hare. Several Algonquin tribes of eastern North America told mythic tales about the Great Hare which portrayed him as a trickster god and culture hero who helped to shape and enlarge the earth. A tale known among one group of the Algonquins known as the Cree Indians told of how a resourceful hare gained immortality by traveling to the moon, where he still can be seen today. Other American Indian bands also see a hare in the moon. Many southeastern tribes portray the rabbit as a clever culture hero who brought the first fire to humankind. According to one tale Rabbit stole the first flames from across the ocean. He outran his pursuers and brought fire back across the sea to America, but ended up by setting the woods ablaze. Great Basin tribes tell similar stories about how Rabbit stole the sun.

Easter and the Hare

European folklore connected the hare to Easter by linking it to spring, fertility, and new life. The American Easter Bunny developed out of German folklore concerning the Easter Hare. The Easter bunny, and the Easter eggs it delivers, have become the predominant folk symbols of Easter in the United States.

Further Reading

Becker, Udo. "Hare." In his The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols. New York: Continuum, 1994. Black, William George. "The Hare in Folk-Lore." Folk-Lore Journal 1, 1 (1883): 84-90. Cavendish, Richard. "Hare." In his Man, Myth and Magic. Volume 8. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1997. Goodenough, Erwin R. Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period. Volume 8. New York: Pantheon Books, 1958. Lau, Theodora. The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes. Third edition. New York: HarperPerennial, 1995. Layard, John. The Lady of the Hare. 1944. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1977. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mytho- logy, and Legend. New York: Harper and Row, 1984. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter the World Over. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1971. Mercatante, Anthony. The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend. New York: Facts on File, 1988. Pelton, Robert D. "Tricksters: African Tricksters." In Mircea Eliade, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Volume 15. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Ricketts, Mac Linscott. "Tricksters: North American Tricksters." In Mircea Eliade, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Volume 15. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Rowland, Beryl. Animals with Human Faces. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1973. Waida, Manabu. "Rabbits." In Mircea Eliade, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Volume 12. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Wood, Douglas. Rabbit and the Moon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Anne Armstrong, one of the accused witches at Northumberland, claimed in 1673 that, on one occasion at a coven meeting, Ann Baites turned into the form of a hare, as well as that of a cat, a greyhound, and a bee, "letting the devil see how many shapes she could turn herself into." Then a number of the coven members assumed the shapes of hares and other animals. According to Issobell Gowdie of Auldearne, Scotland (1662), to become a hare it is only necessary to say the words: I sall goe intill ane haire, With sorrow, and sych, and meikle caire, And I sall goe in the Divellis nam, Ay whill I com hom againe.

To change back to human form one had to say: Hare, hare, God send thee care. I am in an hare's likeness just now, But I shall be in a woman's likeness even now.

Gowdie, who seemed to delight in giving details of witchcraft activities, claimed that she was once chased by dogs while she was in the form of a hare, and that she only escaped by running through her own house, in one door and out another. It is possible that this was a story based on a ritual game of chasing, with the Grand Master, or coven leader, playing the part of the hound.

Margaret Alice Murray points out that the witch had to announce to the other witches what shape she was about to assume. Others might then join her in that same shape. Yet it seemed that anyone else observing them would not actually see a change.

Some pagan societies regarded the hare as sacred. The Iceni Queen Boudicca's (Boadicea's) banner bore the likeness of the Moon-Hare, which was also associated with the goddess Eostre. Indeed, it is from this latter that the "Easter Bunny" derives. The MoonHare was what the Celts believed caused the marks seen on the surface of the full moon.

The hare (and the rabbit) as a symbol of the goddess, and therefore of good fortune, is still remembered in the form of the rabbit's foot carried for luck even today. In ancient Greece it was connected with Hecate, the lunar goddess of the Witches. In Germany, France, and Holland, the hare is revered as the spirit of the corn. The act of reaping the last corn is referred to as "cutting the hare." In Rome, the hare's movements were carefully observed to divine the future, and only members of the priesthood could eat its flesh.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about a hare?

See Rabbit.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


(vertebrate zoology)
The common name for a number of lagomorphs in the family Leporidae; they differ from rabbits in being larger with longer ears, legs, and tails.


McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


attribute of sexual desire incarnate. [Art: Hall, 144]
See: Lust


flesh brings melancholy to those who eat it. [Animal Symbolism: Mercatante, 125]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


any solitary leporid mammal of the genus Lepus, such as L. europaeus (European hare). Hares are larger than rabbits, having longer ears and legs, and live in shallow nests (forms)


1. Sir David. born 1947, British dramatist and theatre director: his plays include Plenty (1978), Pravda (with Howard Brenton, 1985), The Secret Rapture (1989), Racing Demon (1990), and The Permanent Way (2003)
2. William. 19th century, Irish murderer and bodysnatcher: associate of William Burke
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005