In Devon, for instance, there is a significant cluster on the edge of Dartmoor. The Three Hares symbol occurs twenty-nine times in seventeen churches. But it also crops up in other parts of Britain: in Long Melford in Suffolk, Chester, Selby, Corfe Mullen in Dorset, Old Cleeve in Somerset, Long Crendon in Buckinghamshire as well as St Davids in Pembrokeshire. There is even one in Cornwall in a chapel just on the other side of the Tamar at Cotehele. The Three Hares also occur in clusters in France and Germany. Then again in Sicily, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Swat and Ladakh. The symbol occurs in roof bosses, on coins, on textiles, on trays, on floor tiles and carpets, inside Maitreya temples and chortens, on gravestones, on ceilings, on bells, in silver caskets from South Russia, on coins from the Mongol Horde, in learned books and psalters, in illuminated manuscripts and bestiaries. The symbol occurs in stone and wood, glass, on paper and vellum, the symbol is often linked to the moon, to Easter and the Second Coming. So the Three Hares are deeply embedded in folklore and antiquity. Yet no one can be certain of the reason for their existence or the meaning of their symbolism, although there are many interpretations, particularly in Ladakh where the Buddhist culture is still intact and flourishing.
As to meaning, one needs to absorb the Three Hares symbol on many different levels, as if it was part of an intellectual journey, a quest in the true medieval religious sense, a pilgrimage and an entertaining diversion from daily life. It has all the makings not just of a good story but of an inner journey as well as a modern pilgrimage. As with any good hunt or chase or quest, the senses are often heightened and the discovery of yet more clues along the way is enticing. It is after all something of a puzzle, a treasure hunt, and the quest similar to that undertaken by a medieval knight to accomplish a prescribed task.Yet within the quest is a spiritual, if not sacred element, not least because many of the settings are often churches, chapels, caves or monastic temples, including the occasional synagogue. The best way to approach the Three Hares, I found, is as if it is a riddle, like a Chinese or Japanese koan, like chasing the answer to an unanswerable question, which makes it indeed a ‘curiosity worth regarding’. A typical English understatement to major philosophical questions. So to proceed to the quest – and this book is only a guide, a finger pointing out into space – devotees of the hare need an enquiring mind, a passport and the concept of pilgrimage, for it is indeed puzzling, a sacred mystery. Make of it what you will. If your mind is fertile then the hares will work their magic, not only in your waking moments but in your dreams as well. Carl Jung was intrigued by the Three Hares, which would have had Freud going round in circles.