It is also easy to see how the hare was linked to the spirit of the corn field. Hares often stayed to the very end of harvest, hiding in the shrinking square of wheat and then make a run for it and try to escape, chased by dogs, men and young boys. In classical times the hares may have been seen as an offering to the Greek goddess Demeter, who presided over grain, fertility, harvest, life and death, if not a symbol of Demeter herself.
In Devon and Cornwall, the tradition of ‘Crying the Neck’, was, within living memory a common ritual which involved cutting the last sheaf of corn, holding it aloft to the east for all to see, then shouting out the words, ‘I have’n, I have’n, I have’n.’ ‘The neck. The neck. The neck.’
This ancient tradition of completing the harvest and evoking the spirit of the cornfield may like the hares run right back to Hittite and Egyptian times when agriculture was first being developed. More than anything else the reverence for the corn spirit may in turn help to explain the universal nature of the Three Hares symbol, its wide distribution, its energy and its appeal.
These early traditions and seasonal festivals are incredibly important as they symbolise this transition, dependence on the weather and the cycles of the moon for the timing of such important events as ploughing, sowing and harvest. The moon is also a vital part of these calculations and in many cultures hares also have links to the moon. Nowruz the spring equinox festival in Iran is one such festival. It involves a fire ceremony and dates back to the time of Zororastra. Iran is also a likely candidate from where the Three Hares motif may well have originated along with Mesopotamia, the Urartu Kingdom and Armenia.
So if the Three Hares is a symbol of survival and renewal, fertility and abundance, which it appears to be, then on a very ancient level, it could easily symbolise the gradual switch from hunting to farming. The slow change from a hunter-gatherer economy to settled domesticated agriculture upon which so much of our civilisation depends. And if that is the case then the Three Hares symbol is a very important image indeed.
More recently many people will remember Masquerade by Kit Williams which in 1979 sparked a national treasure hunt to solve a puzzle and find a bejewelled golden hare that had been buried in a special location. The solution to finding Kit William’s hare was a nationwide quest in its own right and the clues involved Catherine of Aragon, Ampthill Park in Bedfordshire, a shadow at noon, the equinox and a whole raft of mathematical and trigonometrical anagrams.
Psychologically the hare is therefore fascinating, as Carl Jung rightly perceived, yet the eminent psychiatrists of their day did not fully realise the widespread occurrence and importance of the Three Hares both geographically and in history. The search for the symbol is by its very nature open-ended. Enjoy the sacred journey. It is one of life’s great mysteries and we are the richer for it.