Sunday 19 September 2010

Rabbit Witch

In popular imagination the animal most associated with witches is the cat. But in tradition it wasn’t the cat at all who served witches as familiars and messengers: it was the rabbit. Witches were also on occasions said to have transformed themselves into rabbits.

There are clear associations here with far older fertility and witch cults, concepts going beyond the malevolent perversion of witchcraft in the Christian Middle Ages. Rabbits are clever, fast, coming and going as if by magic. Their defences are limited to quickness of wits and of movement. They thrive by fecundity, and are everywhere associated with sex, fertility and the moon. They are the classic tricksters, representing the triumph and joy in life, representing success, the primal stimulus for magic and witchcraft.

In Central America the moon is invariably associated with rabbits. The Maya depicted the moon goddess as a beautiful young woman holding a rabbit in her arms. The goddess Ixchel herself has a consort who is a man-sized rabbit.

The Chinese associated rabbits with witchcraft, sorcery and alchemy. One classical myth echoes the iconography of the Maya, depicting a rabbit as the companion of the Moon Lady, one who prepares the elixir of immortality.

In Africa the rabbit is the great trickster spirit, one whose story was carried by the slaves to America, where he eventually took the shape in the folklore as the wonderful Brer Rabbit and more recently as Bugs Bunny. Both in their different ways represent the intelligence, the curiosity and the magical quality of their kind: no matter how much trouble they get into they always manage miraculously to slip away. I can think of my better symbol for a witch!

Talking of which and witch, here is a lovely Song for a Witch by Adam. :-)

So far as the eye can tell,
There is no heaven--is no hell,
The bird that sings, sings not for me,
And nothing lies beyond what we might see.

Cloak your dreams in winter's fur,
Even if your heart demures,
What blame is given when soldiers die,
The fool shall gaze on you and cry.

But what is the poppy that you plant?
Is your sympathy for me to grant?
You are not chained and yet are grand,
Small minds so low to understand.

What spell is written on chamber doors,
If only my heart could but implore,
Oh witch of wisdom make me wise,
Make me a drink of truth that's drunk of lies.

Make me thin and make me fat,
Make me bird then dog then cat,
Touch my flesh and burn my soul,
Take my penance--reject my toll.

Your beauty is no mortal constraint,
Be my devil--be my saint,
Be my conscience--be my guilt,
Lead me to placid waters where blood is spilt.

Oh witch that knows all that is seen,
Is my life a rich man's dream,
Does the poor man want to scream,
Whose eyes are these the gods did glean?

Ana evil--Ana wise,
Woman lives and man shall die,
Ana humble--Ana strong,
The night is warm and days grow long.

God is dead for I am here,
Angels draw their daggers near,
If a witch could make my weak heart sing,
My beauty like Bow Bells would ring.

An ocean parts as you bid it so,
Your garden in my tears does grow,
Awaken now--Jerusalem is planted,
And England shall reign for e'er enchanted.

Cast your spell above my head,
I will go where I am led,
The Thames is an ocean in a ditch,
Oh what is life without a witch?


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  3. If that's the movie with James Stewart, yes, I have, and there is also Frank in Donnie Darko, a much more sinister bunny!

  4. I love it but I have a feeling that it might perplex you. Check it out on You Tube for a taster.

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  7. I also love the Donn Darko song Yes, it's mad world!

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  9. Rabbits make for good eating. Roasted rabbit, rabbit stew etc.

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  11. Anthony, they do, especially when you shoot them yourself, as I have. Not rabbit witches, of course. :-))

  12. It's a scene from the movie, Adam.

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  14. Yes, Donnie Darko and especially 'Mad World' are very good.

    In Ireland the legends and traditions are about hares rather than rabbits. I have never come across a rabbit one.

    I thought the Easter Bunny was derived from the hare.

  15. Brendano, I think I shall write something specifically on Donnie Darko. I saw it when I was fifteen and it had a huge impact on me at the time, one that has left a lingering after-image, all that teenage angst!

    Hare lore is something I must also look into. I rather suspect that there is some crossover between the two.

  16. You are as fascinating as you are beautiful. :)

  17. Tim, and you are sweet. :-) Do I know you from some other place?

  18. This is fairly typical (told to Lady Gregory around 100 years ago, from Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland).

    'There was an uncle of my own lived over near
    Garryland. And one day himself and another man
    were going through the field, and they saw a hare, and the hound that was with them gave chase, and they followed.

    And the hound was gaining on the hare and it
    made for a house, where the half-door was open.

    And the hound made a snap at it and touched
    it as it leaped the half-door. And when my
    uncle and the others came up, they could find no hare, but only an old woman in the house — and she bleeding. So there's no doubt at all but it was she took the form of a hare. My uncle spent too much money after, and gave up his land and went to America.'

  19. That's simply wonderful, Brendano. I'm going to check if this collection is available on Amazon.

  20. When I worked in libraries in Dublin, I spoke to an old man who had known Lady Gregory when he was a boy in Co. Galway (she died in 1932). He told me that she was a very nice woman who used to give books to the local children ... but the priest took them away because she was a Protestant. He said that this made him anti-clerical for life.

  21. That I can understand. Brendano, do you know a movie - unfortunately I can't remember the title - set in Ireland in the 1950s, I think, where the Protestant minority is boycotted and persecuted because two children were supposedly 'kidnapped' by their Protestant mother - married to a Catholic - who did not want them to attend the local Catholic school? The boycott is headed by the local priest. I seem to remember that it was based on a true story.

  22. Yes ... A Love Divided, based on an incident known as the Fethard-on-Sea boycott. I haven't seen it.

    In fairness, I ought to point out that apart from small anomalies like this, the Protestant minority has always been treated very well in the RoI ... there is little or no sectarian bitterness.

    This incident, like the so-called Limerick pogrom of 1904, was due to the actions of one over-zealous priest.

  23. Ah, thanks. On your general point I have not the least doubt. It's a good movie. The boycott was brought to and end after President De Valera intervened with the Catholic hierarchy, concerned as he was about Ireland's image in the world. There is an interesting counter-point at the beginning, where the priest who later heads the boycott is seen collecting money for persecuted Christians in communist Eastern Europe.