Sunday, 19 September 2010
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?