Hares in walls and buildings
This little pewter hare statue is a firm favourite with many of our visitors. It was discovered inside a wall in Liskeard, Cornwall during Easter 1998 (a very apt time for it to be discovered!). The full online catalogue entry can be read here:
It is on display in our top gallery in the “concealed objects” section of our Protection display with the following text: “This delightful pewter hare was found set into the cob wall above a window at Trebrown Farmhouse, Liskeard. It is not uncommon for animals, or a likeness of animals, to be concealed above or below portals of a house to protect its occupants from unwanted influences.”
During some recent research on concealed objects/things found in walls (for a talk given at St Tudy History Society) we came across a few other examples of hares in folklore and also in walls which we thought we would share here.
“Charles Thomas in his series “Studies in Cornish Folklore”…quotes a…case in 1890 of a hare being walled up in a house built near Falmouth. The reason given for this by the builder was that since ground had been taken and covered over, something must be given in return to what he called the outside gods.” Excerpt from “Cornish Witchcraft” by J MacLeay (1977) page 30.
“In ancient times, many people believed the hare to be only female in gender, although a legend says that the female hare drowned in the Flood and God gave the surviving male the ability to self-produce. In Wales it was commonly believed that the animal alternated between male and female every other month. Hares were also believed to build nests and lay eggs…The hare has always been associated with the moon and the lunar cycles. This is possibly because they are nocturnal feeders and were often seen sitting in fields as if bathing in the moonlight…The folklorist George Ewart Evans linked the hare with moon goddesses such as Diana and the Germanic mother goddess Nerthus, He also linked it to an unnamed Anglo-Saxon goddess…Evans says: ‘The significance of the Saxon hare headed Goddess and her relation to the witch cult that hares are so strongly identified with needs little emphasis.’ [George Ewart Evans, The Leaping Hare (1972)]
“A curious old custom that may have some connection with pagan hare worship was to kill a hare and bury its body in the foundations of a new house. Such ‘foundation sacrifices’ survived into the Middle Ages and beyond, but they were usually a cat or sometimes a horse’s head. The idea was that the spirit of the dead animal acted as a guardian to ward off evil from the household. This practise persisted into modern times and in the 19th century builders erecting an extension to a cottage in Falmouth (Cornwall) insisted that a sacrifice had to be made to the ‘outside gods.’ The victim had to be ‘a virgin hare trapped by a virgin boy.’ The owners of the cottage soon realised that the work could not be completed unless they agreed to go along with this bizarre custom. Oddly enough the builders may not have been very good at animal identification as when repairs were made to the roof of the cottage some years later the remains of a rabbit were found in a small wooden coffin.” Excerpts from “West Country Witches” by Michael Howard (2010), page 120
If you’ve fallen in love with this little hare, you can buy it as a pewter badge from the online shop, it will also soon be available as a pewter statue/direct replica.
Other online shop items relating to hares can be found here: http://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/?s=hare&types=product