Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hares and Rabbit

I frankly can’t remember who got me started on this, but at some moment in my young adulthood, someone told me about hares and rabbits. It is one of those charming ritual observances that marks time and assures good luck. In the midst of our rational, technological, scientific culture that seeks logical explanations for each of life’s mysteries, we still knock on wood, watch out for ladders and get nervous about black cats in our path. These are all reactive superstitions, but we also have our pro-active ones— crossing ourself at the foul shot line on the basketball court, wearing a special amulet or good luck charm, chanting the Buddhist Dharani to Remove Disaster before each plane flight (yes, seatmates, that’s what I’m doing when I appear to be mumbling to myself).

Hares and Rabbit is of the latter variety and if you’re worried this will add another burden to your busy schedule, stop reading now. But if you’re curious, it goes like this:

At the turn of the month, the last word you say out loud is “Hares.” When you wake up in the morning, the first word is “Rabbit.” That’s it. Then good luck for the entire month to come is yours. Well, there are variations that I briefly tried out— something about having to have gone to the bathroom and made your coffee taking no more than ten steps from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen. I still have a hilarious image of my roommate Esta (may she rest in peace) taking giant steps down the hall in our flat on Castro Street. But I eventually let that part of the practice go.

Naturally, there were times I forgot, especially the morning “Rabbit,” so I took to putting a small Beatrix Potter book (Peter Rabbit) on the back of the toilet to remind me in the morning. Perhaps cheating, but hey, it helped.

Having done this for over 35 years, I should have kept careful records of each month’s good fortunes according to whether I fulfilled the ritual obligations or not. But the point isn’t to prove the truth of it. It’s simply a way to mark time, to note the end of one short cycle and the beginning of another and announce your intention to live well in the four weeks to come and invoke the aid of whatever angels are watching over.

And why hares and rabbits? In Europe and China, both have an association with the moon and of course, it is the moon’s cycle that marks (approximately) the month. (Month and moon must have an etymological connection.) Then, of course, the rabbit itself has general mythological overtones—the rabbit’s foot for good luck, the rabbit as model of fertility, the Easter bunny and the Alice’s White Rabbit.

A quick Wikipedia check reveals that this custom is more widespread than a mere whim from the person who passed it on to me. It seems to be British in origin, with all the variations you can imagine. One version suggests “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” first thing when you awake. Another has three rabbits at bedtime and three hares in the morning. Yet another suggests “White rabbit.” And so on.

Take your pick. Or not. Once you’re hooked, it’s a lifetime obligation.


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