Time to guard children against witches April 29th

From ‘The Wonderful Discoveries of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower’, London, 1618

As May Eve approached, which like Halloween, was considered a particularly uncanny time, people were warned to guard against witches stealing their babies:

He (the Devil) teacheth the witches to make ointments of the bowels and members of children, whereby they ride in the air and accomplish all their desires. So as, if they be any children unbaptized, or not guarded with the sign of the cross or orisons: then the witches may and do catch them from their mother’s side at night, or out of their cradles. …. and after burial steal them out of the graves, then seethe them in a cauldron until their flesh been made possible.

Reginald Scott ‘The Discovery of Witchcraft’ 1594 (from ‘The perpetual Almanack of Folklore’ by Charles Kightley)

Ways to keep witches away were various, but baptising your children early was the best method. As you will have seen in previous posts, children were normally baptised as soon as three days after birth in the early modern period.) Saying prayers (orisons), hanging garlic, bread, rowan-leaves, around the cradle were among many other methods that could be used in those days of a homicidal fear of witchcraft.

In archaeological surveys of timber framed buildings increasing numbers of reports of ‘witches’ marks have been discovered. They are now so ubiquitous that it seems most people felt the need to deploy them to secure their houses. It was believed that witches gained entry where there was in inlet of wind, so doors, windows, chimneys, and anywhere there was a draft. These were be marked by pentagons which represent the five wounds of Christ, as well as a variety of other marks ‘chequerboards, mesh patterns, peltas (a type of knotwork design) and circle’. This quotation is from https://theartssociety.org/arts-news-features/ancient-symbols-once-used-ward-away-witches which is an excellent read and gives more detail.

Also this article makes the case that they are not witch marks, or anti-witch protection marks but general marks to ward off evil. This is worth reading. The illustration below comes from it.

Robert Burns poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’ gives a graphic, fictional, account of a witches’ coven presided over by the Devil (auld Nick) himself which features ‘wee, unchristen’d bairns‘:

And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight!
Warlocks and witches in a dance;
Nae cotillion brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A winnock-bunker in the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;
A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.—
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw’d the dead in their last dresses;
And by some devilish cantraip slight
Each in its cauld hand held a light.—
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,
A murderer’s banes in gibbet airns;
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen’d bairns;
A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,
Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi’ blude red-rusted;
Five scymitars, wi’ murder crusted;
A garter, which a babe had strangled;
A knife, a father’s throat had mangled,
Whom his ain son o’ life bereft,
The grey hairs yet stack to the heft;
Wi’ mair o’ horrible and awefu’,
Which even to name wad be unlawfu’.

I talked more about Tam O’Shanter and the Cutty Sark here and to read the whole poem see below. Please do have a look and when you read it read it quick and don’t worry about how to pronounce it or understand it, just enjoy the ride!

Written in 2023 revised April 2024

Floralia. Old Goats and an extraordinary Elephant April 28th

Flora on a gold aureus of 43–39 BC Wikipedia photot by АНО Международный нумизматический клуб

On the 28th of April until the Kalends (15th) of May the Romans, according to Ovid in the ‘Fasti’ Book IV, celebrated the Florialia dedicated to Flora, the Goddess of Spring, flowering, blossoming, budding, planting and fertility. She was one of the 15 Roman Deities offered a state-financed Priest. Her home in Rome, was on the lower slopes of the Aventine Hill near the Circus Maximus.

The Circus Maximus is the large long arena in the middle of Rome. Model Musee Arte et Histoire, Brussels, photo Kevin Flude

Celebrations began with theatrical performances, at the end of which the audience were pelted with beans and lupins. Then there were competitive games, and spectacles. The latter, in the reign of Galba, including a tight-rope walking – wait for it – elephant!

Incidently, Galba only survived for 7 months as Emperor – a little longer than Liz Truss’s 44 days but then she was not murdered by a rampaging mob at the end of her reign. It was the year known to history as the year of the 4 Emperors. (great description by Tacitus here:)

Juvenal records that prostitutes were included in the celebration of Flora by dancing naked, and fighting in mock gladiatorial battles. (there is a raging debate about the existence of female gladiators: a burial in Southwark has been said to be one such and Natalie Haynes has her say on the subject here🙂

Hares and goats were released as part of the ceremonies, presumably because they are very fertile and have a ‘salacious’ reputation! (Satyrs were, famously, obsessed with sex and were half man half goat. A man can still be referred to, normally behind his back, as an ‘old goat’).

Written in 2023 revised April 2024

St Totteringham’s Day? 28th April

I newspaper heading

Today, might be St Totteringham’s Day.  The mythical Saint, born in North London in the Noughties, has a variable feast day, but normally, in March or April. Sometimes, there is no feast day for the Saint.

My own hope is that a miracle will take place this year and St Totteringham is denied his customary outing.  But it looks unlikely; the best I can hope for is that it is postponed for a few days.

Scholars find that the best predictor of the Saint’s Day is not the Moon but the results of Premier league results for arch North London rival football teams, Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) and Arsenal (the Gunners). 

So, St Totteringham’s Day is the day that Arsenal are so far ahead of Spurs in the Premier League Table that Spurs cannot possibly overtake them.  Today, Spurs are playing Arsenal and if Arsenal win, they will declare the celebrations of the North London’s Saint can begin.

Fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen.

Another neologism from North London is to be ‘Spursy’.   Espn.co.uk defines it as: (and it breaks my heart to tell you this).

‘The more modern meaning is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory or to fall short with the prize in sight. This is because, over time, the club’s lack of silverware has come to influence the meaning of “Spursy.” That original 2014 entry reads: “To consistently and inevitably fail to live up to expectations.’

Next year, it will be different.

St George’s Day, Shakespeare’s Birthday  April 23rd

shakWilliam Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout from the 1st Folio
William Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout from the 1st Folio

By tradition, Shakespeare was born on St George’s Day April 23rd 1564, 457 years ago. He died on the same day in 1616 at age 52. Cervantes died on the same day.

Shakespeare’s death date is given by the burial register at the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford on Avon where he was buried. His baptismal record also survives at the same church and is on April 26th 1564. So, we don’t actually know when he was born, but christening were held soon after birth for fear of the high infant mortality rates, so 23rd April has been assigned to be Shakespeare’s birthday.

Anne Shakespeare would have ‘taken to her chamber’ about four weeks before the due date. The windows or shutters were fastened, as fresh air was thought to be bad for the birthing process. Female friends and relatives came to visit; the room was decorated with fine carpets, hangings, silver plates and fine ornaments. It was held that external events could influence the birth, any shocks or horrors might cause deformities and anomalies, so a calm lying-in room was clearly a good idea.

When labour began, female friends, relatives and the midwife were called to help out. A caudle of spiced wine or beer was given to the mother to strengthen her through the process. Today, the maternal mortality rate is 7 per 100,000. An estimate for the 16th Century is 1500 per 100,000. So most women would have heard of or attended the birth of a women who had died during or following children birth. There were also no forceps so if a baby were stuck and could not be manually manipulated out, then the only way forward was to get a surgeon to use hooks to dismember the baby to save the life of the mother. Doctors were not normally in attendance, but could be called in emergency,

Immediately after washing, the baby was swaddled. The swaddling was often very tight and could affect the baby’s growth, and might have affected the learning process, as movement of hands and feet are now considered very important in the early learning process. Swaddling lasted eight to nine months, and only went out of fashion after Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote against the practice.

Detail of tomb of Alexander Denton and his first wife Anne Willison, and her baby dressed in swaddling clothes Photo Wikipedia Hugh Llewelyn

Puerperal fever killed many women even after successful childbirth, for example Queen Jane Seymour who died after 5 days. During these dangerous early days, the mother was kept in a dark room, and then, perhaps three days after birth, friends were invited to celebrate ‘upsitting’ when the mother was no longer confined to bed. This is when christening would take place. Edward VI was christened to a huge audience in the chapel at Hampton Court three days after his birth.

Licensed midwives could baptise newborn babies provided they used the correct wording and informed the Church so that the registration could be properly reported. Thomas Cromwell was responsible for the law in 1538 which insisted on a parish register to record weddings, christenings, and funerals. The law was reaffirmed by Queen Elizabeth in 1558 and registers had to be stored in a locked chest in the Church. (In 1597, the records had to be on parchment not paper, and in 1603 the chest had to have three locks!).

If the christening were in the church, the mother might not be there as she was expected to stay in her chamber for another week or so.

A week or a few weeks later, the mother would be ‘churched.’ This was a thanks-giving ceremony, although Puritans did not like the idea as it might be confused with a purification ceremony.

Breastfeeding would last a year or so but many high status women choose to use a wet-nurse, but there was a real concern to find a suitable wet nurse as it was believed that the breast milk was important for the babies’ development both physically and temperamentally. Poor children who lost their mothers were very unlikely to survive as, without breast milk, the baby would be fed pap – bread soaked in cow’s milk.

Thanks very much to Alison Sim’s book ‘The Tudor Household’ for a lot of the above.

First published in 2023 and republished in April 2024

John Stow, London’s Historian 22nd April

St Andrew in London

On the corner of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Axe in the City of London is one of the very few medieval Churches that survived the Great Fire of London is 1666. It was sheltered by the firebreak that was the Leadenhall, a big market building made of stone.

The Church is the Maypole Church as it was here the Maypole or the shaft was stored under the eves of the Church when not in use. Hence, St Andrew’s sobriquet of ‘Undershaft’. The MayDay riot in 1517 put an end to the dancing around the Maypole but the pole itself survived until 1547 when, in a Puritan riot, the ‘stynking idol’ was destroyed. (see my May Day blog post here for more more details of Mayday.)

This is where the great London historian John Stow is buried. His Survey of London is one of the best sources for Medieval and Tudor London. Every three years, there is a commemorative service and his quill is changed. This year it was yesterday, 22nd April. The Lord Mayor attends and it is organised by Stow’s Guild – the Merchant Taylors.

John Stow, author of the ‘Survey of London‘ first published in 1598. Available at the wonderful Project Gutenberg: ‘https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42959/42959-h/42959-h.htm’

There is also a plaque to Hans Holbein, but no one knows for sure, where he is buried. He died in London in 1543, possibly of plague.

Agas Map 1561 showing St Andrews (right centre)

First Published on 30th November 2022, Revised 2023, and in April 2024

Francis Drake Knighted at Deptford April 4th

Sketch from an old print. In fact, the Queen delegated the dubbing to a French Diplomat

The Queen’s half share in the profits of the Golden Hind’s circumnavigation of the world, amounted to more than her normal annual income. So it is no wonder she knighted the Captain, Sir Frances Drake, in the dock in what is now South East London at Deptford. The Spanish were furious that a Pirate should be so honoured. The Queen may have given a French man the honour of dubbing Sir Francis to align the French more with the English against the Spanish.

Drake was one of the British heroes I read about as a child. I had a thick book with stories about people like Hereward the Wake, Drake, Charles II, Bonny Prince Charlie, and David Livingstone. Drake was remembered for being the first English person to sail around the world, and his exploits in ‘singeing the beard of the King of Spain’ and his piratical raids on the Spanish Main. In these books, the Spanish were the bad guys and we were the good ones. Drake was one of a brand of swash-buckling heroes who turned Britain from a not very important country on the edge of Europe, to one of the World’s Great Powers.

Portrait of Francis Drake with Drake Jewel given to his by Queen Elizabeth I

On the other hand, he was also a pioneer in the Slave Trade, was involved in atrocities in Ireland and in the Spanish Territories, and had one of his crew executed in dubious circumstances. Perhaps more significantly, his contemporaries did not entirely trust him.

On the first days of contact between the British Navy and the Spanish Armada, he was tasked with leading the nightime pursuit of the Armada up the Channel. The idea was to stop them landing and to drive them away and into the North Sea. Drake in the Revenge was leading the pursuit, and the other ships were told to follow  a single lantern kept alight in the stern of Drake’s ship. The light went out, and the British pursuit was disrupted. The next morning Drake comes back having captured the disabled Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora del Rosario, flagship of Admiral Pedro de Valdés, and substantial gold to pay the Spanish Armada.

In the end, the lantern incident did not stop the British forcing the Spanish to flee around the North of Scotland, upon which perilous voyage only about 60 of their ships returned to Spain out of about 130. Britain was saved.

The Nuestra Señora del Rosario and its crew were taken to Torre Abbey, Torbay and imprisoned. The Abbey is now a lovely museum with an Agatha Christie Poison Garden amidst the ruins of the Premonstratensian Abbey. Its tithe barn was used to hold 397 prisoners of war from the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The Spanish Bar, Torre Abbey. Photo 2012 Kevin Flude
The Spanish Bar, Torre Abbey. Photo 2012 Kevin Flude

Sir John Gilbert, who was Sheriff of Devon at the time also used 160 Spanish Prisoners of War to develop his estate above the River Dart which is now enjoyed by those millions of visitors to what became the summer home of Agatha Christie (Greenway).

Queen Elizabeth I decided that the Golden Hind should be permanently docked in Deptford, and the ship was placed in a ‘dry’ dock filled with soil until the ship decayed slowly with time, and by about 1660 nothing much was left. 

I remember as a young archaeologist that some of our team took time out to work with Peter Marsden, one of the great experts in Naval archaeology, leading a search to find Drake’s ship.  There was a huge fanfare in the London newspapers, but, rather embarrassingly, given the build up, they failed to find anything of significance. Another attempt was made in 2012, but the prize of the discovery of a largely intact Elizabethan Galleon was not made.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada 1588 showing July22nd Start Point Devon with English ships pursuing the Spanish
From an old history book

The Keeper of the Naval Stores at Deptford made chairs from the ruins of Drakes ship, and one of the three said to have been made is on display at the Divinity Hall, Oxford.

Chair made from the ruins of the Golden Hinde

All Fools Day April 1st

April from the Kalendar of Shepherds

The first unambiguous British reference to April Fools Day is by diarist John Aubrey’s “Fooles holy day” in 1686, although he might have been referring to Germany. (‘We observe it on ye first of April… And so it is kept in Germany everywhere.)” For more details read hoaxes.org

But there is a possible earlier reference in Chaucer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale which I find quite compelling but most Chaucer scholars don’t. This is the text:

When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two

So, if you have been keeping up with me, you will know that the first lines are referring to March 25th, (when the world began) when God made Adam and Eve, and when the Church started the New Year and the year number moved one on. This was a major Church festival, usually followed by a week of holiness. The Roman New Year, January 1st, ended with a light-hearted festival called Saturnalia, and it is suggested that April 1st was, similarly, a day of release after the festival of the official Church ceremony of the New Year.

Chaucer’s last line says ‘Since March began thirty-two days have passed.’ A foolish person would not realise this is a reference to April 1st. Hence, this suggests a Fool’s Day already existed. Scholars tend to prefer to think that Chaucer was referring to May 2nd, counting the 32 days not from the beginning of March but from the end of March. I think they look at the second and third lines which read ‘That high March…. was complete’ and so add the 32 days to the end of March. Foolish in my opinion and not reading what Chaucer wrote.

I nearly always forget to honour April Fool’s Day (or April Fish Day as the French call it). But in Britain, we generally find that somewhere in our newspaper or TV station there is a April Fools Joke slipped in. The most remembered is the BBC piece showing film of Italian Farmers picking spaghetti from trees. Last year Harry and Megan proved irresistible and the Guardian reported that:

The Sun published a piece announcing the launch of Prince Harry and Meghan’s new video game “Megxit: Call of Duke-y” in which the royal couple try to reach California while dodging obstacles, including rival royals and the media, along the way.

This year this was the equivalent story (from the Guardian’s quiz on April Fool’s jokes:

Meghan Markle was criticised after it was revealed that when you put her lifestyle brand name – American Riviera Orchard – into the What3words location service, it points to a statue of Oliver Cromwell, who famously had a King Charles executed

Generally, in Britain, we play a prank and say ‘April Fool’ with great delight. But we are not allowed to continue beyond midday. The Scots used to call it ‘Hunting the Gowk’ and the main prank was to give someone a letter to deliver, and the person who opened the letter would read:

Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile” and send the fool onto another leg of his or her’s fool’s errand. In Ireland the letter would read ‘send the fool further’.

April comes from Latin and it was Aperilis from aperio from ‘to open’ as this is the month when the Earth opens. In Anglo-Saxon the Venerable Bede mentioned that they called the month Eostremonath. But there really is no other evidence for the Goddess Eostre from where we get our word ‘Easter’. In Gaelic it’s the Cuckoo’s month ‘Ceitein na h-oinsich’. In Welsh it is Ebrill which comes from the Latin.

The image from the medieval Kalendar of Shepherds shows all the beautiful flowers blooming and a female sitting on the grass embroidering, and the star signs of Aries (a Fire sign, brave, independent and impulsive) and Taurus (an Earth Sign: stubborn, down to earth, sensual with good taste).

First published March 25th 4004 BC and republished on April 1st 2024

The Moon on the Aventine Hill, Rome March 31st

Cycle of the Moon, sketched from photo.

The Moon rules the months: this month’s span ends
With the worship of the Moon on the Aventine Hill.

Fasti by Ovid

The Aventine Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome, named after a mythical King Aventinus. It is the hill upon which Hercules pastured his cattle. According to Virgil in his Aeneid, the monstrous Cacus lived in a cave on a rocky slope near the River Tiber, and stole Hercules cattle. So, Hercules killed him. The worship of Minerva also took place on the Hill. You can take a Google Earth fly past if you follow this link – also some nice photos, and a link to Wikipedia.

Aventine Hill, Rome Google Earth

The Hill is famous in the mythology of Rome because it is associated with Romulus. He and his twin Brother Remus, were born to the vestal virgin, Rhea Silvia, in the pre-Roman City of Alba Longa, not far away. Rhea was the daughter of former King Numitor, and in her sacred grove she was seduced by the God Mars, and gave birth to the twin boys. They had to be hidden from the wrath of their Granduncle, who had usurped the throne from their Grandfather. The boys were saved by the River God Tiberinus and then by being suckled by a Wolf in a cave called the Lupercal, which is/was at the foot of the Palatine Hill in Rome.

When they grew up, they helped their Grandfather reclaim the throne (being the children of the War God they were obviously excellent at the art of war). They decided to found their own City, but they could not decide upon which hill to build it or who to name it after (accounts vary!). Remus favoured the Palatine, Romulus the Aventine (some accounts say vice versa). They decided to let the Gods decide. Remus claimed to have won when he saw a flight of 6 auspicious birds but Romulus saw 12 and declared himself the winner. So, the City was named Rome in his honour, and it was founded on the Palatine Hill, with the Aventine originally outside the circuit.

The two fell out and Remus was killed. The story was first written down in the Third Century BC, and it was claimed that Rome was founded in 753BC. The stories continue to be told and celebrated in a way that we have forgotten in Britain as we ignore our creation myths of King Brutus, relative of Romulus and Remus, merely because they are unlikely to be true!

For more on Selene, see my post:

First written in 2023 and revised March 30th 2024

The Stormy Borrowing Days of March. 29th

small tree in a bleak windy landscape Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash
Windy Days. Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash

Sir Walter Scott recorded that ‘the last three days of March are called the ‘borrowing days; for as they are remarked to be unusually stormy, it is feigned that March has borrowed them from April to extend his sphere of his rougher sway.’

There are various traditions and poems that record the borrowing days, and this is in the Scotch dialect:

March borrowed from April
Three Days, and they were ill:
The first was frost, the second was snaw,
The third was cauld as ever’t could blaw.

There is a Spanish story which explains this a little more. A shepherd asked March to calm the winds to suit his flock of sheep, in return for a lamb. March compiled but, then, the Shepherd refused to hand over the lamb. So, March borrowed three days from April and made them fierce and stormy. Versions of this tale are known from Staffordshire, North England and Scotland. (Source ‘Weather Law’ by Richard Inwards 1994 (first published 1893).

It has certainly been very windy here over the last few days, sunny spells followed by cold rain and fierce gusts.

Warm days at the end of March or the beginning of April bring the Blackthorns into bloom (already bloomed this year) and they are often followed by a cold snap which is known as a ‘Backthorn Winter.’

February 2023 in Haggerston Park, London showing early blossom (Blackthorn?) Photos K
February 2023 in Haggerston Park, London showing early blossom (Blackthorn?) Photo K Flude

For a glimpse of Nature in art, follow this link to the ‘Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek’ in Denmark, a Museum with ‘a vast collection of art and sculpture.’ The link will take you to the ‘After Nature’ Special Exhibition page, and you can see a few of the Spring paintings, including a Gauguin and a Van Gogh. But, you can see more, including the ‘After Nature’ exhibition if you download the app. Another excuse to visit the wonderful City of Copenhagen – when I went, I stayed on an historic Wooden Ship in the harbour via Airbnb.

screenshot of webpage Glyptotek Museum in Denmark
Screenshot of webpage Glyptotek Museum

I have just received my copy of the Chamber’s Book of Days. It has been updated from the original 1864 publication, and it tells me that today is the anniversary of:

The Battle of Towton, England’s bloodiest battle (1461)

Official Opening of the Royal Albert Hall (1871)

Captain Scott’s last entry in his diary. (1912) ‘We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far, It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.’ See also my post Lawrence-oates-i-am-just-going-outside-and-may-be-some-time.

Charles Manson found guilty (1971)

Photo of cover of Chambers Book of Days
Photo of cover of Chambers Book of Days

And many more. I’m sure I will be returning to this regularly in future months. Oh, and if you know anyone who would enjoy this content, please do send them a link and suggest they subscribe.

As Mad as a March Hare March 28th

Hares Boxing in Yorkshire by yorkshireroestalking

The expression ‘Mad as a March Hare’ comes from the displays of hare boxing that takes place as the Hare mating season begins. And no, it’s not male hares fighting in the spirit of romantic rivalry, but the female hares fighting off unwanted attention from the males. Hares are solitary creatures, and the mating season is, perhaps, particularly difficult for them. The Country File website has more on the subject. www.countryfile.com

There are also March Kittens and March Chickens. Edward Topsell in his ‘History of Four-footed Beasts‘ 1607 says the best Kittens to keep are those born in March. ‘The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened‘ 1669 says: ‘Keep a black cock hatched in March as a protection against evil spirits: his crowing terrifies them.’ He also give a recipe for Cock Ale:

Eight gallons of Ale, a boiled March Cock, four pounds of stoned Raisins, half a pound of dates, nutmegs, mace. Beat the ingredients in a mortar, add to two quarts of Sherry. Add to the ale. Stop it in a container for 6 or 7 days. Bottle it, drink after a month.

Very weird. I challenge my readers to try it and let me know how it goes?

The hare is a sacred animal, it was sacred to Aphrodite:

‘For you know, I imagine, what is said of the hare, that it possesses the gift of Aphrodite to an unusual degree. At any rate it is said of the female that while she suckles the young she has borne, she bears another litter to share the same milk; forthwith she conceives again, nor is there any time at all when she is not carrying young.’

Classical Texts Library. Philostratus the Elder, ‘Imagines’ Book 1.1-15 c 3rd Century AD. Translated by Arthur Fairbanks.

Research reported by Exeter University suggests that hares were worshipped in pre-Roman Britain. Julius Caesar wrote:

The Britons consider it contrary to divine law to eat the hare, the chicken, or the goose.”

‘The Battle for Gaul’ Translation by Wiseman, Anne, Wiseman, T. P. Published by Penguin Random House, 1980 ISBN 10: 0701125047 (TP Wiseman is my professor for Classical Studies at Leicester University)

In Neolithic Ireland hares were found buried with human remains at the Neolithic court tomb at Parknabinnia.

illustration of a hare from 1873 fom the London Illustrated Almanac
The Hare

Hares are thought to be the original Easter Bunny although finding good evidence before Germany in the early modern period is difficult. There is a tradition that witches can be scared away at Easter. Exactly, how this works is not clear, but it has been said that witches could take on the form of a hare, and so Hare Pie and hare meat was eaten at Easter to rid the land of the witches. Or you could have a jugged hare. Jugging is cooking a whole animal in a container over water. Here is a recipe for jugged wild hare. Remember, you are not allowed to shot or trap them on a Sunday or on Christmas Day! For a discussion of hares and folklore, click here:

A jointed hare’s foot was considered very lucky and a remedy against gout, stomach pains and insomnia. (The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore by Charles Kightly, which I have used several times in this piece.) You can buy one on eBay. (Don’t click the links, it’s not an advert but a picture of an advert). I remember friends having rabbit feet which they carried around with them often on key rings?

Advert for a hare's foot from ebay
Advert for a hare’s foot from ebay

First published in 2023 and revised March 28th 2024