This beautiful e-card was sent to me today by my friends for Easter. The hare has been painted by Jane Tomlinson http://www.janetomlinson.com/galleries, and her paintings are always full of life and colour, sunflowers, megalithic stones and animals she always pleases the eye.
Hares though are my favourite creatures, sometimes I see them out when walking, once Moss gave chase up on the racecourse, they both did the mile in record time, the hare winning of course.
But the card also brought to mind the lovely story of Saint Melangell and her little hare. She was the daughter of King Cufwlch and Ethni of Ireland and she fled to Wales to escape a forced marriage. She settled in Pennant at the head of a valley, and whilst one day sitting in a clearing she heard the sound of a hunt, dogs and horses galloping up the valley. This was Prince Brochwael of Powys hunting hares. As she sat a hare came into the clearing and Melangell hid it in the sleeve of her dress to protect it. When it peeped out the dogs fled, and so the Prince gave her the land on which he hunted, and she lived at Pennant for another 37 years and no animal was killed in her sanctuary. Hares were known as wyn bach Melangell or Melangell's little lambs, and to kill a hare was an act of sacrilege.
This story is taken from "The Book of Welsh Saints" T.D. Breverton, and there are other versions of the tale. But at Llanfihangel-y-Pennant near Llangynog is probably the site of her foundation, because on the church's medieval rood-screen are little hares.
A news item in today's Independent regarding the number of hares in this country, disputes the record number that has just been announced. Apparently many hares are shot by hunters, not only from people in this country but those coming on 'shooting holidays' from France and Germany. Senseless slaughter, (don't get me on the millions of pheasants who are reared and then shot for 'pleasure', let alone the terrible hunting of stags for sport) is still condoned in this country as long as it is controlled! but I would love to know what makes people go out with full bellies to hunt defenceless animals just for sheer pleasure.
Of course it must not be forgotten that the term easter comes from the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Eostre as Bede states here;
The English Months. In olden time the English people – for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other nations' observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation's – calculated their months according to the course of the moon. Hence after the manner of the Hebrews and the Greeks, [the months] take their name from the moon, for the moon is called mona and the month monath. The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Sol-monath; March Hreth-monath; April, Eostur-monath; May Thrimilchi... Eostur-monath has a name which is now translated Paschal month, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. (Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit.) Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-
honoured name of the old observance.
So much of christianity's myths lay on the back of old gods and stories, and Easter is a prime example, this spring festival has as much to do with the dawn rising earlier each day heralding the new growing season than it has to do with Christ being hung on a cross for our sins. A story created and used for so many centuries by the priests to bring people to their own particular version of religion.