Early Reference To Witches Turning Themselves Into Hares


The prevalence of the belief that witches could transform themselves into

hares is seen from a remark made by Giraldus Cambrensis in his

topography of Ireland. He writes:--

It has also been a frequent complaint, from old times, as well as in

the present, that certain hags in Wales, as well as in Ireland and

Scotland, changed themselves into the shape of hares, that, sucking

teats under th
s counterfeit, they might stealthily rob other

people's milk.

Giraldus Cambrensis, Bohn's Edition, p. 83.

This remark of the Archdeacon's gives a respectable antiquity to the

metamorphosis of witches, for it was in 1185 that he visited Ireland, and

he tells us that what he records had descended from old times.

The transformation fables that have descended to us would seem to be

fossils of a pagan faith once common to the Celtic and other cognate

races. It was not thought that certain harmless animals only could

become the temporary abode of human beings. Even a wolf could be human

under an animal form. Thus Giraldus Cambrensis records that a priest

was addressed in Ireland by a wolf, and induced to administer the

consolations of his priestly office to his wife, who, also, under the

shape of a she-wolf was apparently at the point of death, and to convince

the priest that she was really a human being the he-wolf, her husband,

tore off the skin of the she-wolf from the head down to the navel,

folding it back, and she immediately presented the form of an old woman

to the astonished priest. These people were changed into wolves through

the curse of one Natalis, Saint and Abbot, who compelled them every seven

years to put off the human form and depart from the dwellings of men as a

punishment for their sins. (See Giraldus Cambrensis, Bohn's Edition,

pp. 79-81.)