This post came about when I was looking through “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas” by Mary Celestia Parler and I found a series of verbal charms related to the rabbit. Here are the charms I found, although if there are this many recorded, from several different locations in Arkansas, there are probably even more that have been passed down without being written down.
“Good Luck; if the first word you say on arising on the first of the month is rabbit.”
“If you sit up in bed on the first day of the month and say, “rabbit, rabbit,” before you do anything else, you’ll have good luck all month.“
“Dr. Riley of the History department told a friend of mine that her mother strongly believes in superstitions and on the last day of each month before going to sleep, the last thing she says is, ‘good night hares.’ The next morning the first thing she says is, ‘rabbits good morning.’ This will bring a month of good luck if she says nothing at all between ‘good night hares’ and ‘rabbits good morning.’”
“On the first day of every month when you first wake up in the morning, you should say ‘jack-rabbit’ before you talk to anyone and you will have good luck for the rest of the month.”
It’s interesting to look at the similarities between the charms, and I don’t really have any theories about how they came about, other than to say there’s a long tradition of rabbit lore in the South from among Whites, Blacks, and Native Americans alike. Rabbit is seen as a trickster figure, and there are a lot of folk tales that go along with that idea. He’s also seen as an omen of good luck and good fortune, hence the use of the rabbit’s foot (pictured above) in certain folk practices. There’s also an interesting association that I’ve managed to find, that might point toward an origin for these charms. Among several different Native American tribes in the Southeast, specifically the Cherokee, the Rabbit is also associated with the dawn, or the sunrise. It’s an interesting thought considering these charms are all related to performing a certain action as you wake up in the morning.
Vance Randolph also has a couple rabbit folk beliefs that he records in “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:
“It is bad luck for a rabbit to cross your path from left to right; you can take the curse off, however, by tearing some article of clothing just a little. If the same rabbit crosses your path twice, it means that you are needed at home immediately.”
“Another well-known tale is concerned with a witch who assumed the form of a swamp rabbit and lived on milk. A farmer saw this big rabbit sucking his cow and fired at it with a load of turkey shot; the animal was only about thirty feet off but seemed quite unharmed. The man rushed home and molded several slugs of silver, obtained by melting half dollars. Charging his shotgun with these, he fired again and killed the rabbit. A few hours later came the news that an old woman in the next holler had been shot to death; the doctor couldn’t find the bullet, but everybody knew that it must have been a silver slug that killed her.”
The idea of the witch turning into a rabbit most likely comes in through European folklore. There are many folk tales about milk-hares (pictured above from a 15th c. Swedish wall painting), or witches disguised as rabbits who suck all the milk out of cows. In Scandinavian folklore there are several milk-thieves, one form includes a rabbit, there are also the troll-cats and troll-balls that are supernatural creatures who steal milk. For more information about the milk-hare I suggest the article “The Witch as Hare or the Witch’s Hare: Popular Legends and Beliefs in Nordic Tradition” by Bodil Nildin-Wall and Jan Wall.