The animal most intimately allied with magic in the Isle of Man is the hare, whose shape is often assumed by Witches than any other.
A local lady wrote to the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould in the latter part of the 19th century complaining that she could not get her servants to eat hare because it might be some old woman in a transformed state.
To distinguish between the two species of hare at sight may perplex the most practiced observer. A friend of mine tells me that a friend of hers, a poacher and church-organist, being dutifully apprehensive of killing one of the wrong kind (which might have turned out to be a living or dead relative, or at the least some elderly woman well able to avenge herself) has devised a test by food. If he notices in the course of his chief vocation that a hare neglects an aliment favoured by its kind e.g. a ridge of carrots in a field, he gives it the benefit of the doubt and releases it if it happens to get entangled in one of his snares.
Two youths were poaching on a Glen Aldyn farm with an acetylene bicycle-lamp, a common method by which dazzled creatures can be knocked over or netted silently. In the course of their proceedings they were startled by the appearance before them of a black mass having the shape of a gigantic hare. They made off down the hill, and gave up their little games for a time at least. During their repentant period they confided their adventure to the farmer who confided it to me.
A white or conspicuously light-coloured hare is regarded as especially significant. If one is seen near dwelling-houses it foretokens fire. The fat of any hare – rendered down over a slow fire – is useful in divination, inducing particularly that kind of clear-sightedness which reveals the identity of an ill-wishing or ill-working neighbour.
The ubiquitous anecdote of the shooting of a hare with a silver bullet, or of its being worried by dogs, and the subsequent discovery of a suspected Witch with corresponding injuries, is heard as often in the Island as everywhere else.
This feeling of respect for the hare has many minor ramifications. It is even carried so far that a doctrine obtains among conservative thinkers that a hare-lip is the vestige of the hare-shape assumed either voluntarily or through bewitchment, whether in the possessor’s lifetime or in that of a progenitor.
The shoulder-bone of a hare, even more infallibly than that of a sheep, when looked steadily into, in the proper circumstances, rendered visible the invisible and brought the future into the present.
A hare’s foot is a lucky thing to carry concealed on one’s person, but the less it is shown, or even spoken of, the stronger is its power for good. It is also a specific against rheumatism, and has in the past been carried by fishermen, but whether for luck in fishing or for protection against danger and bad weather I am not sure. Neither perhaps were they.
Three-legged hares of sinister potency, as known in Wales, Lincolnshire, Scandinavia and the Teutonic countries, might have been expected to thrive on Manx soil, but if they did (and do) they have eluded me hitherto.
(source: A Second Manx Scrapbook WW Gill; artwork by Whyn Lewis)