The Avebury Hares - Wiltshire's Traditional Love Of Hare Symbolism Traceable All The
Way Back To The Construction Of Avebury's Henges.
When I started really looking at Avebury the last thing on my mind was the existence of stone hares. Although Wiltshire today is scattered with prints, drawings and bronzes showing single or fighting pairs of hares, I made absolutely no connection between these homely animals and the ponderous chunks of grey sarsen apparently lying about Avebury.
This view started to change when Professor Meaden emailed telling me where to find the incredible Hare carved onto the western face of Cove Stone II, arguably the most important stone at Avebury, immediately below left:
An beautifully rendered carving hidden in plain view. I wonder how surprised many of the drinkers sitting outside the Red Lion pub would be to learn that they are being studied from across the road by a sacred stone hare as old, or possibly older, than the pyramids of Egypt.
The next stone hare (above right) I learned about from the net, apparently it is well known by walkers that Stone 32A in the West Kennet Avenue represents a hare. Battered and rebuilt, presumably by Keiller, this creature faces eastwards apparently waiting for the sunrise:
I may have missed the Hares on Cove Stone II and 32A, but I didn't miss the extraordinary imposing hare statues on Stones 102 and 103 of Avebury Henge's South-East Quadrant (below, left and right respectively). I believe these are original discoveries by me with major implications for the understanding of Avebury:
Throughout time hares have been strongly symbolically linked with fertility. As Avebury is profoundly linked to the creative/rebirthing force of nature (personified by the neolithic Great Goddess) why should we be surpised to see multiple sacred hares carved into the sarsens here?
The two hares incorporated into Stones 102 and 103 are appropriatedly placed in the arc of a stone circle that Professor Meaden has alreadly linked to a neolithic early summer festival celebrating fertility. He shows (on p22 of his Avebury Stones book) that on May 8 every year the rising sun cast a shadow from a large Obelisk stone set in the centre of the Quadrant, and that this shadow was designed to touch a Vulva Stone set in the opposite part of the circle (in the same arc of monoliths hosting our hares). At this moment Avebury's builders believed the Great Goddess had been re-fertilzed by the Sky God, and the great cycle of nature could unwind for another year.
My discovery of 2 hare carvings in the same arc of stones as the Vulva stone could be seen as strong support for Professor Meaden's identification of the South-East Quadrant as being especially concerned with fertility. These hares could be seen as moving clockwise around the pivotal Obelisk stone (much like dancers around a Maypole), and facing the Vulva stone down the line of the circle!
The prominence of hares at Avebury makes me wonder if the tribe that built the henges, in whatever language they spoke, called themselves "The Tribe of the Hare" or the "Hare People". Tangentially in support of this unsubstantiatable idea, even today the galleries and shops of Wiltshire are stocked to the rafters with art incorporating hare imagery. Wiltshire and hare art appear inseparable, and this may have its root at Avebury.