Hare, or Rabbit (Wašjįgéga)

by Richard L. Dieterle

Hare is said to be the son of Earthmaker, since the Creator made him with his own hands.1 Most accounts, perhaps following a Christian model, say he was born of a virgin when he came to earth.2 Since his mother died in child birth, he was raised by her mother, who is none other than Grandmother Earth. Earthmaker had created Hare for the same basic purpose as his four elder brothers. Trickster he first created in order that the human beings, the "two-legged walkers," be delivered from the many scourges that threatened their extinction. Trickster did not behave in a serious way, and therefore failed. Earthmaker next created Turtle, then Bladder, and finally Redhorn, each of whom failed in his turn. Therefore he created Wašjįgéga, as the fifth and last of these special sons and charged him to rescue the human race from all evil doers. In the end, he alone succeeded.3 Hare is said to have driven those evil spirits who are above, father above; and those who are below, farther below.4 This is Hare's project: to create a proper balance in the world that leaves the space due to humanity in the middle, central realm. This project is reflected in the body of Hare himself who gradually takes shape as he corrects the imbalance of the world's body politic. In one adventure, he cuts his lip just below his nose, the resultant split defining rabbits ever after. On another occasion, Hare burnt his buttocks while trying to free the sun, and that is why rabbits have dark hindquarters today. Hare's special weapon, an arrow that exudes lightning whenever he squeezes it, is often the means by which he wins his victories. This weapon is also built like Hare's body, one small step at a time. This process of construction and evolution is the path to Hare's success and self-definition of himself and his "uncles and aunts" (the human race).

Much of what Hare fights may be called "arrogation." Grasshopper arrogates to himself tobacco, something that Earthmaker gave exclusively to human beings. Hare hits Grasshopper so hard that tobacco is scattered everywhere, allowing people everywhere to exploit it.5 Another character, Flint, keeps to himself all the stone arrowheads, so Hare smashes him, scattering arrowheads all over the place. A similar spirit had beheaded the Red Man and kept his living head in his fireplace. When Hare caught up to him, he gave him such a blow that flint flew in every direction. Hare then reunited the head and the body of Red Man and he was brought back to his normal life.6 Sharp Elbow arrogates to himself Hare's own thunder-arrow, which Hare eventually takes back after killing the offending spirit.7 Bear pays the usual penalty for arrogating to himself all the acorns that Hare brought with him.8 Hare also encounters a frog with teeth that arrogates to himself powers inappropriate to his true strength. Hare knocks his teeth out, creating the proper model for frogs ever since.9 Perhaps the greatest and most epic of Hare's struggles came when a single bad spirit arrogated to himself all the possessions of mankind, even his women. This was the Spirit of Gambling, who in other accounts is said to be the Lord of Crickets. Even though Hare and his brothers (except Bladder) came to the rescue of humanity, still this evil spirit was able to vanquish them in every form of gambling. Finally, they were joined by the Blue (Čo) Man, who was Chief of the Black Rock Spirits, and whose victory over the Lord of Crickets liberated all the green (čo) things of the world. Other accounts say that Hare and his brothers had help from the Forked Man. The last possession of man that they had to win back was his women, whom the Spirit of Gambling had combined into a single grand female. Hare captured her by a clever ruse: he turned himself into the very image of the Spirit of Gambling, then went to her with the warning that she was to be on her guard against Hare and his fellows as they might come in his guise and try to fool her. And to play it safe, he told her, she should stay by his side wherever he went. Thus he walked back with the woman in his possession, and that is how men recovered their women.10

Arrogation is one way to overstep appropriate boundaries; another is to overstep the boundary between the human and the monstrous. Once a water monster began eating human beings, so Hare contrived to get himself swallowed. In the end he liberated the humans inside by cutting his way out with razor sharp pieces of flint. This monster was not only a man-eater, but was discovered to be a polygamous as well.11 Other monstrosities that Hare encountered were bodiless heads. At first they let him dine with them, but on his second visit, they decided that they would try to eat him. Hare made good his escape, and in the process led them to their own destruction when he caused them to drown. Out of their powdered remains, which he poured into a stream, small fish arose.12

Hare is most famous for founding the Medicine Rite, as we shall see below; but he is also responsible for another important institution. This institution is concerned with creating space to save men from a certain evil that can affect them. This evil is female menstruation, which is said to kill the war powers by mere contact. Hare created the first menstruation in women when he threw wildcat blood on the legs of Grandmother Earth. To save the power of his war weapons, he required her to set her lodge at a certain distance from his own. This became the first menstrual seclusion hut, a structure created to guard the power of war weapons against pollution. He also started the practice of making love to women in their menstrual lodge when he disguised himself as a distinguished one-eyed gentleman (rather like Óðinn in Norse mythology) and lay with Grandmother in her menstrual hut. The eye he took out (symbolizing the moon?) was gnawed by mice, so the affair was not without its bad consequences.13

Hare was not content merely to rescue his uncles and aunts, he wanted to better their lives as much as he could. To this end, he called a great council of the animals and there proposed to set out which of them would be game for humans to eat. Many volunteered, although some arrogant animals such as Elk and Bear had to be persuaded. Then they all rolled in a tub of lard to establish how much fat each would carry. The skunk or the fox jumped in uninvited, and as a result had their own fat squeezed off them.14 Having been victorious over the evil spirits, Hare decided that he could perhaps ward off death from human beings altogether. In order to achieve this, Hare had to walk a perfect circle around the world without looking back at his grandmother. However, Hare could not resist looking back, and as a result, the hand of death was not stayed from its grip on human being.15 Hare's very human inability to resist temptation caused him to lose at least one other blessing that he had within his grasp. Once he rescued the red scalp of a spirit who then wished to reward him with the power to cause inanimate objects to move by mere voice command. Hare was able to cook merely by telling the kettles and utensils what to do. This great power was allowed to be passed on to ordinary people. However, there was a beautiful girl in the lodge behind a partition, and Hare was told that he could not touch her or he would lose this blessing for himself and everyone else. In the end Hare not only touched her, but slept with her, and as a result, today we must toil at everything we do.16 After realizing that he had caused his uncles and aunts to lose the blessings of immorality, Hare fell into depression. Earthmaker became concerned, and had him recalled to Spiritland where he was taken to the lodge of Great Black Hawk, the chief of the Thunders. Great Black Hawk shook the Thunderbird Warclub before him, and the terrific noise and light that came forth scared Hare out of his depression. Then he was called before Earthmaker, who gave him a mission to found the Medicine Rite in which human beings would be able to attain as much life as they wanted through longevity and rebirth. Hare went to earth, and with the aid of Grandmother, he established the Medicine Lodge and all its rites and ceremonies. Thus, Hare became responsible for giving human beings a fullness of life.17

The identity of life with light (hąp) gives Hare an esoteric identity with light. Radin observes, "... Hare is the symbol of light, of the dawn, of snow and of whiteness in general not only among the Winnebago but among many other tribes as well."18 White is the color of holiness, and it may well be the case that Hare represents holiness itself, a power that seeks order.

When Hare had completed his mission, Earthmaker gave him rule over this earth and over that epoch in time in which we now live.19

Links: Earthmaker, Earth, The Sons of Earthmaker, Trickster, Turtle, Bladder, Redhorn, The Twins, Paradise Lost, Spirits, Bears, Great Black Hawk, Beavers, Forked Man, Wąkpanįgera, Bear, Bear Spirits, Elk (I), Grasshoppers, Mice, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Cosmography, Maize, Flint, Skunks, Wildcats (Bobcats), Kaǧi, Cougars, Swans, Rock Spirits, Snakes.

Stories: featuring Hare as a character: The Hare Cycle, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Kills Wildcat, The Messengers of Hare, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Kills Flint, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Hill that Devoured Men and Animals, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Grandmother's Gifts, Hare and the Grasshoppers, The Spirit of Gambling, The Red Man, Maize Origin Myth, Hare Steals the Fish, The Animal who would Eat Men, The Gift of Shooting, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Petition to Earthmaker; variants of stories in the Hare Cycle: Hare and the Grasshoppers, cf. The Lake Winnebago Origin Myth; cycles of other great soteriological spirits: Redhorn Cycle, Trickster Cycle, Twins Cycle; featuring Grandmother Earth as a character: Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Maize Origin Myth, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Grandmother's Gifts, Owl Goes Hunting, Hare and the Grasshoppers, Hare Acquires His Arrows, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, Hare Kills Wildcat, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, The Necessity for Death, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Steals the Fish, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Kills Flint, The Gift of Shooting, The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man (vv 4, 6), Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Redhorn's Father (?).

Themes: spirits come to earth in order to rescue humanity from enemies who threaten their existence: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Bladder and His Brothers, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Grandfather's Two Families, The Hare Cycle, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Raccoon Coat, Redhorn's Sons, The Redhorn Cycle, The Roaster, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Spirit of Gambling, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Trickster Cycle, Wojijé, Redhorn's Father, Turtle and the Merchant; good spirits rescue women held by an evil spirit: Hare Gets Swallowed, The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Iron Staff and His Companions; acquiring a holy arrow: Hare Acquires His Arrows, Morning Star and His Friend, Owl Goes Hunting, Little Human Head; someone kills Thunderbird nestlings and makes use of their feathers: Hare Acquires His Arrows, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Disobey Their Father; handling a thunder weapon adversely affects bystanders: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, The Stone that Became a Frog; inanimate things automatically respond to human commands: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (corn plant), The Old Man and the Giants (boat), Wojijé (metal boat), The Raccoon Coat (metal boat), Big Eagle Cave Mystery (canoe), The Sky Man (knots), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (everything), cf. How the Thunders Met the Nights (pontoon boat); greed spoils the blessing given by a spirit: The Greedy Woman, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, The Foolish Hunter; someone is able to exert supernatural power upon an object by concentrating his mind upon it: Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Messengers of Hare, South Enters the Medicine Lodge, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka; an heroic spirit recaptures a man's head or scalp and restores the victim's unity by throwing it exactly in its correct position on his body: Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Man with Two Heads; a being is able to enlarge himself: Hare and the Grasshoppers, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (v. 1), The Canine Warrior; an organ of the body is removed and left somewhere (for safekeeping): Ocean Duck (heart), The Stone Heart (heart); The Raccoon Coat (heart), The Green Man (heart), Hare Kills Wildcat (an eye); an evil spirit is smashed to pieces by a club: The Red Man, Waruǧábᵉra, Hare Kills Flint, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, The Big Stone; Hare knocks out the teeth of an animal that threatened humans so that its kind ceases to pose a threat ever again: Hare and the Dangerous Frog, The Animal who would Eat Men (v. 1) (an elk), The Animal who would Eat Men (v. 2) (an eel);rodents gnaw on parts of people's bodies: Trickster Loses Most of His Penis, Ocean Duck, Hare Kills Wildcat.


1 Walter Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan: a Defended Culture (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota: December, 1986 [MnU-D 86-361]]) 107.

2 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 93. Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) §1, p. 63. Paul Radin, The Culture of the Winnebago: As Defined by Themselves International Journal of American Linguistics, Memoirs, 3 (1950): 21-24 (ss 72-212). Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagos (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923) 409-411.

3 Kathleen Danker and Felix White, Sr., The Hollow of Echoes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) 24-25. Informant: Felix White, Sr. Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 302-311.

4 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 113-114.

5 Oliver LaMère (Bear Clan), "The Rabbit and the Grasshoppers," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 86-87. Oliver LaMère was Paul Radin's principal translator. Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 93-98.

6 Paul Radin, "The Red Man," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook 6: 1-72.

7 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 93-98.

8 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 98-100.

9 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 106-107.

10 Paul Radin, "The Blue Man," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook 55; Paul Radin, (untitled), Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3858 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago IV, #5: 4-16. Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 75-86. Informant: Oliver LaMère of the Bear Clan.

11 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 103-105; LaMère and Shinn, Winnebago Stories, 143-145. Informant: Oliver LaMère of the Bear Clan.

12 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 100-102.

13 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 104-106.

14 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 111-113. Charles Edward Brown, Wigwam Tales (Madison, Wisc.: Charles E. Brown, 1930) 28.

15 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 113-114. Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 302-311.

16 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 107-111. Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) vol. 1, #3: p. 2 col. 4 - p. 3 col. 1. Told by Peter Menaige, interpreter at the old Minnesota Winnebago Reservation.

17 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 302-311.

18 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 335 nt 7.

19 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 66-70; Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 52-53. Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan, 108-136. Informant: One Who Wins of the Winnebago Bear Clan.