The three hares is a circular motif appearing in sacred sites from the Middle and Far East to the churches of southwest England (as the "Tinners' Rabbits"), and historical synagogues in Europe. It is used as an architectural ornament, a religious symbol, and in other modern works of art or a logo for adornment (including tattoos), jewelry and a coat of arms on an escutcheon. It is viewed as a puzzle, a topology problem or a visual challenge, and has been rendered as sculpture, drawing, and painting.
The symbol features three hares or rabbits chasing each other in a circle. Like the triskelion, the triquetra, and their antecedents (e.g., the triple spiral and the yin yang whorl), the symbol of the three hares has a threefold rotational symmetry. Each of the ears is shared by two hares, so that only three ears are shown. Although its meaning is apparently not explained in contemporary written sources from any of the medieval cultures where it is found, it is thought to have a range of symbolic or mystical associations with fertility and the lunar cycle. When used in Christian churches, it is presumed to be a symbol of the Trinity. Its origins and original significance are uncertain, as are the reasons why it appears in such diverse locations. That the image's meaning changes depending upon the context and the viewer could be characterized as being analogous to pareidolia; its widespread appeal may be characterized as being a meme.
Origins in Buddhism and diffusion on the Silk Road
The earliest occurrences appear to be in cave temples in China, dated to the Sui dynasty (6th to 7th centuries). The iconography spread along the Silk Road, and was a symbol associated with Buddhism. The hares have been said to be "A hieroglyph of 'to be'." In other contexts the metaphor has been given different meaning. For example, Guan Youhui, a retired researcher from the Dunhuang Academy, who spent 50 years studying the decorative patterns in the Mogao Caves, believes the three rabbits image-—"like many images in Chinese folk art that carry auspicious symbolism—represent peace and tranquility." See Aurel Stein. The hares have appeared in Lotus motifs.
Another appears on an ancient Islamic-made reliquary from southern Russia. Another 13th or early 14th century box, later used as a reliquary, was made in Iran under Mongol rule, and is preserved in the treasury of the Cathedral of Trier in Germany. On its base, the casket has Islamic designs, and originally featured two images of the three hares. One was lost through damage.
One theory pertaining to the spread of the motif is that it was transported from China across Asia and as far as the south west of England by merchants travelling the silk road and that the motif was transported via designs found on expensive Oriental ceramics. This view is supported by the early date of the surviving occurrences in China. However the majority of representations of the three hares in churches occur in England and northern Germany. This supports a contrary view that the Three Hares occurred independently as English or early German symbols.
Some claim that the Devon name, Tinners’ Rabbits, is related to local tin miners adopting it. The mines generated wealth in the region and funded the building and repair of many local churches, and thus the symbol may have been used as a sign of the miners' patronage. The architectural ornament of the Three Hares also occurs in churches that are unrelated to the miners of South West England. Other occurrences in England include floor tiles at Chester Cathedral, stained glass at Long Melford, Suffolk[A] and a ceiling in Scarborough, Yorkshire.
The motif of the Three Hares is used in a number of medieval European churches, particularly in France (e.g., in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyons) and Germany. It occurs with the greatest frequency in the churches of the West Country of England. The motif appears in illuminated manuscripts, architectural wood carving, stone carving, window tracery and stained glass. In South Western England there are nearly thirty recorded examples of the Three Hares appearing on 'roof bosses' (carved wooden knobs) on the ceilings in medieval churches in Devon, (particularly Dartmoor). There is a good example of a roof boss of the Three hares at Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Dartmoor, with another in the town of Tavistock on the edge of the moor. The motif occurs with similar central placement in Synagogues. Another occurrence is on the ossuary that by tradition contained the bones of St. Lazarus.
Where it occurs in England, the Three Hares motif usually appears in a prominent place in the church, such as the central rib of the chancel roof, or on a central rib of the nave. This suggests that the symbol held significance to the church, and casts doubt on the theory that they may have been a masons' or carpenters' signature marks. There are two possible and perhaps concurrent reasons why the Three Hares may have found popularity as a symbol within the church. Firstly, it was widely believed that the hare was hermaphrodite and could reproduce without loss of virginity. This led to an association with the Virgin Mary, with hares sometimes occurring in illuminated manuscripts and Northern European paintings of the Virgin and Christ Child. The other Christian association may have been with the Holy Trinity, representing the "One in Three and Three in One" of which the triangle or three interlocking shapes such as rings are common symbols. In many locations the Three Hares are positioned adjacent to the Green Man, a symbol associated with the continuance of Anglo-Saxon or Celtic paganism. These juxtapositions may have been created to imply the contrast of the Divine with man's sinful, earthly nature.
In Judaism, the "shafan" in Hebrew has symbolic meaning.[B] Although rabbits are listed as a non-kosher animal in the Bible— they are a ruminant lacking cloven hooves— rabbits can carry very positive symbolic connotations, like lions and eagles. 16th century German scholar Rabbi Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, saw the rabbits as a symbol of the Diaspora. The replica of the Chodorow Synagogue from Poland (on display at the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora in Tel Aviv) has a ceiling with a large central painting which depicts a double headed eagle holds two brown rabbits in its claws without harming them. The painting is surrounded by a citation from the end of Deuteronomy:
- .כנשר יעיר קינו על גוזליו ירחף. יפרוש כנפיו יקחהו ישאהו על אברתו—Deuteronomy 32:11, The Song of Moses
This may be translated: "As an eagle that stirreth up her nest, hovereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her pinions (...thus is G'd to the Jewish people)."
The hare frequently appears in the form of the symbol of the "rotating rabbits". An ancient German riddle describes this graphic thus:
Three hares sharing three ears,
Yet every one of them has two.
This curious graphic riddle can be found in all of the famous wooden synagogues from the period of the 17th and 18th century in the Ashknaz region (in Germany) that are on museum display in Beth Hatefutsoth Museum in Tel Aviv, the Jewish Museum Berlin and The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. They also appear in the Synagogue from Horb am Neckar (donated to the Israel Museum). The three animals adorn the wooden panels of the prayer room from Unterlimpurg near Schwäbisch Hall, which may be seen in replica in the Jewish Museum Berlin. They also are seen in a main exhibit of the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. Israeli art historian Ida Uberman wrote about this house of worship: "... Here we find depictions of three kinds of animals, all organized in circles: eagles, fishes and hares. These three represent the Kabbalistic elements of the world: earth, water and fire/heavens... The fact that they are always three is important, for that number . . . is important in the Kabbalistic context".
As an optical illusion or puzzle
Jurgis Baltrusaitis's (1955) Le Moyen-Âge fantastique. Antiquités et exotismes dans l'art gothique includes a 1576 Dutch engraving with the puzzle given in Dutch and French around the image. It notes:
- The secret is not great when one knows it.
- But it is something to one who does it.
- Turn and turn again and we will also turn,
- So that we give pleasure to each of you.
- And when we have turned, count our ears,
- It is there, without any disguise, you will find a marvel.
"These are the oldest known dated examples of the Three Rabbits as a puzzle." One commentator believes its being a puzzle is likely reason for the image's popularity.
One recent philosophical book poses it as a problem in perception and an optical illusion—an example of contour rivalry. Each rabbit can be individually seen as correct—it is only when you try to see all three at once that you see the problem with defining the hares' ears. This is similar to "The Impossible Tribar" by Roger Penrose, first originated by Oscar Reutersvärd. Compare, M.C. Escher See, Impossible object.
- The Community of Hasloch’s arms is blazoned as: Azure edged Or three hares passant in triskelion of the second, each sharing each ear with one of the others, in chief a rose argent seeded of the second, in base the same, features three hares. It is said, "The stone with the image of three hares, previously adorned the old village well, now stands beside the town hall." Hasloch is in the Main-Spessart district in the Regierungsbezirk of Lower Franconia (Unterfranken) in Bavaria, Germany.
- Hares and rabbits have appeared as a representation or manifestation of various deities in many cultures, including: Hittavainen, Finnish god of Hares; Kaltes-Ekwa, Siberian goddess of the moon; Jade Rabbit, maker of medicine on the moon for the Chinese gods, depicted often with a mortar and pestle; Ometotchtli (Two Rabbits,) Aztec god of fertility, etc., who led 400 other Rabbit gods known as the Centzon Totochtin; Kalulu, Tumbuka mythology (Central African) Trickster god; and Nanabozho (Great Rabbit,) Ojibway deity, a shape-shifter and a cocreator of the world. See generally, Rabbits in the arts.
- Tinners' Rabbits is the name of a Border Morris dance of many forms involving use of sticks and rotation of three, six or nine dancers.
- The hare is rarely used in British armory; but "Argent, three hares playing bagpipes gules" belongs to the FitzErcald family of ancient Derbyshire. Parenthetically, in heraldry the "Coney", that is the rabbit, is more common than the hare. Three coneys appear in the crests of the families: Marton, co. Lincoln; Bassingthorpe co. Lincoln; Gillingham co. Norfolk and Cunliffe co. Lancashire 
- Ushaw College (St Cuthbert's College, Ushaw) is a Roman Catholic seminary which includes "Three coneys" in its crest. This adornment is from the family coat of arms of William Allen.
- The French crest of the family Pinoteau—dating from the first Baron Pinoteau (1814–1815) and which includes historian Hervé Pinoteau (former vice president of the Académie Internationale d'Héraldique—includes three rabbits.[C] See generally, Nobility of the First French Empire.
- Other coats of arms of English and Irish families have three conies or hares.
- "Three Conies Inn" was the name of a 17th-century inn, and three rabbits feeding was used as a motif on the obverse of its trade token. "The property is believed to date from at least the 17th century; the stone sundial above the former front door shows the date 1622. One of the earliest documented references to the property is an advertisement for the sale of a dwelling in the Northampton Mercury in September 1738. The 1777 Militia List also refers to the 'Thre Coneys'".
- Among hunters, a collection of three hares (“a brace and a half” or tierce) – or three creatures of any kind, especially greyhounds, foxes, bucks—is called “a leash.”
- The cover art for alternative rock band AFI's album Decemberunderground features three hares, albeit in a different configuration.
- The Japanese manga Cat Shit One, retitled in the United States as Apocalypse Meow focuses on the fate of three rabbit soldiers.
- Three hares are the cover art of a book of poetry by the same name by Caroline Carver.
- Flag of Sicily, a similar flag with a triskelion
- Flag of the Isle of Man
- Golden spiral
- List of fictional hares and rabbits
- Moon gazing hare
- Moon rabbit
- Rabbit rabbit, a British superstition
- Rabbits in the arts
- Rabbits in culture and literature
- Recycling symbol
- Sator Square, a rotating palindrome meme
- The Three Rabbits, a Hungarian animated short film
- Three Rabbit Islands, in Scotland
- At the Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, above the northern door, is a small stained glass roundel, only a few inches in diameter. "The three hares window: a medieval mystery". 28 February 2011. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
- In Hebrew, the rock hyrax is called שפן סלע (shafan sela), meaning rock "shafan", where the meaning of shafan is obscure, but is colloquially used as a synonym for rabbit in modern Hebrew. Slifkin, Nosson (1 March 2004). 6 (PDF). "Shafan– The Hyrax". The camel, the hare & the hyrax: a study of the laws of animals with one kosher sign in light of modern zoology. Southfield, MI; Nanuet, NY: Zoo Torah in association with Targum/Feldheim Distributed by Feldheim. pp. 99–135. ISBN 1-56871-312-6. Retrieved 25 April 2012. ISBN 978-1-56871-312-0.
- Arms Family Pinoteau: Rietstap gives: Quarterly, 1st silver, a lion sable armed and langued reds; to 2e gules, a silver sword adorned with gold and 3e gules, a sword of gold band and a rifle gold bars, in saltire; to 4e Silver, a chevron azure, with three rabbits sand stream. Borel Hauterive gives, in the Yearbook of the nobility of France and the royal houses of Europe, T. 21, Paris, 1865: Quarterly, 1st silver, a lion sable armed and langued reds; to 2e gules a sword high silver barons fair district military-3e gules, a sword and a rifle gold necklace set with (weapons of honor) to 4e Silver, a chevron azure, three rabbits with sand, which is Brumauld.
- Chapman, Chris (2004). "The Three Hares Project". Retrieved 2013-10-21.
- Wonnenberg, Felice Naomi. "How do the rabbits get into the synagogue? From China via Middle East and Germany to Galizia: On the tracks of the ROTATING RABBITS SYMBOL". googlepages.com. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
- "Miniature sculptures of Tinners' Rabbits, ca. 1300)". Finestoneminiatures.com. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- Tinner's Rabbits sculpture, Art that Matters.
- Celtic knot Tatoo: border encircling Triple knotwork Hares by *WildSpiritWolf".
- The "three hares motif from a window of the Paderborn cathedral cloister (Unity and Trinity as a symbol of the Trinity, the central mystery of faith of the Catholic Church and the whole of Christendom)." Coat of Arms, Bishop Paul Werner Scheele, Bischof von Würzburg 1979–2003. See Ecclesiastical heraldry.
- Greeves, Tom, Dr.; Andrews, Sue; Chapman, Chris (26 October 2006). "From China to Widecombe: The Extraordinary Journey of The Three Hares". Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- della Quercia, Jacopo (11 April 2011). "7 Memes That Went Viral Before The Internet Existed, Part 2". Cracked.com. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- Chapman, Chris; Wei, Zhang; Rasmussen, Peter (August 2004). "The Three Rabbits in China". Adapted from a presentation at the International Conference on Grottoes Research. Dunhuang China. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
- /news18/idpnews_18.a4d International Dunhuang Project Newsletter No. 18. The Travels of the Three Rabbits: Shared Iconography Across the Silk Road.[dead link]
- Whitfield, Susan, The Silk Road: trade, travel, war and faith, p. 290. London: The British Library. ISBN 1-932476-13-X; ISBN 978-1-932476-13-2.
- Windling, Terri (2005). "The Symbolism of Rabbits and Hares". Endicott Studio. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012.
- "Staedlin, Naomi, (November 7, 2004) ''The rabbits as a hieroglyph of 'to be'.''" (PDF). Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
- The Silk Road: trade, travel, war and faith, by Susan Whitfield, page 290
- "The Three Hares". Retrieved 2008-11-11.
- "Chasing Hares". BBC. 16 November 2004. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
- Tom Greeves. "The Three Hares". Retrieved 2010-06-13.
- Chapman, Chris. "What does the Symbol Mean?". Three Hares Project. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012.
- Singmaster, David (August 2004). "The Three Rabbits and Similar Puzzles". threehares.net. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
- Sandles, Tim (23 November 2007). "The Tinner's Rabbits". Legendary Dartmoor. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
- "The archaeology of Cheshire West and Chester in ten objects".
- Three Hares at Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, four hares, and three hares and three wolves, elsewhere. photographs and drawing.
- Terrier, Michel; Greeves, Tom (Archaeologist and historian); Andrew, Sue (researcher) (9 September 2007). "Three hares and their ears commune (Trois lièvres à oreilles communes)" (in French). Retrieved 20 September 2012.
- Shackle, Eric (2006). "Three Hares Share Three Ears". Eric Shackle's e-book. Sydney, Australia. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- "Three Hares as representation of the Trinity". Threehares.blogspot.com. 25 February 2006. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- Montagrier, Juliana Lees (December, 2009) The Green Man of Cercle.[dead link]
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- "Three hares puzzle". Southwestcrafts.co.uk. 20 July 2007. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- ISBN 2-08-081603-9; ISBN 978-2-08-081603-0. P. 134.
- Wappen Hasloch. from source.
- Wappen Hasloch.
- Detail on Hasloch.
- "Simon, Terri, ''Finnish Magic and the Old Gods'', The Nomadic Chantry of the Gramarye" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- "The Great Hare". Community-2.webtv.net. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- "Nanabozho, Access geneaology". Accessgenealogy.com. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- "Choreography, Tinners Rabbits dance" (PDF). Breathless In Berthoud Border Morris. 8 February 2008. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- "Video, Tinners Rabbits dance". Weblo.com. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- Fox-Davies, A.C. (1978) A Complete Guide to Heraldry (New York: Bonanza Books) p. 214. ISBN 1-60239-001-0; ISBN 978-1-60239-001-0.
- Burke, John; Burke, Sir John Bernard (1851). Encyclopædia of heraldry: or General armory of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
- Hervé Pinoteau French Wikipedia.
- Papworth, John Woody; Morant, Alfred W. (1874). Coats of Arms Belonging to Family in Great Britain and Ireland: An alphabetical dictionary of coats of arms belonging to families Ordinary of British Armorials 1. London: T. Richards. p. 159. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
- ingen Briain meic Donnchada, Mari (Kathleen M. O'Brien) (9 February 2009). "English Sign Names From 17th Century Tradesman's Tokens". Medieval Scotland,. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
- "Three Conies Inn". Thorpe Mandeville: Thorpe-Mandeville yesterday. Retrieved 11 September 2011..
- Noah Webster, “Leash” Dictionary, 1828.
- "Leash" Merriam Webster online.
- "Leash", Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 1913 edition.
- "Cat Shit One No. 01". Manga Glénat (in French).
- Carver, Caroline (2009). "Three Hares". City: Overstep. ISBN 978-1-906856-06-9.
- Dunhuang Research Academy (2006). Jinshi Fan. ed. China Dunhuang. Nanjing: Jiangsu Fine Arts Publishing House. ISBN 7-5344-2082-2. Photography by Wu Jian, including Caves #305 and #407.
- Goepper, Roger. (1996) Alchi: Ladakh’s Hidden Buddhist Sanctuary: The Sumtsek. London: Serindia Publications. ISBN 978-1-57062-240-3. Photos of the three hares on Maitreya’s dhoti.
- Goepper, Roger. The "Great Stupa at Alchi" in Artibus Asiae, Vol. LIII 1/2 (1993), pp. 111–43.
- Dunhuang Research Academy (2005). Wenjie Duan; Fan, Jinshi. ed. 敦煌石窟全集. 1, 再现敦煌. Hong Kong: The Commercial Press (H.K.) Ltd. ISBN 962-07-5299-6.
- Shackle, Eric, Eric Shackle's e-book: Three Hares Share Three Ears.
- Ueckermann, Erhard: Das Hasensymbol am Dom zu Paderborn, im Kloster Hardehausen, in der Kathedralkirche St. Paulus in Münster und der Klosterkirche Haina. In: Zeitschrift für Jagdwissenschaft 41 (1995), S. 285-29.
- Tan Chung, Editor. (1994) Dunhuang Art: Through the Eyes of Duan Wenjie. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications. ISBN 81-7017-313-2.
- Whitfield, Susan. (2004) The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith. London: The British Library. ISBN 1-932476-13-X; ISBN 978-1-932476-13-2.
- Windling, Terri. The Symbolism of Rabbits and Hares.
- Xizang Zizhiqu (1991) wenwu guanli weiyuanhui. Guge gucheng (The Site of the Ancient Guge Kingdom). Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, with photos of four hares and other impossible shared-body images.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Three hares.|
- A tombstone showing three hares in the United Kingdom
- Albrecht Dürer Holy Family with Three Hares (1498) Woodcut, 395 x 285 mm Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe.
- Glyph of four hares sharing four ears at Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, Lyon, France and a set of three 'wolf-hares' (or hound-rabbits) relationship by Basilius Valentinus's alchemical works and his Venus image.
- Painting of three hares
- Painting by Charlie Farrow of the three hares, Terri Windling benefit auction 2011
- Jackie Morris water colour painter/illustrator/author and winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal and Tir na n-Og Award, Painting of three hares.
- Three deer knot (sharing legs in a rotational logo)
- Three hares radio program. BBC Radio.
- Wikimedia commons, Hares in heraldry