Since I had time to kill at the library the other day, I followed up a tip from Tim and found a book by Jake Gardner (presumably a relative of Martin) called "Modern Man: Churl, Villain, Or Jester?" And I just had time to copy the following before I had to go catch the Nexus bus home. Sorry this is so long: Hope it all gets through.
In Europe, through the Middle Ages until about Shakespeare's time, the economies of most countries, including especially those where the inhabitants were the ancestors of the English-speaking peoples, were continuing to emerge from the hunter-gatherer traditions that had marked the end of the Stone Age into the modern versions of these traditions that we see today. As hunters, men needed meat, as well as animal furs to protect them from the harsh winters of Northern Europe. The rabbit was sometimes useful for both purposes, but because the rabbit was viewed as a predator on the very fields that man himself was learning how to cultivate, the elimination of rabbits became a desirable purpose for man the farmer/hunter. In this case, man the hunter was generally man the trapper, and since rabbits were not his only prey, he soon noticed that the taking of a rabbit in a trap was usually a precursor to the taking of other small animals, such as foxes and badgers, that might use the same game trail. Cf. Shakespeare:
‘Tis not but a mere rabbit,
For where runs the rabbit,
There 'tis the habit Of running the fox.
-- All's Well That Ends Well, IV, iii, l.17-21.
Therefore, the rabbit was viewed as a sign of good luck to come; and the rabbit's foot, the part of the animal that was caught in the trap, came to seem especially lucky.
Many of these people were still influenced by fairly simple religions, like that of the Druids in Great Britain. For the priests or medicine men of these faiths, the monthly cycle of the moon usually assumed great importance; so any farmers or hunters who wanted to try to assure good luck in the coming cycle would repeat talismanic oaths in the way taught to them by their religious leaders. Therefore, on the first of the month, anyone wishing to pray to his or her primitive gods for good luck during the month ahead might repeat a simple charm, such as "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit"; or "lucky rabbit, lucky rabbit;" or--because of the association of the color white with the sun and with virtue--"white rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit." An interesting variant, which in our own time has given a title to novel by John Updike, came from people who for their own reasons could understand the plight of the trapper's prey: "Run, rabbit, run."
Even today, people cling to these superstitions; and an elder of the Fudd family, of the Beverly Hills west of Lincolnshire, who claims to be himself a warlock and one of the last surviving Druids, admits that it matters little which incantation one uses, since anything that anyone feels brings good luck is clearly a worthwhile habit so long as the luck continues.
This aging gentleman, known to his descendants as Grandfather Elmer, takes note that in his lifetime; the incantation "White rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit" has been abbreviated to, "Wabbit, wabbit, wabbit."
- Ted on 1/22/1999
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