Rabbit's Foot: Michelle Carla Handel

Rabbit's Foot
Michelle Carla Handel
Outside Gallery
Opening Saturday, March 26th at 8:00 PM

2806 1/2 Lincoln Park Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90031

"Depend on the rabbit's foot if you will, but remember it didn't work for the rabbit."—R. E. Shay

Adhering strictly to early tradition, a person in search of luck should carry the foot of a hare, the rabbit’s larger cousin. Historically, it was the hare’s foot that possessed magical powers. However, most early European peoples confused the rabbit with the hare, and in time the feet of both animals were prized as potent good luck charms.

The luck attributed to a rabbit’s foot stems from a belief rooted in ancient totemism, the claim, predating Darwinism by thousands of years, that humankind descended from animals. Differing from Darwinism, however, totemism held that every tribe of people evolved from a separate species of animal. A tribe worshiped and refrained from killing its ancestral animal and employed parts of that animal as amulets, called totems.

Remains of totemism are with us today.

In biblical literature, totemism is the origin of many dietary laws prohibiting consumption of certain animals. It has also given us the custom of the sports mascot, believed to secure luck for a team, as well as our penchant for classifying groups of people by animal images or traits. On Wall Street, there are bulls and bears; in government, hawks and doves; and in politics, elephants and donkeys. We may have abandoned the practice of physically carrying around our identifying totems, but they are with us nonetheless.

Folklorists have not yet identified the “Hare” tribal society that gave the early inhabitants of Western Europe, sometime before 600 B.C., the rabbit foot amulet. They have ample evidence, though, of why this lagomorph became a symbol of good luck, not bad.

The rabbit’s habit of burrowing lent it an aura of mystery. The Celts, for instance, believed that the animal spent so much time underground because it was in secret communication with the netherworld of numina. Thus, a rabbit was privy to information humans were denied. And the fact that most animals, including humans, are born with their eyes closed, while rabbits enter the world with eyes wide open, imbued them with an image of wisdom: for the Celts, rabbits witnessed the mysteries of prenatal life. (Actually, the hare is born with open eyes; the rabbit is born blind. And it is the rabbit that burrows; hares live aboveground. Confusion abounded.)

It was the rabbit’s fecundity, though, that helped to give its body parts their strongest association with good luck and prosperity. So prolific was the animal that early peoples regarded it as an outstanding example of all that was procreative in nature. To possess any part of a rabbit—tail, ear, foot, or dried innards—assured a person’s good fortune. Interestingly, the foot was always the preferred totem, believed to be luckier than any other body part.

Why the foot? Folklorists claim that long before Freudian sexual interpretations existed, man, in his cave drawings and stone sculptures, incorporated the foot as a phallic symbol, a totem to foster fertility in women and a cornucopian harvest in the fields.