The Wild Hunt

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When accounts of the Wild Hunt mention a leader, the figure who filled this role varied greatly. In the body of lore surrounding the Wild Hunt, we find a number of themes that connect it powerfully with the dead and the underworld. Dogs and horses, animals that were closely associated with death amongst a great many other things , [11] were almost invariably present.

In some accounts of the Hunt, the riders can hardly, if at all, be distinguished from land spirits , who were themselves often conflated with the dead, as if the two were thought of as being in some sense one and the same. It was as if the very elements of midwinter — the menacing cold, the almost unrelenting darkness, the eerie, desolate silence broken only by the baying winds and galloping storms — manifested the restless dead, and the ancient northern Europeans, whose ways of life and worldviews predisposed them to sense spiritual qualities in the world around them, recorded the sometimes terrifying fruits of such an engagement with the enchanted world in their accounts of the Wild Hunt.

Looking for more great information on Norse mythology and religion? While this site provides the ultimate online introduction to the topic, my book The Viking Spirit provides the ultimate introduction to Norse mythology and religion period. Jon E. A Dictionary of Northern Mythology.

Watain - The Wild Hunt

Angela Hall. References: [1] Quoted in: Branston, Brian. The historical element in folklore, therefore, implies that, apart from the numerous historical reminiscences to be found in the hunt or the host, one or more of its members may be identified with persons of whose memory the people still stand in awe. Three eyes have they together, ten feet, and one tail; and thus they travel through the lands. In this character he was most generally known as the Wild Huntsman, and when people heard the rush and roar of the wind they cried aloud in superstitious fear, fancying they heard and saw him ride past with his train, all mounted on snorting steeds, and accompanied by baying hounds.

Even after the introduction of Christianity the ignorant Northern people still dreaded the on-coming storm, declaring that it was the Wild Hunt sweeping across the sky.

Sometimes it left behind it a small black dog, which, cowering and whining upon a neighboring hearth, had to be kept for a whole year and carefully tended unless the people succeeded in exorcising it or frightening it away. The usual recipe, the same as for the riddance of changelings, was to brew beer in egg-shells, which performance so startled the spectral dog that he fled with his tail between his legs, exclaiming that, although as old as the Behmer, or Bohemian forest, he had never yet seen such an uncanny sight.

The object of this phantom hunt varied greatly, and was either a visionary boar or wild horse, white-breasted maidens who were caught and borne away bound only once in seven years, or the wood nymphs, called Moss Maidens, who were thought to represent the autumn leaves torn from the trees and whirled away by the wintry gale. In the middle ages, when the belief in the old heathen deities was partly forgotten, the leader of the Wild Hunt was no longer Odin, but Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, King Arthur, or some Sabbath breaker, like the squire of Rodenstein or Hans von Hackelberg, who, in punishment for his sins, was condemned to hunt forever through the realms of air.

As the winds blew fiercest in autumn and winter, Odin was supposed to hunt in preference during that season, especially during the time between Christmas and Twelfth-night, and the peasants were always careful to leave the last sheaf or measure of grain out in the fields to serve as food for his horse. This hunt was of course known by various names in the different countries of northern Europe; but as the tales told about it are all alike, they evidently originated in the same old heathen belief, and to this day ignorant people of the North still fancy that the baying of a hound on a stormy night is an infallible presage of death.

The stories of the wild huntsman are numerous and widespread: although varying in detail, they are uniform in the essential traits, and betray numerous connections with the myths of the ancient gods and heroes. The root of the whole notion is most easily discernible in the expression still used by the peasants of lower Germany when they hear a howling in the air, '' wode hunts" Wodejaget , that is, Wodan or Odin marches, as of old, at the head of his battle-maidens, the Walkyries, and of the heroes of Walhalla; perhaps, too, accompanied by his wolves, which, according to the myth, along with his ravens, followed him, taking delight in strife, and pouncing upon the bodies of the fallen.

The heathen gods were not entirely dislodged from the imagination of the people by Christianity, but they were banished from all friendly communication with men, and were degraded to ghosts and devils.

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Yet some of the divine features are still distinctly recognizable. As the celestial god Wodan, the lord of all atmospheric and weather phenomena, and consequently of storms, was conceived as mounted on horseback, clad with a broad-rimmed hat shading the face, and a wide dark cloak; the wild huntsman also appears on horseback, in hat and cloak, and is accompanied by a train of spirits, though of a different stamp—by the ghosts of drunkards, suicides, and other malefactors, who are often without heads, or otherwise shockingly mutilated.

One constant trait of the stories shows how effectually the church had succeeded in giving a hellish character to this ghost of Wodan—when he comes to a crossroad, he falls, and gets up on the other side. On very rare occasions, the wild huntsman shows kindness to the wanderer whom he meets; but generally he brings hurt or destruction, especially to any one rash enough to address him, or join in the hunting cry, which there are many narratives of persons in their cups having done.

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Whoever remains standing in the middle of the highway, or steps aside into a tilled field, or throws himself in silence on the earth, escapes the danger. The legend has also in recent times attached itself to individual sportsmen, who, as a punishment for their immoderate addiction to sport, or for the cruelty they were guilty of in pursuing it, or for hunting on Sunday, were believed to have been condemned henceforth to follow the chase by night.

In lower Germany, there are many such stories current of one Hakkelberend, whose tomb even is shown in several places. Still, the very name leads back to the myth of Wodan, for Hakkelberend means literally the mantle-bearer from O. The appearing of the wild hunter is not fixed to any particular season, but It occurs frequently and most regularly in the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany.

Another version of the wild hunt is to be found in the legend prevalent in Thuringia and the district of Mansfeld. There the procession, formed partly of children who had died unbaptized, and headed by Frau Holle or Holda see Berchta , passed yearly through the country on holy Thursday, and the assembled people waited its arrival, as if a mighty king were approaching. An old man, with white hair, the faithful Eckhart see Tannhauser and Venusberg , preceded the spirit-host, to warn the people out of the way, and even ordered some to go home, so that they might not come to hurt.

This is the benign goddess, the wife of Wodan, who, appearing under various names, travels about through the country during the sacred time of the year. This host of Holda or Berchta also prefers the season about Epiphany. In one form or other, the legend of the wild hunt is spread over all German countries, and is found even In France and Spain. According to this view, the name may therefore be closely allied to the Lowland Scotch word wud, mad or furious.

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He, and his wife Frigga, are fabled to have had two sons, Baldr and Hodr. He then descended into the gloomy snake-covered Helheim, whither Hermod Baldr's brother made a violent but unsuccessful ride, mounted on Sleipner, his father's horse, in order to obtain his brother's body. Both refer to the nether world; we have already seen that Great Britain was formerly supposed to be the Land of Departed Souls.

Wuotan, a word which also appears, though rarely, as the name of a man: Wuotan, Woatan. How early this original meaning may have got obscured or extinguished, it is impossible to say. Together with the meaning of wise and mighty god, that of the wild, restless, vehement, must also have prevailed, even in the heathen time. The christians were the better pleased, that they could bring the bad sense into prominence out of the name itself. The former divinity was degraded into an evil, fiendish, bloodthirsty being, and appears to live yet as a form of protestation or cursing in exclamations of the Low German people, as in Westphalia: O Woudan, Woudan!

Wuotan appears riding, driving, hunting, as in Norse sagas, with valkyrs and einheriar in his train; the procession resembles an army.

Full assurance of this hunting Wode's identity with the heathen god is obtained from parallel phrases and folktales in Scandinavia. Beheim , 5 speaks of a 'crying and whooping wufen as if it were das wutend her'; the poem of Henry the Lion Massm. It is worth noticing, that according to Keisersperg all who die a violent death 'ere that God hath set it for them,' and according to Superst.

I, all children dying unbaptized, come into the furious host to Holda, Berhta and Abundia, just as they turn into will o' wisps: as the Christian god has not made them his, they fall to the old heathen one. This appears to me to have been at least the original course of ideas. The accounts of him vary.

The folklore of the Wild Hunt

There the dog lay a whole year, and all attempts to dislodge him were in vain. But the next year, when Hackelberg was round again with his wild hunt, the hound suddenly jumped up, and ran yelping and barking after the troop. Two young fellows from Bergkirchen were walking through the wood one evening to visit their sweethearts, when they heard a wild barking of dogs in the air above them, and a voice calling out between 'hoto, hoto!

One of the men had the hardihood to mock his 'hoto, hoto. This in Westphalia. An OHG. Often of a dark night the airy hounds will bark on open heaths, in thickets, at cross-roads. The countryman well knows their leader Wod, and pities the wayfarer that has not reached his home yet; for Wod is often spiteful, seldom merciful. It is only those who keep in the middle of the road that the rough hunter will do nothing to, that is why he calls out to travellers: 'midden in den weg! Suddenly out of the clouds there plunges down, right before him, a tall man on a white horse.

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  7. The man twisted the end round an oak that was near, and the hunter tugged in vain. The man in a hurry knotted the chain round the oak again, and Wod, could not manage it. The dogs yelled, the waggons rumbled, and the horses neighed overhead; the tree crackled to the roots, and seemed to twist round. The man's heart began to sink, but no, the oak stood its ground. The peasant was slinking away, when from unseen heights a stag fell groaning at his feet, and there was Wod, who leaps off his white horse and cuts up the game. The man did so. With his back bent double, and bathed in sweat, he at length reached his cottage, and behold, the boot was filled with gold, and the hindquarter was a leathern pouch full of silver.

    Here it is no human hunt-master that shows himself, but the veritable god on his white steed: many a man has he taken up into his cloudy heaven before.

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