Through the Jungle very softly flits a shadow and a sigh –
He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!
— Rudyard Kipling
The Wild Hunt has been an apparition that has been observed by countless generations, from one end of Europe to the other, and even brought over to the New World by our European ancestors. While always fearsome and to be avoided, its characteristics vary somewhat, based on who is leading it.
For instance, in Germany, where many tales of the Hunt have survived and are still being re-enacted today, the Hunt was sometimes known to be led by several female deities. When this happened, it was not absolute doom. Perchta, Holda, and the White Lady known as Frau Gauden all led frightful processions of unbaptized children and sorcerers through the night sky.
But as terrible as it was to be caught by Them and taken forever from the land of the living, the Goddesses’ presence in the Hunt meant that the fields they rode past would produce double the usual harvest the next year.
As historians Ari Berk and William Spytma note, “These European Hunt Goddesses (increasingly associated with agricultural and domestic fertility in the middle ages) seem to share associations with Diana/Artemis of classical tradition, who was Herself a hunter, dealing out punishment for insults and violations of hunting-related taboos.”
In fact, predating yesterday’s eyewitness account from Paris, 1092, in his Metamorphoses, Ovid refers to the myth of Oenus, king of Calydon. Also mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, because Oenus only recognized the agricultural Gods, he failed to leave an offering at Diana’s altar during the festival of first fruits.
As punishment, She sends a giant boar, one of the great chthonic monsters of the ancient world, to destroy his kingdom. Thus begins the famed Calydonian hunt, in which many heroic deeds were done, lives were lost, but ultimately the Goddess was appeased, in part, because of the bloodshed when at last the boar was finally hunted down.
As the horned Moon Goddess, Diana may also have lent another important association to the Hunt leader in the form of antlers, an ancient symbol which serves to blur the boundary between hunter and hunted.
More tomorrow about some of the other Gods and heroes of the Hunt.