Death, the dreadful hunter, is on the track of
mankind throughout the world and he will not
give up on any spoor until he has laid hands
on that he has been chasing so long.
— The Metres of Boethius, Alfred the Great,
c. 849 – 899 C.E.
This dark period from Samhain to the end of November (and in some places, straight through to Yule) is the traditional time of the Wild Hunt. Also known in Germanic countries as the Raging Host, tales of this event go back to the most ancient times. The Wild Hunt is a ghostly procession of huntsmen, their horses and dogs. Its roots are in ancient Germanic and Norse mythology.
The Wild Hunt is commonly presided over by a single Wild Huntsman or Midnight Hunter, accompanied by furious hordes of men and beasts. Depending on the country where the Hunt takes place, its leader may be Holda, Bertha, Frigga or Herne. Often this figure is cloaked and wears a wide-brimmed hat that casts his features in shadow. It is no coincidence that such a hat is very similar to the one that is featured in many depictions of the God Odin, who is also commonly thought of as the leader of the Hunt.
When the Vikings invaded England, many legends were brought and told of the ‘Hounds of Odin.’ Stories of these dogs abounded, especially in the coastal settlements in northern England. They became known as ‘spectral dogs,’ believed to be the terrifying spirits who had served Odin as war-dogs. These hounds of the ‘Otherworld’ or ‘Underworld’ have been frequently seen in British mythology to be represented by white dogs with red-tipped ears.
There is wide debate about who or what the actual quarry of the Wild Hunt may be, but it is usually considered that the prey is lost souls. After the Christians’ Reformation, when the belief in Purgatory was abolished, their unbaptized dead could not be buried on sacred ground and so were interred in unconsecrated earth. Therefore, the Church declared that these spirits were banned from entry to Paradise. These wandering unfortunates became the game for the Wild Hunt and were thus rounded up every year, and chased into hell.
Tomorrow, I’ll share some accounts given by the very few who ever survived witnessing the Hunt.