I have mentioned that this dark period from Samhain to the end of November (and in some places, straight through to Yule) is the 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.
It has been associated with such Gods as Odin, Herne, and even Cernunnos (although some scholars dispute such a prehistoric connection), all of which bear either horns or horned helmets. Hecate and Diana are also featured in some stories of the Hunt, in their more fearsome aspects. The Wild Hunt was also associated with the Faery races, especially as they would descend for the Winter into their otherworldly realms.
In cultures throughout northern Europe, its common theme was that of a phantasmal leader, accompanied by a furious horde of horses, hounds and men, hurtling through the night sky, their passing marked by a tumultuous racket of pounding hooves, howling dogs and raging winds.
The thunderous host was, in short, a wild and terrifying procession of the dead.
To hear or see the Wild Hunt meant certain doom: for entire civilizations, villages, or, at the very least, the unfortunate witness and probably his or her family.
The death-dealing chaos of the hunt represents the dark, wild, often frightening side of Nature, and was the harbinger of the coming privations of Winter. Nigel Jackson, in his “Trance Ecstasy and the Furious Host,” notes that Odin would lead his Wild Hunt at All-Hallows or over the twelve nights of Yule, known in Iceland as the Yule Host.
He writes, “These times are intercalendary periods in Celtic and Teutonic year-reckoning, the paradoxical ‘time between the times’ when the crack appears and the paths between the worlds are laid open. They are periods of ‘ritual reversal’ when the dead enter the world of the living and the living enter the world of the dead.”
The nature of The Hunt depended largely on location. In ancient Britain, the Wild Hunt was often led by the Horned God, with His wolves and hounds chasing evil beings from the land and warning mortals of invaders. Other participants have included Gwydion and King Arthur.
In Wales, for example, the leader of the Hunt was Gwynn ap Nudd. The “Lord of the Dead,” Gwynn ap Nudd was followed by his pack of white hounds with blood-red ears. These red-eared hounds are also found in northern England, where they were known as Gabriel Hounds. Their appearance was deeply dreaded, for they were a portent of doom.
Reports from witnesses of The Hunt have continued right through the 20th century.
More about this next week.