A bolt of fear went through him
As they thundered through the sky
For he saw the Riders coming hard
And he heard their mournful cry
Yippie yi Ohhhhh… Yippie yi yaaaaay …
Ghost Riders in the Sky
— Stan Jones (1948)
As the month of November winds down, our exploration of the complex and rich history of the multicultural Wild Hunt also draws to a close. For while some say the Hunt extends well into Solstice Eve, its dreaded appearance is primarily during the time from Samhain till November’s end.
Offering some final thoughts about it, Ari Berk and William Spytma, in their marvelous essay, “Penance, Power, and Pursuit: On the Trail of the Wild Hunt” observe that, “Though found throughout Europe, its origins spreading far back into the mythic past, it must be remembered that the ghostly Wild Hunt is always a local phenomenon. Local heroes of history and legend get called up to join the ranks of a long succession of strange, spectral Hunt leaders, each particular to and retaining something of his or her own landscape and historical period.”
They note that the Hunt is rooted in the cultural echoes of people who have been subjugated by war. “We find the origins of the Hunt tradition in accounts rife with the terrible memories of invasions: night raids against the home, torches beyond the trees, unintelligible voices of unknown enemies moving beneath the moon.
“Such cultural memories become the stuff of legend. Even the most arcane tale may have its roots in actual events, moments of experience so powerful that they engrave themselves upon the collective memory and are relived and revived in the ghost stories of successive generations. Not surprisingly, stories of the Hunt are most widely told among people and in countries that have either been invaded frequently, or who are frequent invaders themselves. Thus Norse, Anglo-Saxon, British, and German peoples retain strong ties to folklore of the Hunt.”
As we settle into the new millennium, let us lead the way into a new era in human history. The Wild Hunt is a reminder of the deep, terrifying, permanent wounds that war inflicts on entire populations and cultures. Let us understand that invasion, “pre-emptive” or not, only plants seeds of fear and violence that will echo through the centuries.
Let us instead re-imagine less barbaric ways to disarm those who wish us harm. Let us use our intelligence and wisdom to avoid feeding the cause of our enemies, for that is what we do when we bring ruin to innocents.
For we are the creators of our nightmare, and by dealing it out to others, we bind it to ourselves.