Then the hunters were black and large and terrifying, and their hounds were all black and broad-eyed and terrifying, and they rode on black horses and black goats…
— Anonymous monk of Peterborough Abbey,
from the Peterborough Chronicles,
circa 1132 (translated from the early Middle English)
Across Europe, the Wild Hunt appears at various times of the year, but most commonly during our current season from Samhain through Yule. With numerous local names including the Yeth Hounds or Wisht Hounds of western England; the French Hellequin’s Hunt, which consisted of not only hunters but an entire parade of the damned; Wutan’s or Wuet’s Army in the southern parts of Germany; the Oskorei in Norway, and the Odensjakt in Denmark and Sweden, it was an apparition of terror to be avoided at all costs.
From Scandinavia to Switzerland, from Ireland to Saxony in Germany, venturing out at night during these times was an invitation to calamity, as sightings of the Hunt always preceded pestilence, war, or disaster.
Yet there have been a few surviving witness accounts, including the first known which was written in Paris, concerning a night in January of 1092. The priest, Wachlin, was returning from visiting a sick person and reports seeing a swarm led by an enormous warrior swinging a mighty club in his hand.
In an article by historian Kveldulf Hagen Gundarsson, Wachlin reported that “The shapes that followed wept and moaned over their sins; then came a horde of corpse-bearers with coffins on their shoulders — the priest counted some 50 coffins. Then women on horseback, seated on saddles with glowing nails stuck into them; then a host of ecclesiasticals on horseback. The priest knew many of these people who had died recently. He concluded at last that he had seen the ‘familia Herlechini,’ of whom many had told him, but in whom he had never believed: Now he had truly seen the dead.”
Historian Liam Rogers writes of another eyewitness’s account, this one by a Tom Carroll, local resident of the Irish county of Munster, near Lough Gur, an area that has been closely associated with Hunt sightings for many centuries. “ ‘We heards the dogs’ tongues and all, and they beside us. We heard the horses and all, same as it was the middle of the day. That was about two o’clock in the morning. I’m only just telling you things we saw ourselves…They say it’s some kind of a hunt spirits.’”
Rogers continues, “The Wild Hunt, under various names, can be found throughout central and northern Europe. Tom was lucky, since many do not survive a meeting with the Hunt which spells death or disaster. Another witness of the Lough Gur Hunt claims: ‘You never heard the hunt in your youth. That ’twas in your matured years that you actually heard it. When you were young, the older people in the household held it, but you did not…But after that hunt there’s always someone supposed to die on the following day in that locality.’”
The lore surrounding the identity of the leader of the Hunt is rich indeed, and has much to reveal about the nature of the dark times it foretells. More about this tomorrow.