Herne the Hunter

Herne with his steed, hounds and owl, observed by the Duke of Richmond and the Earl of Surrey, in Harrison Ainsworth's Windsor Castle, illustrated by George Cruikshank, c.1843.

Herne the Hunter is a spectral huntsman of English lore, often the leader of the WIld Hunt or the nocturnal processions of the dead. As leader of the Wild Hunt, Herne has lunar associations. His name is associated with another leader of the dead, Herlechin, or Harlequin, also associated with the Devil.

Herne is portrayed wearing an antlered headdress. In modern Witchcraft, he is associated with the Horned God, and with Cernunnos and PAn. Sightings of Herne are still reported in Windsor Forest near Windsor Castle and are associated with Witchcraft activities. Similar spectral horned huntsmen exist in German and French lore.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

Herne the Hunter Spectral huntsman who haunts the ancient forest of Windsor Great Park near Windsor Castle in England, according to legend. Herne wears chains and has stag’s antlers growing from his head. He appears riding on a spectral black horse, accompanied by baying phantom hounds.

According to legend, Herne was a royal huntsman of a king, said to be either Richard II, Henry VII or Henry VIII. On a hunt, Herne saved the king from being killed by a wounded stag by throwing himself in front of the animal. He was mortally wounded. As he lay dying, a wizard appeared and advised the king that Herne could be saved by cutting off the stag’s antlers and tying them to his head. This the king did, and Herne recovered. The grateful king bestowed favors upon the huntsman for several years, until the other huntsmen became so jealous that they convinced the king to dismiss Herne. Devastated, Herne went out to an oak tree in the park and hanged himself. He has haunted the grounds ever since.

English ghost investigator Peter Underwood has suggested that the real Herne the Hunter was the huntsman of Richard II (r. 1377–99). This huntsman did hang himself on an oak tree near the castle. The oak tree blew down in 1863 and was replanted by Queen Victoria.

Herne may have much older, pagan roots, however. His stag antlers give him the appearance of Cernunnos (“the horned”), the Celtic horned god of fertility, the hunt and the underworld.

Herne the Hunter is supposed to always appear in times of great national crisis, which he did in 1931 prior to the Depression and again before the start of World War II.

In 1962, he made a dramatic appearance with horse and hounds one night to a group of youths in the forest. They found a hunting horn and blew on it at the edge of a clearing. The call was answered by another horn and the baying of hounds. Suddenly Herne and his company appeared charging through the forests. The youths dropped the horn and ran in panic. Some sightings of Herne are reported in connection with alleged witchcraft activity in the forest; some contemporary Witches recognize Cernunnos as an aspect of the Divine Masculine.

Herne also is a leader of the Wild Hunt, a nocturnal procession of the dead. His name is associated with another leader of the dead, Herlechin, or Harlequin, who is associated with the Devil.

Similar spectral horned huntsmen exist in German and French lore.


See Also:

Further Reading:

  • Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: Reader’s Digest Assoc., 1977.
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File, 1999.
  • Underwood, Peter. A Gazeteer of British Ghosts. Rev. ed. London: Pan Books, Ltd., 1973.

Taken from : The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007

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