The Wild Hunt is a Spectral nocturnal procession of huntsmen, Ghosts of the dead, horses, and hounds. The Wild Hunt has its origins in Norse and Teutonic mythologies. On stormy nights, the god Odin (Woden), in the guise of a mounted huntsman, races across the sky with a pack of baying spectral hounds. The retinue roams about the countryside, revelling and laying waste. Anyone who is unlucky enough to see the procession is immediately transported to a foreign land. And anyone foolish enough to speak to the Huntsman is doomed to die.
The Wild Hunt has numerous leaders, both male and female. In the lore of northern Germany, it is often led by Holda (also Holde, Hulda, Holle and Holte), goddess of the hearth and motherhood. In southern Germany, she traditionally was called Bertha (also Berhta, Berta and Perchta), the name by which the Norse goddess Frigga was known. Bertha means “bright.” She is associated with the Moon, and watches over the souls of unbaptized children. Bertha’s lunar aspect led to her association with Diana, the Roman goddess of the moon; thus, Diana came to lead the Wild Hunt as well. Her night train punished the lazy and wicked, but if food was left out for them, they ate it and magically replenished it before they moved on.
After the Reformation and the abolishment of the concept of purgatory among the Protestants, the Wild Hunt became the fate of the unbaptized dead, especially infants. Such persons could not be buried on consecrated ground, and so were placed on the north side of the churchyard (an unhallowed spot), where, it was believed, they remained earthbound. They became fair game for the hounds of the Wild Hunt, which chased them to hell.
The Wild Hunt appears in British lore, where the procession is sometimes led by Herne the Hunter or simply the Devil. In the spread of Christianity, pagan deities were degraded to the level of Demons and the devil. During the witch hunts of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Wild Hunt retinue was said to include witches as well as spirits of the dead, and to be led sometimes by Hecate, Greek goddess of witchcraft and the dark of the moon.
The Wild Hunt also is led by national British heroes such as Sir Francis Drake, who rides not on horseback but in a phantom coach or hearse that tears across the countryside from Tavistock to Plymouth in Devon, accompanied by Demons and headless Black Dogs.
A Cornish version of the Wild Hunt, Devil’s Dandy Dogs, is a pack of spectral hounds that runs along the ground or just above it, hunting for human souls. A 12thcentury account describes the hunters as 20 to 30 in number, and astride black horses and black bucks. Their pitch-black hounds had staring, hideous eyes. Monks between Peterborough and Stamford, England heard the hunt all night long, hounds baying and horns blowing (see Whisht Hounds).
The Wild Hunt has been reported in contemporary times, flying over the land on Samhain, All Hallow's Eve. Unlucky observers are advised to fall to the ground and recite the Lord’s Prayer in order to prevent their souls from being snatched up by the hellhounds.
- 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.
- Hole, Christina. Haunted England. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1940.
- Maple, Eric. The Realm of Ghosts. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1964.
- Russell, Jeffrey B. A History of Witchcraft. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980.
The Wild Hunt is the name given to a wild procession of spirits. The Wild Hunt rides on windy, stormy nights as well as on specific dates of the year like Halloween, May Eve, and Midsummer’s Eve. They are particularly active during the winter, especially during the Yuletide season.
The Wild Hunters aren’t the only spirits out roaming around at night. Trooping Fairies cavalcade, especially on full moon nights, Halloween, May Eve, and Midsummer’s Eve. Their territory often overlaps with the Wild Hunt. The tradition of a parade of spirits who may or may not be accompanied by spirits of the dead and living devotees appears around the world, including areas as isolated as Hawaii. Legends of the Hawaiian Night Marchers predate European contact while in Japan, Hyakki Yako names the Night Parade of at least one hundred spirits.
Sometimes these spirits troop or march like soldiers. Sometimes they’re wild revellers or marauders. Dionysus and Shiva are but the most famous of those who lead spirit parades. Some welcome the participation of people. Anyone who likes revelling with ghosts and spirits is welcome. Other processions, like the Night Marchers of Hawaii, are more exclusive. Human reactions to these processions vary. These spirits are powerful and unpredictable and it is usually considered advisable to stay out of their way. Magical practitioners, however, often seek to observe or join this parade of spirits.
In some European traditions, dead souls periodically travel in procession to visit families and loved ones, led by deities who bridge thresholds of death and life like Freya, Berchta, Herta, and Hulda, all of whom serve as leaders of the Wild Hunt.
B. Clay Moore and Steven Griffin’s 2003 comic, Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise, draws upon legends of Night Marchers on the Pali Highway.
Hanging with the Hunters may be punishment or pleasure. The Wild Hunt may do more than party: they may enforce justice. A Danish runestone (gravestone engraved with runic inscriptions) concludes with the warning, “A rati be he who destroys this stone.” The rati is a person whose soul is taken and driven by the Wild Hunt.
Under the influence of Christianity, the nature of the Hunt changed; it was no longer considered sufficient to merely avoid the Hunt for fear of being swept up. It was now sinful to even watch the Hunt as it passed. The Hunt became associated with witchcraft. Those humans who sought to participate (or who were trapped by the Hunters) were perceived as wicked witches or damned souls.
The Wild Hunt, once associated with souls of the dead seeking brief reunions with loved ones, became associated with the punishments of Hell. The spirit who heads the hunt was literally a headhunter, out searching for transgressors against Christianity who would be forced to join the host of imprisoned souls forever. The host of the Hunt now included those who somehow fell outside Church sacraments: unbaptized babies, illegitimate children, major sinners, suicides, those deprived of funeral rites. Heathens, Jews, and witches were allegedly among those riding with the Hunt, too. Travelling souls of shamans are allegedly fated to join the Wild Hunt if unable to rejoin their bodies.
There are two ways to interpret this, depending upon personal perception:
• Disobedience to the Church dooms you to this parade of the damned.
• Those uninterested in Church sacraments revel in this sacred carnival.
The Wild Hunt is but one of many names for this nocturnal procession of spirits. Others include Asgard’s Chase, Spirit’s Ride, Holla’s Troop and Cain’s Hunt. Spirits who lead the Wild Hunt include Arawn, Berchta, Diana, Freya, Frau Gaude, Herodias, Herta, Hulda, and Odin. See their individual entries for further details.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by :Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
The Wild Hunt is a retinue of the ghostly restless dead, who ride through the sky on their phantom horses, accompanied by their spectral Demon hounds (see Black Dogs), shrieking and making wild noises. The hounds and horses are black, with hideous eyes. The Wild Hunt is prominent in Celtic and Germanic folklore. The retinue flies through the skies on pagan holidays associated with evil by Christianity, such as Walpurgisnacht (Beltane, April 30–May 1) and Samhain (Halloween, October 31– November 2). There are different versions of the Wild Hunt. Witches join the phantoms, and the ghostly train is led by Demonized pagan goddesses such as Diana, Holde, Herodias, Hecate, and Berchta. (See CHTHONIC DEITIES.) Diana’s night train punished the lazy and wicked but were generous on occasion: If a peasant left out food for them, they ate it and magically replenished it before they left. In Cornish lore, the Wild Hunt is led by Devil’s Dandy Dogs, who hunt the countryside for human souls. The Sluagh, or the Host of Celtic lore, is a band of the unforgiven dead of the Highland Fairy folk.
The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 2009 by Visionary Living, Inc.
The Wild Hunt is in Celtic and Germanic folklore, a furious bunch of ghosts of the restless dead who ride through the sky on their phantom horses accompanied by their spectral hounds, shrieking and making wild noises (see ghosts, Hauntings And Witchcraft). The hounds and horses are black, with hideous eyes. In various medieval versions of the Wild Hunt, witches join the phantoms, and the ghostly train is led by pagan goddesses-turned-devils (by Christianity), including Diana, Holda, Herodias, Hecate and Berchta.
A Cornish version of the Wild Hunt, Devil’s Dandy Dogs, is the most diabolical of ghostly packs, hunting the countryside for human souls. The Sluagh, or the Host, is a band of the unforgiven dead of the Highland fairy folk (see Fairies). Diana’s night train punished the lazy and wicked but were generous on occasion: if a peasant left out food for them, they ate it and magically replenished it before they left.
The Wild Hunt is still seen flying over the countryside on Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve.
- Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972.
- Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.