Wild Hunt

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.


  • Death Omens


  • 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 Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007

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