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The Wild Hunt - legend and place in paganism

Updated on August 23, 2013

the Wild Hunt and the place it has for Wiccans today

The Wild Hunt or the Furious Host is an ancient legend that is found across the cultures of northern, western and central Europe. The fundamental premise in all occurrences features a fantastical group of huntsmen on horseback, accompanied by hounds and weaponry, who ride in frantic pursuit across the skies or along the ground, or sometimes just above it. The hunters can either be the dead or faeries. The hunter in some legends is an unidentified lost soul, in others it is a deity or spirit of either gender, or it may even be a historical or legendary figure.

Seeing the Wild Hunt was thought to foreshadow some calamity such as the outbreak of a war or the coming of the plague. If seeing the Wild Hunt did not bring such large-scale disasters, then in the very least, it foretold the death of the one who witnessed it. People who were caught up in the path of or ended up following the Hunt could be kidnapped and brought to the land of the dead. Others believed that people's spirits could be pulled away during their sleep to join the parade.

The ritual re-enactment of the Wild Hunt was a cultural phenomenon among many Gaulish and Germanic peoples. In its Germanic manifestations the Harii painted themselves black to attack their enemies in the darkness. Similarly, the Norse god Odin in his many forms, astride his eight-legged steed Sleipnir, came to be associated with the Wild Hunt in Scandinavia because of his aspect of berserking as did Frigg. Hecate and Diana were also associated with the Wild Hunt. Herne the hunter was another mythical figure associated with the Hunt.

People who saw the passing hunt and mocked it were cursed and would mysteriously vanish along with the host, while those who joined in sincerity were said to be rewarded with gold. In the wake of the passing storm, with which the Hunt was often identified, a black dog would be found upon a neighboring hearth. To remove it, it would need to be exorcised similar to the custom for removing changelings. However, if it could not be removed by trickery, it would have to be kept for a whole year and carefully tended.

Laurell K. Hamilton uses the concept of the Wild Hunt in her book Swallowing Darkness when she has Meredith Gentry, who is the Princess of Faerie take on the role of the Leader of the Wild Hunt to avenge the murder of her grandmother.

Susan Cooper uses Hearne the Hunter to ride against the Darkness and the Rider, and chase them away to the end of the land in her novel The Dark is Rising.

Modern Wiccans believe that Samhain or Halloween is when the Wild Hunt begins. The Horned God rides with his hounds and gathers the souls of those who linger and those who are unwary. The Wild Hunt continues through the winter months. It is said that if you are caught out at midnight on the eve of the Winter Solstice you will be swept away by the Wild Hunt.

Some covens still enact the Hunt by setting a challenging course through the woods for their members, or runners as they are sometimes called. Finishing the course while keeping to the rules is said to bring special gifts while failing to complete the Hunt means that an offering must be made to the Lord of the Hunt of an appropriate nature. If you are a solitary witch it is, of course, not advisable to go traipsing off into the dark alone. Thus you can set yourself a personal challenge with you then offer as a dedication to the Hunter. You must be very honest with yourself as to whether it is a fair challenge, and whether or not you have succeeded. If you do this, it is better to being before Samhain so that you finish it on or around Samhain.


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