The Legends of The Wild Hunt
The name of our side – The Wild Hunt – is taken from legends with ancient origins deeply rooted in myth and recorded in folk tales across much of Northern and Central Europe.
The Wild Hunt was said to sweep over fields and through woodlands in the dead of the night, preceded by a pack of coal black hounds with glowing red eyes accompanied by the wild calls of hunting horns. At times, the hunt was reputed to take to the air and ride upon the chill night winds.
Odin was said to lead the hunt in Teutonic myth and the quarry was a beautiful maiden. In Celtic Britain, the hunt was lead by Cernunnos, the horned god of animals, whose name lives on in place names beginning with Cerne such as Cerne Abbas in Dorset – home of the chalk giant. In English legend the quarry is a stag of the purest white. He is also still celebrated in the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, where one of the antlers used in the dance has been radio carbon dated at over 1000 years old.
After the Anglo-Saxon settlement of England in the Saxon heartlands of southern England Cernunnos became known as Herne the Hunter, Lord of the Wildwood and horned god of the underworld. The hunt and its leader also appear in Arthurian legend as the green knight. Shakespeare was also familiar with the legend – it features in the Merry Wives of Windsor where Mistress Page plans to frighten Falstaff and make a fool of him.
An excerpt from the Anglo Saxon Chronicles for the year 1127 reads as follows
…it was seen and heard by many men: many hunters hunting. The hunters were black, and great and loathly, and their hounds all black, and wide-eyed and loathly, and they rode on black horses and black he-goats. This was seen in the very deer park in the town of Peterborough, and in the woods from the town of Stamford; and the monks heard the horns blowing that they blew at night. Truthful men who kept watch at night said that it seemed to them that there might well be about twenty or thirty horn blowers. This was seen and heard ….. all through Lenten tide until Easter.
Under the influence of Christianity, the legend of the hunt and its leader gradually took on a darker tone. The once divine becoming demonic and the quarry becoming lost souls who can only save themselves by falling face down on ground, not daring to look upon the hunt, and holding fast to any available plant or tuft of grass !