The Wild Hunt Rides #folklore

I like to research the fae that feature in my favourite books because they somehow make their way into my writing, too. For this folklore post, I’m looking at the Wild Hunt.

Folklore of The Wild Hunt

The Science of Fairy Tales, An Enquiry into Fairy Mythology by Edwin Sidney Hartland [1891]:

But the gods did not always remain in their dwellings. The Wild Hunt, a tradition of a furious host riding abroad with a terrific noise of shouts and horns and the baying of hounds, common to Germany and England, has been identified beyond doubt by Grimm with Woden and his host. We cannot here discuss the subject except in its relations with the group of stories now under consideration. Woden, it will be borne in mind, is one of the figures of the old mythology merged in the Hidden Hero beneath the German hills. Now, nothing is more natural than that, when a company of warriors is conceived as lying ready for a summons, themselves all armed and their steeds standing harnessed at their sides, they should be thought now and then to sally forth. This was the sound which surprised the good burgesses of Jung-Wositz when Ulrich von Rosenberg and his train rode out by night upon the plain. In this way King Wenzel exercises his followers, and the unfortunate Stoymir vindicated his existence beneath the Blanik notwithstanding his death. In this way too, before a war, Diedrich is heard preparing for battle at one o’clock in the morning on the mountain of Ax. Once in seven years Earl Gerald rides round the Curragh of Kildare and every seventh year the host at Ochsenfeld in Upper Alsace may be seen by night exercising on their horses. On certain days the Carpathian robber issues from his cavern in the Czornahora. Grimm mentions the story of a blacksmith who found a gap he had never noticed before in the face of a cliff on the Odenberg, and entering, stood in the presence of mighty men, playing there at bowls with balls of iron, as Rip van Winkle’s friends were playing at ninepins. So a Wallachian saga connects the Wild Hunt with a mysterious forest castle built by the Knight Sigmirian, who was cursed with banishment for three hundred years from the society of men for refusing the daughter of the King of Stones. In the same category we must put the spectral host in the Donnersberg, and Herla’s company, which haunted the Welsh marches, and is described by Walter Map as a great band of men and women on foot and in chariots, with pack-saddles and panniers, birds and dogs, advancing with trumpets and shouts, and all sorts of weapons ready for emergencies. Night was the usual time of Herla’s wanderings, but the last time he and his train were seen was at noon. Those who then saw them, being unable to obtain an answer to their challenge by words, prepared to exact one by arms; but the moment they did so the troop rose into the air and disappeared, nor was it ever seen again.

A BOOK OF FOLK-LORE by Sabine Baring-Gould [1913]:

There is a great cliff of granite rising precipitately above the River Plym that debouches at Plymouth, which goes by the name of the Dewerstone, or the rock of Tiu or of Tyr. On the top of this crag the Wild Huntsman is said to be frequently seen along with his fire-breathing Wish-hounds, and his horn is heard ringing afar over the moors, and as he chases the yelping of his hounds may be heard. He hunts human souls. Two old ladies who lived at Shaw, near by, assured me they had often heard his horn and the yelping of the pack.

Gervase of Tilbury says that in the thirteenth century, by full moon towards evening, the Wild Hunt was frequently seen in England, traversing forest and down. In the twelfth century it was called in England the Harlething. It appeared in the reign of Henry II, and was witnessed by many. At the head of the troop rode the British king Herla. He had been at the marriage-feast of a dwarf in a mountain. As he left the bridal hall, the host presented him with horses, hounds, and horn; also with a bloodhound, which was set on the saddle–bow before the King, and the troop was bidden not to dismount till the dog leaped down. On returning to his palace, the King learned that he had been absent two hundred years, which had passed as one night whilst he was in the mountains with the dwarf. Some of the retainers jumped off their horses, and fell to dust, but the King and the rest ride on till the bloodhound bounds from the saddle, which will be the Last Day.

Herla is, of course, the same as the German Erl-King, and the name has gone into a strange commutation as Harlequin, the magician who performs wonders with his bat at Christmas.

In Durham the Wild Hunt goes by the name of the Gabriel Hounds, and in Yorkshire it is the “Gabble retchit”.

The Book of Hallowe’en by Ruth Edna Kelley [1919]:

In these night-ridings Odin was the leader of a wild hunt. In stormy, blustering autumn weather.

“The wonted roar was up among the woods.”
–MILTON: Comus.

Odin rode in pursuit of shadowy deer with the Furious Host behind him. A ghostly huntsman of a later age was Dietrich von Bern, doomed to hunt till the Judgement Day.

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper:

Belief in the wild hunt was once widespread across northern Europe. Led by a supernatural master, the hunt generally comprised a pack of fairy hounds accompanied by spectral huntsmen mounted on horseback. It flew through the air, pounded the earth, or hovered just above the ground as it went in search of its quarry.

Specific beliefs varied from place to place. In Norse lore, Odin led the wild hunt in pursuit of the fairy wood wives of the forest. In Britain, King Herla became master of the wild hunt after a visit to the Underworld. In Wales, Gwyn ap Nudd led a pack of white, red-eared hounds, herding souls of the dead to the Underworld. On the Isle of Man, a band of 13 hunters rode out on frosty, moonlit nights on the Manx Fairy Hunt, as described in Thomas Keightley’s The Fairy Mythology (1828):

A young sailor returning home from a long voyage came ashore at night at Douglas and set out for his sister’s house in Kirk Merlugh. Though he had some miles to travel, it was a bright, frosty moonlit night and his path was well lit.

As he walked up the steep hill between Douglas and Kirk Merlugh, he heard the cry of huntsmen, the thunder of horses’ hooves, and the trumpeting of horns. He wondered why the hunt was out at night in such a frost. It crossed his path several times and under the light of the moon, he saw the riders as clear as day. There were 13 huntsmen on horseback, dressed in green. Impressed by the sight, the sailor tried to follow them, but they were too swift for him.

When at last he arrived at his sister’s house, he described the strange sight to her.

“Dear brother,” she exclaimed, “those were fairies and it is well that you are home safe and they did not take you away with them.”

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane

The 13th Century Poetic Edda is a complication of stories and poems from Scandinavian history, some as early 985AD. In this work and from Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda we learn about Odin riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir, that can leap great distances. At Yule, Odin leads a great hunting party through the sky in celebration

In some traditions of Odin’s Yule time ride, children could place their boots near the chimney filled with treats for Sleipnir and Odin would reward them for their kindness with food, candy or gifts. 

The Yule Riders – when the inhabitants of Hel return to earth.

Yule, or Jól (pronounciation: “yoh-l”) was the name of the time between the Winter Solstice and the Jólablót – “Yule Sacrifice” – which originally may have happened on the 12th of January.

The dangerous powers that dominated mid-winter must have been fearsome things to people who in so many ways were dependent on their natural environment. There are some elements from later Norwegian folklore which may represent aspects of heathen survivals. One of these is the Oskoreia, or rather the “Ásgardr-riders”, the immortal souls of dead ancestors who ride through the nights of winter. The Oskoreia gathering is also known as the Jólareia, Jólaskreia, and Imberkulludn. I have not been able to translate the latter one yet, but the two before just mean the “Yule Riders”. The Yule Riders, consisting of various creatures of the Underworld and the souls of the dead made a fearsome gathering as they rode the dark lands of winter, and dangerous to those who crossed their paths, especially to those of impure intentions.

Some may recognize this image as somewhat similar to other continental folkloristic themes such as “The Wild Hunt” and similar.

English Fairy and Other Folk Tales by Edwin Sidney Hartland [1890]:

Besides such apparitions of solitary dogs, whole packs of spectral hounds are said to be occasionally heard and seen in full cry in various parts of England and Wales, but chiefly in mountainous districts. They are everywhere described much in the same way, but with different names. In the north they are called “Gabriel’s Hounds;” in Devon, the “Wisk,” “Yesk,” or “Heath Hounds;” in Wales, “Cwn Annwn,” or “Cwn Wybir;” and in Cornwall, the “Devil and his Dandy-dogs.” But few have ever imagined that they have seen these hounds, though popular superstition has described them as black, with fiery eyes and teeth, and sprinkled all over with blood. Generally, they are only heard, and seem to be passing swiftly along in the air, as if in hot pursuit of their prey; and though not very high up, yet they cannot be seen, because they generally choose cloudy nights. Their yelping is said to be sometimes as loud as the note of a bloodhound, but sharper and more terrific. Why they have anywhere received the name of Gabriel’s hounds appears unaccountable, for they are always supposed to be evil spirits hunting the souls of the dead, or, by their diabolical yelping, to betoken the speedy death of some person. Thus Mr. Holland, of Sheffield, describes in the following sonnet the superstition as held in Yorkshire:–

“Oft have I heard my honoured mother say
How she hath listened to the Gabriel Hounds;
Those strange unearthly and mysterious sounds
Which on the ear through murkiest darkness fell;
And how, entranced by superstitious spell,
The trembling villager not seldom heard,
In the quaint notes of the nocturnal bird
Of death premonished, some sick neighbour’s knell.
I, too, remember once, at midnight dark,
How these sky-yelpers startled me, and stirred
My fancy so, I could have then averred
A mimic pack of beagles low did bark I
Nor wondered I that rustic fear should trace
A spectral huntsman doomed to that long moonless chase.”

Wordsworth, alluding to another form of this, superstition, similar to the German story of the Wild Huntsman, thus writes

“He oftentimes will start,
For overhead are sweeping Gabriel’s Hounds,
Doomed, with their impious lord, the flying hart
To chase for ever through aerial grounds.”

Celtic Myth and Legend by Charles Squire [1905]:

Gwyn, last of the gods of Annwn, has evidently by this time taken over the functions of all the others. He has the hounds which Arawn once had–the Cwn Annwn, “dogs of hell”, with the white bodies and the red ears. We hear more of them in folk-lore than we do of their master, though even their tradition is dying out with the spread of newspapers and railways. We are not likely to find another Reverend Edmund Jones to insist upon belief in them, lest, by closing our minds to such manifest witnesses of the supernatural world, we should become infidels. Still, we may even now find peasants ready to swear that they have heard them sweeping along the hill-sides upon stormy nights, as they pursued the flying souls of unshriven men or unbaptized babes. The tales told of them agree curiously. Their cry is like that of a pack of fox-hounds, but softer in tone. The nearer they are to a man, the less loud their voices seem, and the farther off they are, the louder. But they are less often seen than heard, and it has been suggested that the sounds were the cries of migrating bean-geese, which are not unlike those of hounds in chase. The superstition is widely spread. The Cwn Annwn of Wales are called in North Devon the “Yeth” (Heath or Heathen), or “Yell” Hounds, and on Dartmoor, the “Wish” Hounds. In Durham and Yorkshire they are called “Gabriel” Hounds, and they are known by various names in Norfolk, Gloucestershire, and Cornwall. In Scotland it is Arthur who leads the Wild Hunt, and the tradition is found over almost the whole of western Europe.

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper:

Cwn Annwn

(pronounced koon anoon) Welsh hell hounds. Similar to the Gabriel Ratchets, the wish hounds, and the Seven Whistlers, they are harbingers of death. To hear them is a sure sign that someone’s time is up. Their howls are said to grow softer as they approach; close by, their yelping sounds like the cries of small beagles, yet far away their growling is a loud wild lament.

Gabriel Ratchets

A pack of supernatural hound in the folklore of Durham, Lancashire, and Yorkshire in the north of England. Similar to the Welsh Cwn Annwn, they are believed to be portents of death. Sometimes described as hounds with human heads, they flew through the skies on stormy nights, with howls like the cries of geese.


The Old Norse Yule Celebration – Myth and Ritual

Irish Faerie Folk of Yore and Yesterday: The Sluagh

“The Wild Hunt”: an eerie painting of 1889 that some say predicts the rise of Hitler & Nazi Germany


Wild Huntsman Legends:
  1. King Herla (England).
  2. The Wild Huntsman (England).
  3. The Devil and His Dandy-Dogs (Cornwall).
  4. Dando and His Dogs (Cornwall).
  5. The Wild Hunt (Netherlands).
  6. The Wild Huntsman’s Present (Netherlands).
  7. The Eternal Huntsman of Wynendael (Netherlands).
  8. Wod, the Wild Huntsman (Germany).
  9. The Wild Huntsman and the Mine-Monk (Germany).
  10. The Night Huntsman at the Udarser Mill (Germany).
  11. Löwenberg: The Wild Hunt (Germany).
  12. Odin the Hunter (Denmark).
  13. Odin Pursues the Elf-Woman (Denmark).
  14. The Wild Huntsman on Buller Mountain (Poland).
  15. The Wild Huntsman (Bohemia).
  16. The Wild Hunt near Schwarzkosteletz (Kostelec nad Černými lesy) (Bohemia).

The Wild Hunt in Modern Culture

A spooky version of them appeared in the TV series Teen Wolf.

The Wild Hunt, also known as Woden’s Hunt or the Wild Ride, is a term that is used in several different ways in the Teen Wolf series. The first is that the Wild Hunt refers to a immensely large group of supernatural creatures that includes Ghost Riders and Hellhounds, both of whom use their powers to ride the storm and collect souls by erasing people from reality for eternity. The second use of the term is to describe the dimension where the Hunt resides, which has also been referred to by non-members as the Phantom Train Station, or possibly another illusion-based realm where the people the Wild Hunt erases from reality will be transformed into more Ghost Riders and will ride the storm with them forever. The last use is that it describes the actual event of the group arriving to different towns and reaping the souls of its citizens, as was done in the cities of Canaan and, unsuccessfully, Beacon Hills.

As the Gabriel Hounds, they appear in Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series.

Gabriel is the leader of the Hounds during the events of the Wicked Lovelyseries.

There are other places they are referenced too. Check out the Wikipedia entry.

The Wild Hunt in My Writing

I’ve been playing around with the idea of using the Wild Hunt in my own writing for a while. I didn’t want more hunters for the Underworld or the King of the Dead – I have loads of players there.

So, using what I liked in the stories I’ve read and how they’re portrayed in folklore, I created my own version of the Wild Hunt.

The Origin of the Fae: The Hunt (Wild Hunt)

Females are rare. They’re more vicious than the males. (They get into more fights and die.)
Ferocious creatures with claws and sharp teeth. Particularly strong glamour to hide their true selves even from other Fae.
When the Hunt is around, every living creature feels primordial fear. They remember the worst moments of their lives. The Hunt causes people to feel extra anger and violence as well – leads to lots of fights filled with fear and anger whenever the Hunt is near.
Only certain Fae are immune to their effect: the monarchs of the Courts, the Cù Sìth and Caìt Sìth, and particularly strong Fae like the Assassin.
Their allegiance is to the Dark Court even though they are technically a law unto themselves like the Cù Sìth and Caìt Sìth.
Pack loyalty is everything.
They take part in seasonal ritualistic hunts/kills to feed the magic of the earth (the place magic comes from).
Mortal enemies: none known.

wild hunt English Afrikaans

I hope this gives you an idea of what they are in my Fae Realm.

the inn book extract
Get it here.

I made a sketch of what I think Kelly – the main character in “The Inn” – looks like.

I’ve also created a Pinterest board dedicated to The Wild Hunt.

Where have you heard about the Wild Hunt for the first time? What are your thoughts about the Hunt? Did you learn something new about folklore?

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