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Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Wild Hunt

The origin of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) and his helpers has sometimes been associated with the "Wild Hunt" of the Norse wind God, Odin.  [Teutonic god, Woden].  The Wild Hunt is also known from post-medieval folklore, and evokes images of the frenzy of battle, and the terror inspired by death. 

The Wild Hunt by Franz von Stuck

The Wild Hunt is a folk tale originating from Europe, and involves a group of huntsman who are presumed ghosts, who pass through the wild in pursuit of humans as game. 

These hunters may be assumed as fairies, elves or even the dead.  The leader of the Hunt is Odin, and all of whom are lost spirits, both male and female.  Odin passes through persistent darkening skies, amidst great mid-winter storms of angry wind, clapping thunder and violent lightening.
Odin appears on his gallant white horse, called Sleipnir, who carries him swiftly through the air, leading his army of lost souls.  Sleipnir also possessed 8 legs, which must have aided him in his ability to carry Odin very swiftly, with his feet never touching the earth.

Odin's ever-present companions are two black ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who were the carriers of news - the good or bad behavior of the mortals, below - and report back to Odin, after listening to people through their rooftops.   Huginn and Muninn's role as Odin's messengers have long been associated with shamanic practices, the Norse raven banner, general raven symbolism among the Germanic peoples, and the Norse concepts of the fylgja (is a spirit who accompanies a person in connection to their fate or fortune) and the hamingja (either the personification of the good fortune or luck of an individual or family, or the altered appearance of shape-shifters).

In his nocturnal procession, are huge, vicious, black hounds that bay ceaselessly through the icy winds, and have been described as having red eyes the size of saucers. 

"The Bearer of Death is a term used in describing the Hellhound. Hellhounds have been said to be as black as coal and smell of burning brimstone. They tend to leave behind a burned area wherever they go. Their eyes are a deep, bright, and almost glowing red. They have razor sharp teeth, super strength and speed, and are commonly associated with graveyards and the underworld. Hellhounds are called The Bearers of Death because they were supposedly created by ancient demons to serve as heralds of death. According to legend, seeing one leads to a person's death. Sometimes it is said to be once; other times it requires three sightings for the curse to take effect and kill the victim. These factors make the Hellhound a feared symbol and worthy of the name “Bearer of Death”. The Hellhound has been seen several times throughout history, and it is not specific to any one place. The most recent sightings occurred in Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, and Vilseck, Germany, in or near cemeteries."  -wiki

Artwork by Howard Johnson, source: pinterest
Finally, as part of his war-band, and at this side, Odin is also accompanied by his warrior wife, Frigga [Frig or Frigg].   Frigg is known as the goddess of motherhood and marriage, and the keeper of domestic arts.  She possesses the power of prophecy, but does not disclose this information.  Frigg is the wife of Odin, queen of the Æsir, and goddess of the sky.  To underline the importance of Frigg as part of the Wild Hunt, one must consider that she is the only one who is permitted to sit on Odin's high seat "Hlidskjalf" and look out over the universe. 

If you were unfortunate enough to witness the Wild Hunt, you may be the hapless augur of such events like war, pestilence or the plague and surely, death will follow.  

Some mortals who did not meet their demise as witnesses, would mysteriously vanish, and may have been carried into the Underworld or a Fairy Kingdom, as the soul was pulled from the body to join the army of the soul-less. 

Melissa Snark, wrote:  "As people continued to settle in the region, Odin’s path for the Wild Hunt remained unchanged. Once he traveled a road, he would continue to travel it for eternity, so people who tried to build their houses on the old roads he once used would find their home’s burnt down as a result of his hunt. In fact, it was best to leave his routes completely untouched, as anything within his path would be set ablaze in his wake.

To protect themselves during the Wild Hunt, people learned to throw themselves at the ground when the host stampeded through the area to avoid getting hit. They also took to carrying a piece of steel and a piece of bread with them as they made their way to church for Yule. They believed that throwing the bread for the dogs if they encountered them first would offer some protection. If, on the other hand, they first encountered a rider wearing a broad-rimmed hat, they would throw the piece of steel in front of them. Still others believed they could avoid being swept up altogether by the hunt if they asked the riders for parsley."

There is a bright side, however.  If one joined the Wild Hunt, in earnest and sincerity, one may be rewarded with silver or gold.  

Google Images, Artists not cited
“When the winter winds blow and the Yule fires are lit, it is best to stay indoors, safely shut away from the dark paths and the wild heaths. Those who wander out by themselves during the Yule-nights may hear a sudden rustling through the tops of the trees – a rustling that might be the wind, though the rest of the wood is still.“But then the barking of dogs fills the air, and the host of wild souls sweeps down, fire flashing from the eyes of the black hounds and the hooves of the black horses.” -Kveldulf Hagen Gundarsson 

Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831–1892) - Title "Norsk bokmål: Asgårdsreien,  1872

Gif images - tumblr

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