Stith Thompson‘s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature type E501: The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt is a common myth in Germany, Scandinavia, France and Britain, among other locations. It’s fairly well-known and the leader of the hunt will depend on who’s telling the tale. Odin tends to figure prominently in retellings but the story isn’t his alone; some versions have Cain, Herod, Gwyn ap Nudd and even King Arthur leading the ghostly and ghastly host. The story itself was first documented by Jacob Grimm–yes, that Jacob Grimm–in 1835 in his book Deutsche Mythologie.
The hunt itself is believed to be a precursor to war, plague, or simply the death of the person who witnesses it. Those who witness this chthonic force also run the risk of being stolen away to the underworld where they may be forced to join the hunt. Even those that are sleeping as the hunt passes by their homes could have their spirits stolen away.
At its root, the hunt is believed to serve as a symbol of the wildness and chaos of nature. It reminds us of nature’s inherent darkness and that we should remember to be afraid of the black night because dangers abound for those who are careless enough to be caught out when the riders come to call.
“Another class of spectres will prove more fruitful for our investigation: they, like the ignes fatui, include unchristened babes, but instead of straggling singly on the earth as fires, they sweep through forest and air in whole companies with a horrible din. This is the widely spread legend of the furious host, the furious hunt, which is of high antiquity, and interweaves itself, now with gods, and now with heroes. Look where you will, it betrays its connexion with heathenism.”
— Jacob Grimm
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