The purpose of the women's existence also varies, depending on the combination of elements that are driving their legend and the time and place in which the story is being told. Some are looking to rescue or replace the children that have been lost to them. Some appear to herald the deaths of others. And some find themselves stuck in a recursive loop, repeating their deaths over and over again, never resting and affecting nothing.
Before we understood the nature of sleep, and how our brain and body interact while we're sleeping, it was believed that this paralysis was caused by a literal demon, or night hag, sitting on the sleeper's chest. These night hags, or night mares, would ride the sleeper, leaving them terrified and exhausted come morning.
The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War...
When the fields are full, they stand as protector to the crops. Once harvest comes, once the fields have been reaped, when everything is turning brown and decaying, the figure of the scarecrow stands in the fields alone, forever immobile (we hope!), watching over the land with hollow eyes, waiting for life to return.
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.