Visions of the Wild Hunt by Agostino Musi
Yes, I know I am cheating. I wrote about this last year, but it's my favorite post. Humor me.
There are countless common themes prevalent in Western European faerie lore. One of my favorites is the Wild Hunt. I’m researching it now because of one of my WIPs. It’s called many different things – The Furious Host, The Slaugh, Devil’s Dandy Dogs, The Gabriel Hounds, Odin’s Hunt, The Seven Whistlers to name a few. It usually entails a Wild Huntsman (a faerie king, a demonized pagan deity, a damned human, the Devil himself) who rides a wild black steed and is accompanied by a pack of scary black dogs like a demon dog walker on horseback. In some stories, the huntsman is a huntswoman like in the case of Hecate in Greek mythology or Frau Goden in German folklore. Sometimes they are joined by witches or ghosts or faeries. They are hunting the damned, lost souls, the unbaptized or anyone who is foolish enough to be out alone at night.
In some mythologies, the Wild Hunt only comes on Halloween night or May 1st. In others, the specter of the hunter appears any night at midnight. Sometimes they ride through the night air and other times they hover just above the ground. To hear or view the Wild Hunt is almost always presumed a bad omen or a portent of death.
These stories make me think about the gullible peasants that believed that there were beings, be it demons or fallen angels or souls of the dead, that were out to get them. It certainly made it easier for local magistrates to enforce curfews and for priests to ensure that all children were baptized. Who would want to be caught and taken away by the Wild Hunt to hell or wherever they took you?
I can laugh at how foolish this all sounds up until a point. I grew up seven miles outside of a small town in Upstate New York called Whitehall. I still get goose bumps recalling the sound of a pack of coydogs I heard through an open window on a summer night. I had lost track of the time and back in those days I spent most of my time slaving away at my word processor. I must have been sixteen or seventeen. The pack ran along a ridgeline of forest about five hundred yards behind our house. It sounded like they were under my bedroom window. I stopped breathing for a moment, their eerie wails growing louder as they came closer. I am not ashamed to say I almost woke up my father, but instead I climbed onto bed and hugged my pillow close to my chest. In moments like that, it’s harder to judge other people’s fears and superstitions.