Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Halloween 2013: Urban Legend Week : The Wild Hunt

~by Marie Robinson

Imagine it’s a crisp, autumn night—which hopefully isn’t so hard to imagine. An uneasy feeling comes over you and is personified by the frantic baying of dogs, distantly, at first, but drawing nearer. Soon, the air is ringing with their howls and accompanied by the beating of hooves. Take that as your warning to hurry inside, for if you lay your eyes on the spectral procession sure to occur, you won’t last the night.

The legend of the Wild Hunt has its roots in Norse mythology but versions of it occur all through Europe. It is a ghostly troupe of dead men, atop their horses with a pack of dogs racing alongside them, which appears flying overhead. Several historical figures have been said to ride out the Wild Hunt, and they are always lead by a “Huntsman”, who has been assigned as several different characters as well; sometimes as the Norse god Odin, and other times the Devil, himself. And as I mentioned before, if you witness the hunters swooping through the sky, you’ll perish and be forced to join them.

The Wild Hunt was featured in an issue of
 Mike Mignolia's Hellboy comics

It’s no surprise such a rich myth has inspired an abundance of artists to incorporate the legend into their various mediums. Film, for example.

The 2011 British found-footage film A Night in the Woods draws heavily from this myth. Brody (Scoot McNairy) has planned a camping trip for himself and his girlfriend, Kerry (Anna Skellern), in Dartmoor. Specifically, the Oakwood forest of Wistman’s Wood, an area so swirling with folkloric mystery it’s very name translates to “eerie” and “haunted”. Wistman’s Wood is a famous location of the Wild Hunt. Stopping in at a pub on the way to the forest, the couple (and their third wheel, Leo, played by Andrew Hawley) are warned by locals of the danger of staying in the Wood at night. They tell cautionary tales of a demon huntsman who marks sinners with a cross and hangs them from the moss-carpeted oaks. The trio dismisses it as old wives’ tales but when night falls in the woods, Kerry finds herself being stalked. Is it just one of the boys playing a cruel prank on her, or is it the Huntsman?

The Wild Hunt also appears in a number of role-playing games in a number of mediums, such as Magic: The Gathering (trading card game), Dungeons & Dragons, the Elder Scrolls games for Xbox and PC, and many others. Speaking of role-playing games…

The 2009 Canadian horror film The Wild Hunt concerns a group of passionate LARP-ers (that stands for Live Action Role Playing) who have built a miniature medieval kingdom out in the woods. There they have gathered to stage the Wild Hunt, but the line between fantasy and reality is crossed with a savage outcome.

The world of literature has produced its own fair amount of stories inspired by this myth. William Butler Yeats, a man who, like myself, shared a passion for folklore describes a Celtic version of the Wild Hunt in verse in his poem, “The Hosting of the Sidhe”, invokes characters from Gaelic folklore Niamh (pronounced neev) and Caoilte (keel-cha). Read it below:

"Åsgårdsreien" (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo
The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing 'twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
                                                                                               Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
                                                                                               And Niamh calling Away, come away.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the legend of the Wild Hunt but I wasn't aware of any of the films until I read this - really great article, thank you!