Wild Hunt

Asgårdsreien [The Wild Hunt of Odin] (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo

The Wild Hunt is a folklore motif (Motif E501 in Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature)[1] that historically occurs in the folklore of various Northern European cultures. Wild Hunts typically involve a "soul-raving" chase led by a mythological figure escorted by a ghostly or supernatural group of hunters passing in wild pursuit.[2] The leader of the hunt is often a named figure associated with Odin in Germanic legends,[3][4] but may variously be a historical or legendary figure like Theodoric the Great, the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag, the Welsh psychopomp Gwyn ap Nudd, biblical figures such as Herod, Cain, Gabriel, or the Devil, or an unidentified lost soul or spirit either male or female. The hunters are generally the souls of the dead or ghostly dogs, sometimes fairies, Valkyries, or elves.[5][6][7]

Seeing the Wild Hunt was thought to presage some catastrophe such as war or plague, or at best the death of the one who witnessed it.[8] People encountering the Hunt might also be abducted to the underworld or the fairy kingdom.[a] In some instances, it was also believed that people's spirits could be pulled away during their sleep to join the cavalcade.[10]

The concept was developed by Jacob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie (1835) on the basis of comparative mythology. Grimm believed that a group of stories represented a folkloristic survival of Germanic pagan tradition, but comparable folk myths are found throughout Northern, Western and Central Europe.[3] Grimm popularised the term Wilde Jagd ("Wild Hunt") for the phenomenon.

  1. ^ Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. University of California Press. 1977. p. 257. ISBN 0-520-03537-2
  2. ^ Greenwood 2008, p. 195.
  3. ^ a b Schön 2004, pp. 201–205.
  4. ^ Greenwood 2008, p. 196.
  5. ^ Briggs 1967, pp. 49–50.
  6. ^ Briggs 1978, "Wild Hunt", p. 437.
  7. ^ Greenwood 2008, pp. 195–197: "'Wild Hunt', a generic name given to numerous folk myths associated with ‘soul-ravening’ chases, often led by a god, goddess, or mythological figure accompanied by a cavalcade of souls of the dead ... In Teutonic mythology it is Woden (Odin or Wotan) who leads the hunt accompanied by fearsome ghostly dogs ... In some accounts Woden is accompanied by beautiful spirit maidens called Valkyries or Waekyrges ... Herne the hunter, a descendant of Woden, is also said to lead a Faery pack across the hills of Britain ..."
  8. ^ See, for example, Chambers's Encyclopaedia, 1901, s.v. "Wild Hunt": "[Gabriel's Hounds] ... portend death or calamity to the house over which they hang"; "the cry of the Seven Whistlers ... a death omen".
  9. ^ Briggs 1978, "Infringement of fairy privacy", p. 233.
  10. ^ Hutton, Ronald (8 December 1993). The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. p. 307. ISBN 0-631-18946-7.


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