Johann Wilhelm Cordes, The Wild Hunt, 1856/57.
The Wild Hunt is an ancient folk myth prevalent across Northern, Western and Central Europe. The fundamental premise in all instances is the same: a phantasmal, spectral group of huntsmen with the accoutrements of hunting, with horses and hounds in mad pursuit across the skies or along the ground, or just above it.
The hunters may be the dead or fairies (often in folklore connected with the dead). The hunter may be an unidentified lost soul, a deity or spirit of either gender, or may be a historical or legendary figure like Theodoric the Great, the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag, the Welsh psychopomp Gwyn ap Nudd or the Germanic Woden (or other reflections of the same god, such as Alemannic Wuodan in Wuotis Heer (“Wuodan’s Army”) of Central Switzerland, Swabia etc.).
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. Mortals getting in the path of or following the Hunt could be kidnapped and brought to the land of the dead. A girl who saw Wild Edric’s Ride was warned by her father to put her apron over her head to avoid the sight. Others believed that people’s spirits could be pulled away during their sleep to join the cavalcade.
In Germany, where it was also known as the “Wild Army”, or “Furious Army”, its leader was given various identities, including Wodan (or “Woden”), Knecht Ruprecht (Krampus), Berchtold (or Berchta), and Holda (or “Holle”). The Wild Hunt is also known from post-medieval folklore.
As the air grows unseasonably colder at an alarming speed, I wait for the winds to blow over the fields. I await the Wild Hunt with a bottle of spirits, in the hopes that they will leave my family in peace this winter.