It’s that time of year where everything is eerie and the ghoulies and ghosties come out to play.
Okay, not in my side of the world where things are warming up and the sun sticks around longer than the night. But in the northern hemisphere… Ah, now there things are getting dark and dire as the time for the veil between worlds gets thinner and thinner as Samhain approaches.
Samhain? you might ask. It’s the precursor for what is now called Halloween.
If you want to check out the Celtic roots of Halloween, read this awesome article over on newgrange.com.
Now that we know that during Samhain that which divides our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest, we also know that spirits and whatnot can pass through to ours.
The Wild Hunt, for instance.
Belief in the Wild Hunt was once widespread across most of Europe. Common belief held that it was led by a supernatural master (Odin in Norse lore, King Herla in Britain, Gwyn ap Nudd in Wales, etc.) with a special prey in mind (Odin sought the Fairy Wood Wives, Gwyn ap Nudd herded the souls of the dead to the Underworld). The Hunt generally comprised spectral huntsmen on horseback accompanied by a pack of fairy hounds (usually white with red ears). It could fly through the air, pound over the earth, or hover just above the ground during its hunt.
The Wild Hunt is called many different things and described in many different ways depending on time and place.
On the Isle of Man, a band of 13 hunters rode out on frosty, moonlit nights on the Manx Fairy Hunt, as described in Thomas Keightley’s The Fairy Mythology (1828).
“…he heard the cry of huntsmen, the thunder of horses’ hooves, and the trumpeting of horns. He wondered why the hunt was out at night in such frost. It crossed his path several times and under the light of the moon, he saw the riders as clear as day. There were 13 huntsmen on horseback, dressed in green…”
In the Highlands of Scotland, the formidable fairy Sluagh, is often described as the souls of the unforgiven dead. They would take to the air in a great flock, hunting mortal souls to join their number. They also enjoy shooting cats, dogs, sheep, and cattle with elfshot (poisoned darts). An account in Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica (1900) describes a sighting of them in the Outer Hebrides:
“…on hearing the call, the dogs ran outside, and when the men had gathered their wits, they followed. In the bright blue night sky, they beheld a multitude of spirits with hounds on leashes and hawks perched on hands. The air was filled with music, like tinkling bells, mingled with the shouts of the sluagh calling to their hounds…”
Of course, the Wild Hunt was often associated with demons and witches as Christianity spread over the globe. Not that they were particularly sweet and cuddly to start out with…
Just like everything else, they’ve been relegated to the realm of fancy. But as recently as the 1940s, the Wild Hunt was heard passing by on Halloween near Taunton, Somerset.
In my own writing, the Hunt is slightly different. There are steeds (the spectral horses mentioned in folklore, though mine can take any shape it pleases) and the Pack (which can be the huntsmen or the hounds – they can take either shape at will). They can also manipulate the emotions of mortals and fae alike.
You can check out a short story featuring them in the Clarion Call Anthology FairyTale Riot! that will be released at the end of the month. I had loads of fun writing my short story.
I hope you learned something new, got a great scare and possibly a great read for the darker months ahead. I’ll be doing a proper post about FairyTale Riot! over on my blog on Sunday (with a review) if you’d like to check it out.
Ronel Janse van Vuuren is the author of New Adult, Young Adult and children’s fiction filled with mythology and folklore. Her dark fantasy stories can be read for free on Wattpad and on her blog Ronel the Mythmaker. She won Fiction Writer of the Year 2016 for her Afrikaans stories on INK: Skryf in Afrikaans. Her published works can be viewed on Goodreads.
Ronel can be found tweeting about writing and other things that interest her, arguing with her characters, researching folklore for her newest story or playing with her Rottweilers when she’s not actually writing.
All of her books are available for purchase on Amazon and other online retailers.
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