A huntsman and his hounds allegedly seen riding across ancient skies, variously known as the Hounds of Hell, the Yeth Hounds, the Gabriel Hounds, the Seven Whistlers, and the Irish Hounds. Led in Norse mythology by Odin (and his Valkyries) and by Cthonic Annwn in Celtic mythology.

Originally a deity of primitive hunting peoples, the Wild Hunt came to represent the destructive power of nature and death itself. The Nordic Wild Hunt carried off the souls of the dead. Shamans intervened with these powwers in their healing work.

In Christian times the Wild Hunt carried off unbelievers and unbaptised children

Not to split hairs (though this is a sharp sword...), I wish to clarify a few things about the Wild Hunt:

1. That the Wild Hunt and he who leads it are known by many names:

2. The appearance of the hunt is usually uniform: "A great noise of barking and shouting is heard; then a black rider on a black, white, or gray horse, storming through the air with his hounds, followed by a host of strange spirits, is seen. The rider is sometimes headless. Sometimes, particularly in Upper Germany, the spirits show signs of battle-wounds or death by other forms of mischance. Fire spurts from the hooves and eyes of the beasts in the procession. The horses and hounds may be two- or three-legged. Often the newly dead can be recognized in the train. The furious host is always a peril to the human being who comes into its way, though sometimes it leaves rewards as well." --Kveldulf Hagen Gundarsson, from Mountain Thunder, Issue 7, Winter 1992.

3. Time:
No surprise, it is usually at one of the pagan holidays: Halloween, Beltaine, Mother's Night, Yule.

4. The Hunt of the Souls
The Wild Hunt is led by a psychopomp--the leader of souls to the Underworld. On certain nights--holy days--one could see the Hunter come for his prey. That the myth exists in Norther European cultures and their American descendents, as opposed to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, is not surprising, for while the North certainly had agriculture, they also survived by hunting, particularly in the winter, when most of the legends of the hunt take place.

Not to split hairs even finer, but in Denmark, the Wild Hunt is also associated with the legendary King Valdemar (although there were several historical Kings of Denmark by that name, this appears to be a mythical version, only broadly related to the historical kings).

The legend of King Valdemar and his Hunt is most common on southern Sjælland (known to English speakers as Zealand, and not to be confused with the Dutch location of similar name). The poet Bernhard Severin Ingemann (1789-1862) wrote a poem, Kong Valdemars Jagt ("King Valdemar's Hunt", set to music by Niels W. Gade) on the subject, the final stanza of which depicts the posthumous activities of the mythical king:

I muld for længe siden
Kong Valdemar er lagt
Men sælsomt gennem tiden
Går sagnet om hans jagt
Tit korser arme bonde
Sig end på natlig sti
Når jægere og hunde
Ham suse vildt forbi

("In the ground so long ago
King Valdemar was laid
Yet strangely across the years
Goes the legend of his hunt
Often, a poor peasant may cross himself
As he walks abroad at night
When huntsmen and their dogs
Go rushing wildly past")

- my translation, not intended to scan or rhyme

The most detailed version of the myth would have it that King Valdemar IV of Denmark claimed that he loved hunting at his castle at Gurre more than anything else, preferring it even over Paradise. As punishment for his hubris, he haunts the lands around Gurre, to this day, with his huntsmen. Woven into this is an anachronism, confusing this Valdemar with an earlier one, whose mourning for his murdered mistress was supposedly the reason for his haunting.

Like Ingemann, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a poem, Hvor Nilen vander ægypterens jord ("Where the Nile waters the Egyptian's soil", 1842, set to music by Henrik Rung) on the subject of King Valdemar. Andersen's poem specifically uses this scrambled version of the myth.


See also: Danish Myths and Legends.

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