Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Wild Hunt at Halloween

yn annwfyn ydiwyth, in Annwfyn the peacefulness,
yn annwfyn ygorwyth in Annwfyn the wrath,
yn annwfyn is eluyd in Annwfyn below the earth

Halloween approaches and maybe the Wild Hunt will take to the skies. It is supposed to come from the kingdom of Annwn in the Welsh version, neither heaven or hell it is like middle-earth, here it is the god Lugh who rides across the sky with his hounds, white with red tipped ears. Maybe the hunt starts from Glastonbury Tor, who knows. They ride through the sky and those that dare look at them are not long on this earth.

Its story has its roots in Germanic or Gaulish stories, one tribe the Harii painting themselves black to attack their neighbours, another tribe the Heruli, nomadic wolf-warriors were dedicated to Wodan.
Or we could go to the Scandinavian version, here the Norse god Odin rides Sleipnir across the skies, if you saw it passing and cursed or mocked it very soon you would vanish from this earth but if you joined in you would be rewarded.

A black dog is also part of the tale, and if you found it on your hearth, than you could exorcise (not exercise it which is a very different thing!) it, similar to the custom for removing changelings, but if that did'nt work you had to look after the dog for a whole year very carefully!

The black dog legend, a story motif that occurs all over Britain, can be found in a northern version, here the dog is called Barghest, which is the name given to a special phantasmal dog. It is supposed to prowl the narrow alleyways of York, and also in Whitby along its narrow streets. The story of Dracula written by Bram Stoker in Whitby, has Dracula changing into a black dog as he leaves the ship for the town, and in this picture Robin Jarvis has him coming down the 199 steps in his children's books called the Whitby Witches.

And according to Wikipedia "The object of this phantom hunt varied greatly, and was either [that of] a visionary boar or wild horse, white-breasted maidens who were caught and borne away bound only once in seven years, or the wood nymphs, called Moss Maidens, who were thought to represent the autumn leaves torn from the trees and whirled away by the wintry gale." Whatever the case, the Hunt was most often seen in the autumn and winter, when the winds blew the fiercest."

Moss maidens of course could live in Wistman's Wood, one of those haunting places with gnarled miniature oaks softly covered in moss.

Mossy Wistman Wood

The Hosting of the Sidhe

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.
William Butler Yeats

The 199 steps

All in all halloween or All Saints Night is a time for telling stories of the risen dead, as they coming knocking on your door with their skeletal fingers - its best not to let them in.

I shall not tell them to my grandchildren the two girls have already frightened themselves to death with a ghost story Matilda brought home a few days ago, of a ghost looking through the window, and even little Lillie who doe'snt actually know what a ghost is was scared stiff!

photos from the creative commons, and quite a lot of the information from Wikipedia

Children's book reading;

Hugh Scott - the Shaman Stone; Martha's father dies while investigating the Rollright Stones. She believes that he is reaching out to her, and in this haunted atmosphere the story of the Shaman's stone is unfolded.

Hugh Scott - Why Weeps The Brogan

Hugh Scott - The Haunted Sand

Yaxley's Cat - Robert Westall.....


  1. Believe it or not, I have seen the Wild Hunt written somewhere over the weekend - my mind says it was something at the Car Boot Sale yesterday (?) although I think it is more likely from Dark and Dastardly Dartmoor by Sally and Chips Barber which is on the desk beside me!

    Wistman's Wood - place of magic and mystery, and home to another Wild Hunt - that seek the souls of unbaptized children . . . the Whisht hounds.

    Oooh - I'm staying in this Halloween!

  2. Its a spooky time of year, have'nt bought a pumpkin though because there are no children about, and the thought of scrapping out one for two grown-ups is'nt really on...
    Trying to remember another tale about the vanished Dunwich town under the sea on the east coast, think the 'living dead' came up from the graveyard there ;)

  3. OOh - I have heard of Dunwich, but the only "fact" I can recall is that the church bells ring under the water. I think the same is said of our Welsh sunken town, Cantre'r Gwaelod, in Cardigan Bay . . . no, just checked, they ring out in times of danger . . .