Monday, October 22, 2012

A Druid's Perspective on Halloween: Donald Kirby on The Wild Hunt/ Seven Super Giveaways

Welcome back to all! Today, I'm pleased to welcome a fellow writer from my critique group, the North Columbus Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers, Donald Kirby.  I asked him to share some of his wealth of knowledge and tell us about the origins of Halloween. 

Giveaways: At the end of the post I've included links to all 7 active giveaways!  In addition, anyone who comments on this post will be entered to win one of five copies of Annals of the Immortyls in ebook. Check back later this week to enter some more!

The Wild Hunt

A different perspective


Donald Kirby

First, I am writing this on the fly, so forgive my brevity. The original article I wrote was ruined by a rather nasty virus on my computer. Second, I have no degree in history nor anthropology so I am not including foot-notes (it would take to darn long to find my books, the pages etc. I am a writer with a full time-plus job, and thus have other deadlines).  But these matters do rise in my own faith, my being a modern Druid. As we joke amongst ourselves, “Druidry is a religion with homework”.

The Wild Hunt. Speak those words to a reader of fantasy, and images of a dark, vast horde ridding skeletal steeds across plains of lightning in the sky may well fill his or her mind. Ask them to describe it and they might tell you blood-thirsty beings swooping down with the screams of the damned to pursue the unwary people who travelled during Halloween –Samhain to the Celts and Wintersnight to the Germanic Tribes. It began on Halloween when the Veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest, and ended on May first when the earth returned to wakefulness.

But the Wild Hunt was so much more than a Christian embodiment of evil, especially to the Germanic people.

To the ancient Celts the Wild Hunt was a vast army of Slaugh. These were a type of Fairy-Folk who were particularly malevolent. WY Evans-Wentz wrote in his book Fairy faith in Celtic countries (around 1910) accounts of children and animals being abducted during All Hallows Eve by the Wild Hunt and their spirits taken, while the bodies were found miles away from home. Many of these instances the bodies seemed to have been dropped from a great height.

The Scottish legend of Tam Lin is version of the Wild Hunt. Depending on the version you read or hear, the un-Seelie Court must either pay tribute to Hell with a mortal, or take a mortal to replenish their numbers. We may never know the original story, as Church persecution and suppression of Pagan knowledge was particularly brutal in Scotland.

Many of these stories changed, even though the core remained the same well into the 11th and 12th centuries AD. However, we must take these accounts with a grain of salt. In their zeal to destroy the old ways of the Pagans, monks demonized the old Gods. One leader of the Hunt was Frau Holle (or Hulda), who in Germanic lore kept the spirits of those children who died young and mothers who died in childbirth. She would feed them the first berries of summer, and come Wintersnight, she and her consort Wodan would ride across the skies; she would seek those special spirits still wandering -not to punish, but care for them. Wodan would gather those warriors who belonged with him, and those who tried to escape the Afterlife for proper judgment. It also gave his army of dead warriors something to do in during the dark-times of the year.

To look upon the Hunt would bring ill-luck as the deceased mothers and warriors would curse any of the living who saw them. To look upon a departing soul kept it earth-bound and starving for another year. Or the wails of those who could not leave would drive Holle and Wodan into such a rage that the Gods would turn on the transgressor. Sometimes a person or animal or wayward spirit would simply be caught up the wake of the Hunt, never to seen again.

But if left in peace, it was said that any field the Hunt passed over unseen would bear twice the bounty of the previous year. As time passed and those who held to the old Gods were tortured into compliance with with the edicts of the converted kings and the Church, Frau Holle became the embodiment of evil in woman’s clothes. She was transformed into one who stole or killed children, and Wodan became the Hunter of those damned and going to Hell.

In Scandinavia the Hunt was led by Odin (the Norse version of Wodan) or Freya, who was Queen of the Valkyries. Again, the Hunt was changed from a rite of passage for the seasons and the dead to a thing vilified during the onslaught of the new, imported faith.

One way to hide from the hunt was…do you know? Yup, costumes. Jack-o-Lanterns got their start in Scotland as a way to fool those spirits (human and otherwise) seeking to hide in a house from the Hunt. By carving faces in turnips and gourds, as well as straw dolls, it was to tell theose beings that the house was already full. The German custom of souling was begging for food before the start of winter (October 31rst) to leave for the dead or the Hunt. If someone did not give the poor child something to offer Holle or the Ancestors, mischievous pranks were played on the scrooge, so real spirits would not bother the innocent of the household. This became the foundation for our own Trick-or-Treat.

There is no doubt the ancient peoples rightly feared the Wild Hunt. No one wanted to be bound up in its fury and power. For it held death, life, and magic that humans could not comprehend.

There is so much more to tell, and I do have the time for it all. But as readers and writers, I pray this sparks a little curiosity in you. As we write and read, we create. I tell you these old tales in hopes that an author published or not, can find a twist to some old tales; so that a reader can make the written word take a deeper life in his or her imagination. “What if” are not dangerous words, but the two of the most wonderful.

As Wintersnight approaches, keep a candle lit for those who have gone, and listen for the sounds of hooves and battle cries across the sky.

A very big thanks to Donald for being my guest today!  

Now here are those links for the 7 giveaways!  All of them end on Halloween night, so enter now before it's too late!  All you need to do is comment, except for B. K. Walker's giveaway, which is a Rafflecopter you can enter within the post.  Don't forget to leave Donald a comment or question to be entered to win Annals of the Immortyls!

Ebooks by Vanessa Morgan: 

Ebook from Katie Salidas:

Ebook from Roy Hudson:

Two Paperbacks from A. J. Scudiere:

B. K. Walker Halloween Gift Basket:


Mary Preston said...

The lore from the different countries is fascinating thank you.


Denise Verrico said...

Thanks, Mary! I was fascinated by all this myself.

Denise Verrico said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freyasvin said...

Well, thank you Mary. I am glad you enjoyed it. I love the old tales, and hope you do some delving into them.

bn100 said...

Fascinating post.


Soniya Hodgkinson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Soniya Hodgkinson said...

I really enjoyed reading your page and it gave me a clearer perspective of Halloween/Samhain, I particularly liked the fact that you included different cultures of myth... You had written clear for my imagination to depict.... please if I may ask a question, "What is the true date of Halloween/Samhain? is it really October 31st? someone told me it used to be around the 20th years and years ago???" I would love to know the answer... Bright Blessings SunnY x

October 24, 2012 4:24 PM

Patti Hultstrand said...

Terrific article and even offered a few tidbits I haven't heard before about the Halloween traditions.

PJ Hultstrand
author of "Time Conquers All"