Saturday, December 27, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
The wise traveller falls down at once in the middle of the road, face down. (The Hunt leader spares only those who remain in the middle of the path. Therefore he often calls out to travelers, "In the middle of the path!") If he is lucky, he will take no harm other than the cold feet of the black dogs running over his body. More foolish folk are swept up, coming to earth far from home or left dead behind the furious host. Those who join in the Hunter's cry may get as their share of the booty a piece of human flesh.
This is the Wild Hunt of Germanic folklore. It is known by many names -- Wutan's or Wuet's Army in the southern parts of Germany, the family of Harlequin in France, the Oskorei in Norway, Odensjakt in Denmark and Sweden -- but the basic description is always much the same. 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.
At the root of the myth lies the Teutonic god Woden, or Odin, to use his Norse name.
Odin, in his guise of wind-god, was thought to rushing through the skies astride his eight-legged steed, Sleipnir. As it was thought that the souls of the dead were wafted away on the winds of a storm, Odin became regarded as the leader of all disembodied spirits - the gatherer of the dead. Eventually, storms became associated with his passing. In this role he was known as the Wild Huntsman. The passage of his hunt, known as Odin's Hunt, the Wild Ride, the Raging Host or Asgardreia, was said to presage misfortune such as pestilence, death or war. Odin, followed by the ghosts of the dead, would roam the skies, accompanied by furious winds, lightning and thunder. To the believers, the tumult must surely have been evidence of the god's passing.
Throughout the years, the mythology of the hunt adapted to suit the geographical area and the time period. In the Middle Ages, for example, the lead huntsman included Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa and King Arthur.
Traditions of a Wild Hunt also existed in areas away from Norse influence.
In Wales, for example, the leader of the Hunt was Gwynn ap Nudd. The "Lord of the Dead", Gwynn ap Nudd was followed by his pack of white hounds with blood-red ears.
These red-eared hounds are also found in northern England, where they were known as Gabriel Hounds. Their appearance was also a portent of doom.
In southern England, it was Herne the Hunter who led the hunt, while elsewhere it is also referred to as "Herlathing" - from the mythical King Herla, its supposed leader.
As recently as the 1940's the Hunt was reportedly heard going through the English countryside near Taunton on Halloween night. And the unlucky visitor to the West Country of England may still meet the Hunt upon the moors.
But whether in chronicle or legend, in folk practice or personal experience, the Hunt's underlying meaning and message remains one of remembrance: remember the dead, your kin, so your crops may grow by ancestral blessing; honor them lest they come like warriors to the field claiming tribute.
Much more detailed and fascinating information about this terrifying event at the links below:
Penance, Power, and Pursuit:On the Trail of the Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt - from the Orkney Isles
Wild Huntsman Legends
The Folklore of the Wild Hunt and the Furious Host
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
The snow that fell never melted. It hasn't been above 20 degrees since Saturday here, so it couldn't have. The snow has mostly been blown away by the gusting winds. The wind has also brought a steady shower of pine branch debris, and innumerable pine cones from our seven big trees as you can see below.
Since we are to continue with arctic winds, snow and single digit temps for the next week or longer, looks like we'll have to postpone the Seven Trees Wassail until another TBA date. Sorry folks. Hard to have a bon fire with wind gusts pushing 60mph!
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
The name Krampus comes from the Old High German word for claw, apparently referring to just one of this being’s scary attributes. Other less-than-friendly features include a long, long tongue, shaggy black hair/fur, goat's head with horns, and cloven feet. Krampus was usually equipped with a bundle of birch twigs (for beating naughty children), chains (for capturing naughty children) and a pack basket on his back (for abducting naughty children).
Depending on who you believe, Krampus is very old indeed. Some say the tradition stems back to the pre-Christian era, and that the Krampus known and feared by Austrians today is a version of an ancient god incorporated into Christian holidays.
The ceremony was widely practiced until the Inquisition, when impersonating a devil was punishable by death. In remote mountain towns the tradition survived in violation of the church's edicts. In the 17th century Krampus made a comeback as part of the Christmas celebrations, paired with St. Nicholas as the jolly fellow's dark alter ego.
In the mid-1950s, well-meaning educators feared that the frightening apparition might scar children for life.
One anti-Krampus pamphlet distributed in Vienna was earnestly entitled "Krampus is an Evil Man." As with most old traditions, Krampus has been somewhat commercialized and toned down. Today the tradition often devolves into a mid-winter bacchanal, where scaring kids takes a back seat to heroic bouts of drinking. The town of Schladminger is home to a sort of Krampus convention, with more than a thousand goat-men roaming the town's streets, harassing the town's young women.
There are a few books available (and many online sources) detailing these rather disturbing images. They run the gamut from scenes of children being menaced, beaten and abducted to scenes of older girls and women being sexually harassed (some even feature a voyeur Santa, peeking through the window at the Krampus & victim).
We hope you enjoyed this creepy look into a traditional European belief. I'd much rather find a lump of coal in my stocking than have a visit from the Krampus!
Friday, December 05, 2008
Ratified December 5, 1933
Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.