The Wild Hunt


During the Yuletide season it is said that the Germanic god Woden, known to the Norse as Odin, rides his eight-legged horse Sleipnir through the cold winter air, leading the souls of the dead astride spirit horses on a spectral hunt, accompanied by packs of vicious supernatural hounds.  This spooky spectacle is known alternately as Oskoreia, “Terrifying Ride,” or Odensjakt, “Odin’s Hunt" in Scandinavia; Wuotanes Her, “Odin’s Army,” in Middle High German, and in Modern German as wiltende Heer, “Furious Army,” or Wilde Jagd, “Wild Hunt.”  Ancient wisdom holds that the souls of the dead are carried on the winds of storms; Odin, the Allfather, is regarded as the god of both death and the sky, and so it is little surprise that he leads the dead on this violent nighttime hunt.

Odin is known as the Wild Huntsman when he heads the army of the dead on their midnight ride, and to see them is to invite misfortune--the Wild Hunt is an ill omen, presaging pestilence, death, and war.  This ominous event occurs during violent winter storms, with the raging winds as evidence of its passing.  Some believers claim to leave their bed in spirit form to join the Wild Hunt; while centuries ago stories were told of physical revelers that would raid towns and villages, stealing food and drink.  The spirits of the hunt aren't after mortal goods, but rather are known to hunt game such as boars, wild horse, or even magical maidens.

During this time Odin was said to bless and curse his people as he saw fit. Children would leave hay outside for Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse, and in return he would present them with treats.

So this Yule, if the winds of a winter storm are whipping around your home, close your shutters against the ill fortune awaiting you outside; and if you happen to be caught outdoors, hurry about your business and best hope you have the favor of the gods—for you never know when you might find yourself in the midst of the Allfather and his Wild Hunt.

Tobias Wayland