Now, in the darkening days between Halloween and the beginning of the Christmas season, is said to be the time of the Wild Hunt.
The Wild Hunt or Raging Host is a dominant folk tale throughout northern Europe. Legends abound of a supernatural hunting party that sweeps through the lonely countryside at night, hunting . . . something—souls (of evil doers? Some say so, others say anyone who witnesses the Wild Hunt will do) a magic boar or deer, or perhaps a woman. Those who see or hear the Wild Hunt supposedly will have bad luck, or be forced to join in for a set time, or forever. The leader of the hunt varies wildly with tradition, from the Norse god Odin, to Satan, to King Arthur leading the ghostly knights of the Round Table, or even the master hunter himself, Cernnunos, the horned one. In Ireland, it’s often the Host of the Sidhe, the faerie-folk riding the countryside, gathering “guests” (victims) to live with them in their land out of time. Some scholars say the traditions have spread to America, in the form of Washington Irving’s headless horseman, and even the classic country-western song, Ghost Riders in the Sky.
While I don’t know of any specifically Alaskan variation on this legend, it’s certainly easy to become susceptible to such stories, particularly in the wilder, lonelier spots in the waning portion of the year. On many nights one can hear the sound of barking dogs and howling coyotes or wolves. Strange blasts of wind, called willawas or, around Juneau, Takus, are common at this time of year. To feel such a gust sweeping through the forest on a cold, dark November night, it’d be easy to imagine a furious band of hunters rushing by on some mysterious errand. Tricks of light and sound, augmented by an active imagination could easily lead to strange experiences when too far from hearth and home.
On November nights when my thoughts and fancies turn to the Wild Hunt, I reach down my collection of W.B. Yeats poems. He knew about the Wild Hunt, and alluded to it in several of his works. The one poem of his that I turn to most on these evenings, though, is his Hound Voice. This one suggests, to me, not avoiding the Wild Hunt, but the possibility of embracing it, and the wildness within one’s self. After all, not all mysteries need be shunned.