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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

shapeshifting witches

One of the things that witches in Ireland and Scotland were known for was shapeshifting, particularly into the form of hares, although some other shapes were noted in folklore as well including weasels. From a modern perspective there is a tendency to interpret these stories literally, and indeed some of them clearly indicate a literal transformation, such as we see in the 'Witch and Hare'. However many are more vague and could be interpreted as a practice of mental projection into an animal, rather than the human witch physically transforming into the shape of one*. It may also be that these stories represent a projection of the witch's spirit which would appear as an animal, rather than a literal animal. For modern witches who study traditional practices or who are interested in some of the skills attributed to historic witches this shapeshifting is certainly worth consideration. 

Looking at folklore sources and witchcraft trials we might surmise this was a type of mental or trance practice, where the person learned how to project their spirit out into either an existing form or into the image of an animal (literal or figurative). Claude Lecouteux in his book 'Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages' discusses at length such a practice, wherein the witch appeared to be sleeping but the witch's spirit was wandering abroad, sometimes in human form sometimes not. During these nocturnal expeditions the witch might gather information, meet with other witches or spirits, work magic, or simply wander freely. 

From a modern perspective there is no reason to think witches can't still engage in this type of trance practice, although it may be easier and easier on a person's ethics to learn how to project one's spirit out in animal form rather than learn how to take over another being's physical form. This would not be a basic or beginner skill but something to look at doing once you are fairly comfortable with the basics of sending your spirit out from your body safely (and returning safely), spiritual journeying in general, and how to handle any emergencies that might come up while in a human form. This is important because trying any of that in a new shape is going to be harder and inherently have more risk to it, and you need to be confident that if anything goes wrong you know what to do to fix it. 

Looking at one of the only existing chants we have today from a historic witch, Isobel Gowdie, who claimed to deal with both the Devil and the Queen of Elfame, we see the ambiguous nature of the practice. This template also gives us a good idea of what we might want to base a structure for such a chant on as well. Some people may not see the value in this sort of thing but for a practice like this having a set ritual approach to it can add a layer of safety by providing the mind a key, if you will, to going into and out of the shape.

Isobel claimed during her trial that to go into the form of a hare she would chant:
"I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych [such] and meickle [much] care;
And I shall go in the Devil's name,
Ay while I come home again
And to return again to her own form she would say:
"Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare's likeness now,
But I shall be in a woman's likeness even now

This was still a dangerous practice that risked injury to the person, and the many folktales of witches who were harmed in animal form and then had the same injuries in their human forms show this. While we can, of course, interpret this as another indication of literal transformation we could also view this as a way in which the mind influences the body; the mind or spirit being injured in one form convinces the physical body it was also injured. From a metaphysical perspective this holds with the principle that what happens to us Elsewhere affects us here, while from a psychological perspective it reflects the power of the mind to influence the physical body. Many of us may be familiar with the more positive aspects of this which we see in things like placebos healing people because the people believe they will, but as with everything there is another side of that as well; what we believe hurts us can indeed hurt us. 

Shapeshifting is a skill that witches have claimed and has been claimed of them for a long time. It is also something that modern witches can through different means still practice today. This blog has only looked at one potential method for witches to shapeshift, as a suggestion for those who are looking for either more advanced topics to study or new skill sets to branch into. As with so many things done by the traditional witches of the past though, this was not a safe thing and it came with no guarantees. Keep that in mind if you do decide to study this further.  

*for those of you who read Terry Pratchett you'll be familiar with this concept as he writes about his witches doing it. It's what Granny Weatherwax does that they call 'borrowing'. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Athirne ocus Amairgen mac Ecet Salach

This story is listed in the Ulster cycle, although it does not directly tie into any of the other stories there. I wanted to translate it here because I find it an intriguing piece and really enjoy the amount of description it includes. I have kept to more literal translations here to give the reader a feel for what older Irish language idioms are like and more generally what the flow of the older texts reads like. 

Athirne ocus Amairgen mac Ecet Salach

Baí goba amra i nUltaib .i. Eccet Salach goba a ainm. Ainm n-aill do Echen. suí cech admait. conna rabi riam liarum goba bad ferr. Rucad iarum mac dó. Amairgen a ainm. Ro buí iarum in macsin i mmacrai cethéora mbliadna déc. cen labrad. Ro ás a. brú iarum combo méit adbul teig móir. & ba feithech glasremor in brúsin. & a smucli asa sróin inna beolu. Ba dub a chroccend. Batir gela a fiacla. Ba glasbán a aged. Amal da urbuinne builg goband a lurgne & a sliastai. Batir laebladracha a thraigid. Batir adbolmóra a adbronna. Batir ardda imchiana a da ngruad. Batir domna dubderga a dí súil. Ba lebormailgech anúas. Ba garb drestaide a folt. ba mellach cnámach carrgarb a druim. Nibó cáemduine samlaid. Dia follaigthe cu ciana inna suidiu cen foglanad doacmaised a múrtraide dó cotice a di leiss. Batír é a sercla gruth bruithe. mór luatha. mera derga. caera glassa. diasa loscthi. gais chrema. cnoi caecha a mbith for clár oca oca airfitiud. 
Dofoíd iarum Athirne a gilla .i. Greth a ainm co Ecet Salach do chor béla i tenid. Co n-acca Greth in n-arracht ndóer ndochraid ísin ara chind for lar in tige. Danéci co anmín. atrágestar Greth. Buí ingen Ecit i cathair cumtachtai & tlacht derscaigthe impe issin tig. & sí a hoínur oc comét in tige. & in mac na fail. Co cualatae ní in mac fri gilla nAthirni. In n-ith Greth gruth ol se fo thrí. Niro recart Greth. & atrágestar co mmór. Asbert im frisseom arisi. Grínmuine gránmuine gais chrema. cuae uinn. ubla greti. gruth. in n-ith Greth gruth.
 Atnaig Greth dó assin tig. conid corastar dar droichtiu ind liss. isin cechair. Luidi iar sin co rranic Athirne. Atchonnarcais ócu ol Athirne olc féth fil fort. Deithbir dam ol Greth . Mac cetheora mbliadan naro labrastar riam dom acallaim indiu. & fotfuicfeso in macsin cen grád mani dibdaither. Cid asrubairt frit ol Athirne. Ni handsa ol Greth. In n-ith Greth. &c. Imchomairc
 Athirne cindas both isind liss. Adfét dó in gilla uile amal luide Greth assind liss.
 Tanic Ecet fo chetoir. Asbert a ingen fris. Ro labrastar Amargen indiu ol si fri gilla nAthirni dodechaid sund do denam bela lais. Cid asbert friss. In n-ith Greth gruth. &c. Bid ed bias de ol Ecet. Ticfa Athirne do marbad in meic arna ragba fair. ar biaid mór sóis ocun mac ro rádi in sein.
Dotet ind ingen iarum cosin mac lé assind liss dond airgi buí oc Sliab Mis tess. Dogní Ecet deilb in meicc di chriaid & suidigis fo láim chlí dó etir & a builg. & dobert dagthimthach imbi. & suidigis inna liugu amal bid ina chotlud no beth.
Tic Athirne iar sin & a gilla Greth. Co n-accatar in mac inna thálgud. Dognith a mbieil leo. & batar ro maith & adacht for samthaig. Dambert Athirne imma chend na delba ucut amal bed in mac beth and. & atnaig do for teiched & eigther impu.
Lotar in tsluaig ina ndiaid. Tecmalla Aithirne a folad & a inmass issin less. & gabtha fair a les. Tecait Ulaid gleithir eturru. Doberar .uii. cumala & log a einig dó & dognither cora eturru. & gaibid Athirne in mac for altram .i. Amorgen & legais suithe filidechta laiss. Conid iarum ro laig senordacht for Athirne & ro gab Amorgen ardollomnacht Ulad.

Athirne and Amairgen son of Ecet Salach

There was a famous smith in Ulster that is Ecet Salach [Ecet the filthy] was the smith's name. His other name was Echen. Every skill was his so that before or after there was no better smith. He had a son, Amairgen was his name. The boy went fourteen years of his childhood without speaking.
His belly grew almost as vast  as a huge house and it was sinewy, thick-grey and flaking. The mucus from his nose went to his mouth. His pelt was black. His teeth were white. His face was pallid. Like the two bellow-bags of a smith were his shins and his thighs. His feet had crooked toes. His ankles were huge. Both high and very long were his two cheeks. Deep, dark red were his two eyes and drooping down. Coarse and thorny was his hair. Humped, bony and scabby was his back. Thus he wasn't an attractive person. Because of long neglect while he was sitting without clearing away his excrement [it] would reach to his thighs.
 His delicacies were cooked curds, salt, red berries, green berries, burned ears of corn, sprigs of wild garlic, empty nuts for his meal which he entertained himself with at his table . 
Then Athirne sent his servant, that is Greth was his name, to Ecet Salach to forge a battle-axe in the fire. Then Greth saw the ignoble ugly specter there before him on the floor of the house. He looked with harsh dread at Greth. Ecet's daughter was in the well-made building  and a distinguished garment about her in the house. And she alone was guarding the house and the boy in his place. The boy was heard saying something to Athirne's servant.
"Does Greth eat curds" he said three times. Greth didn't answer and greatly feared. He spoke to him again. "Blackberries, sloes, sprigs of wild garlic, pine nuts, apples, curds. Does Greth eat curds."
 Greth ran from the house, with a cry across the bridge of the fort into the mud. Then he returned back to Athirne.
"He sees warriors," said Athirne "an evil appearance is on you."
"It's expected for me," said Greth. "A boy who hasn't spoken before for fourteen years spoke to me today. And unless he's removed the lad will extinguish your many grades." 
"What did he say to you" said Athirne.
"Not hard." said Greth. [does Greth eat curds etc.,]
 Athirne asked how many were in the hut with him. Greth told that the other servant went out with him.
 Ecet went back to the building. His daughter spoke to him. "Amairgen spoke today," she said. "to the servant of Athirne sent here to ask you to make an axe."
 "What did he say to him."
 [Does Greth eat curds, etc.,]
"I know what will come of this." said Ecet. "Athirne will come to kill the boy so he will not prevail over him. Because there is great wisdom with the boy who reflects on that."
The girl went and took the boy with her out of the fort with their herd of cows to Sliab Mis in the south. Ecet made the form of the boy from clay and set it by his left arm between him and his bellows. He placed good clothing about it. And set it sleeping as if it were a living thing asleep.
Athirne went there then with his servant Greth. They saw the boy looking soothed.  Their axe was ready for them and it was good and they took the axe. Athirne brought it down on the head of the figure there, as if doing violence to the boy's life there. And they fled the house with a cry about them.
The host went after them. Aithirne assembled his wealth and his treasure there with him and secured his fort. The Ulstermen went [and] settled around him. [Ecet] was given seven cumals* and acquired his honor price and an agreement was made between them. And Athirne took the boy in fosterage, that is Amairgen, and he studied poetry with him. Thereafter Athirne's precious seniority was lost and  Amairgen was the highest poet of Ulster.

* a cumal was a measure of value usually equated to one female slave but also meaning three milk cows

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Looking forward at 2017

"Ata la i ndegaid aloile" [A day follows another]
- Etain, Tochmarc Etaine
2016 was in many ways a pivotal year for me, and I think at least some of that was reflected in the content of my blog. I can honestly say that nothing went exactly as I expected it to, and some things happened that I very much didn't expect, but overall I am glad for the place I am in now both with my writing and my spirituality.

 I put my blog on hiatus for the last month in order to finish a manuscript I was working on for a new book. The last blog I posted in 2016 was an excerpt from it and I decided as we moved into 2017 that I needed to focus all my attention on finishing it. I had three books contracted with my publisher, two new Pagan Portals which are by nature shorter texts (25K words each) and the full length Fairies book which I was anticipating would run between 80K and 90K. At the end of last year I was halfway done with the longer book and one of the shorter ones, and I was confident that I could get the longer one finished in a month if I focused exclusively on it.

I'm pleased to say that the Fairies book is done and currently going through copy editing with my publisher. I put everything I knew into it and I learned a lot researching it as well; I think it may be the best thing I've ever written. I still have the two Pagan Portals to write however so I'm not quite ready to hang up my keyboard just yet. I'm hoping that one of those, which I was already about halfway done with, will be completed this month. Additionally I have plans for a sixth novel in my series, although I'm not sure exactly when I'll get to that project.

Now that the longer book is done I should be returning to my regular blogging. I've been working on several translation pieces that should be ready soon so expect to see those coming up this month. I'd like to get back to doing a couple translations or more a month, ideally, and am planning to work through all the Echtrai. I've also had a lot going on in my own spiritual life that I want to share and I'd like to write about topics of interest to people who read this blog. The Fairies book took a lot out of me, more than I expected and more than any other book has before, so right now I'm just looking at what to do to re-set and begin again.

I'm also in the process of making some crucial decisions about exactly where to focus my energy and what venues to use to get my writing out to people. I have this blog of course, and have had it now since July of 2011, but I may look at restructuring or adjusting what I offer here somewhat. I have the books I write, both fiction and non-fiction. I write for Air n-Aithesc twice a year as well as occasionally having articles in other publications - for example I have something in an upcoming issue of Watkins Mind Body Spirit. I'll be speaking at Pantheacon in a few weeks and I'll be back at the Morrigan's Call Retreat again this year in June. Next year I have two sacred sites tours, one in Ireland and one in Iceland. So that's quite a lot going on really. I want to make sure I'm giving my full effort to everything I do.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Imbolc – Divination practices

Hawthorn berries under snow, Imbolc 2016

Divination practices are found during all of the significant Irish celebrations and Imbolc is no exception. The timing for taking the omens varied but could occur anytime from the night before Imbolc to the morning of the festival. Particularly the period immediately after the feasting portion of the celebration was often used for divination (Estyn Evans, 1957). In some specific cases relating to the casting of lots for fisherman or the reading of the marks in the ashes the divination occurred on the morning of the festival (Danaher, 1972).

Several Imbolc omens relied on seeing certain animals, and sometimes on noting what the animal was doing. Seeing a hedgehog on Imbolc was believed to be an omen of good weather to come, as it was believed that if the hedgehog sensed bad weather coming in the early spring season he would return to his burrow (Danaher, 1972). This seems to be reflected in the American practice of looking to groundhogs for weather predictions at the same time of year. If you hear a lark singing on Imbolc it is an omen of a good spring (Danaher, 1972). The lark is a bird often associated with Brighid and of good weather.

Weather omens more generally were also very commonly noted. Rain on Imbolc was believed to foreshadow pleasant weather in the coming summer (Danaher, 1972). A windy Imbolc means snow in March, according to this traditional saying:
“As far as the wind shall enter the door
On the Feast Day of Bride,
The snow shall enter the door
On the Feast Day of Patrick.” (Carmichael, 1900, p 173).
By looking then at how the weather is on Imbolc we can foretell what the spring is most likely to look like. I have found it helpful in my own area to keep notes about each feast day's weather and an significant or memorable signs and then what follows or is notable in the next season to form my own ideas about omens, but I have found that a hard Imbolc tends to mean a hard spring and a light Imbolc an easy or early spring.

A ritual for divination involved the use of the slat Brighid, or Brighid’s wand, a peeled stick made of a white wood that was left with an effigy of Brighid near the hearth overnight. The ashes of the fire would be carefully smoothed when the family went to bed and in the morning the marks of the wand appearing in the ashes were a good omen (Carmichael, 1900). An even better omen was the mark of a footprint, seen as a sign that Brighid herself had visited and blessed the home (Carmichael, 1900). Very unlucky though was the home with no mark left in the ashes at all. To turn this ill omen incense is burned through the next night on the fireplace and a chicken is buried alive as an offering at the joining of three streams (Carmichael, 1900).

Danaher, K., (1972). The Year in Ireland. Mercier Press.
Estyn Evans, E., (1957). Irish Folk Ways. Routledge & Keegan Paul, ltd.
Carmichael, A., (1900). Carmina Gadelica volume 1, retrieved from

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fairies and the Dead - An Excerpt from my W.I.P

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book 'Fairies: A Guidebook to the Good People'

Fairies and the Dead

The relationship and connection between the fairies and the dead is a complex one, and likely always has been. The human dead aren't fairies, except when they are. Fairies aren't the human dead, except when they might be. The places of the dead belong to the dead, except when those places are fairy mounds, like the neolithic tumuli. Even the Slua Si, whose name means 'fairy host', are sometimes said to consists of the spirits of human dead, as in some cases does the Wild Hunt, making it hard to draw any clear lines between the groups. In a very general sense we can say that human ghosts are not the same as fairies, but fairies can include people who were once human. The key difference may be, as we shall see, how exactly the human came to join the Fey.

Kildare, Ireland

There is some old Celtic belief, recorded by the Greeks and Romans, which hints at the idea of rebirth or reincarnation, that a person born in our world was dying in the Other World and a person who died in this world was born in the Other World. This idea, perhaps, explains the reason that fairies who wed mortal men were known to cry at births and laugh at funerals. It may also explain in some way why the Irish name for the Other World, an Saol Eile, literally means 'the Other Life'. It is not just another world in the sense of being a place, but it is also another life, another type of existence.

There is some suggestion that the initial depiction around the 16th century of fairies as small beings was actually related to the connection between fairies and the dead and the belief that human souls were small in appearance when separated from the physical body (Briggs, 1976). In turn this idea may reflects a related idea, that the soul was separate from the body and could leave it at times, either temporarily or permanently. We see this in the folktales were a person is taken by the fairies but their dead body is left behind and in anecdotes where a person goes into a trancelike state while their spirit is off with the fairies. The idea that the soul can be separated from the body and once separate has a reality and substance that can even be injured is an old one seen in multiple sources (Walsh, 2002). It may be difficult for us to grasp the idea of a soul as a tangible, physical thing when our modern culture tends to prefer the idea of souls as insubstantial and ephemeral but it’s clear that the older belief gave the soul substance.

Fairy tree with rags in a cemetery, Boa Island, Ireland

Another level of entanglement is more straightforward, that is sometimes the Fairies are known to take people to join them and often these people were thought to have died. In a wide array of folklore from Ireland and Wales we see stories where a young woman is thought to die and is buried, only to be seen later among the fairies in one context or another. In at least one story it was a young man who died and was buried, only to have a fairy doctor tell his family that he was among the Other Crowd; when they attempted to retrieve him he appeared and begged to be allowed to stay with the people of the sidhe (Briggs, 1976). The Scottish witch Alison Pearson claimed a dead relative was among the fairies and that it was he who acted as her familiar spirit with them (Wilby, 2005). Getting back to the earlier point about the soul as a tangible presence we must understand that these are people with presence and physicality who were interacted with and who are clearly counted among the ranks of the fairy people.

In the book ‘Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries’ several anecdotes are related that connect the Good People directly to the dead, in both the sense of describing some fairies as being humans who have died as well as saying some of them are people who were taken and thought to have died. One person related a story about a woman who died and shortly after, before the body had been buried, her husband was visited by one of the Good People who told him she wasn’t dead but taken by the fairies; the husband then waited by the body with the door open and his wife came in to see her infant at which time he grabbed her (Evans-Wentz, 1911). After being restrained and struck with a charm he had prepared the wife returned to her body, as the story was related, which revived and she went on to live a long mortal life (Evans-Wentz, 1911). In another tale with a less pleasant ending a bride died at her wedding, only to appear to her new husband later and tell him that she was actually among the fairies and that if he went to a certain place he would see her passing by and could save her (Evans-Wentz, 1911). The husband went as she’d told him to but when he saw his bride among the fairies passing by he found himself paralyzed and unable to move to grab her; he never saw her again after that, but refused to re-marry (Evans-Wentz, 1911). The people interviewed in that section of the book, who were relating the beliefs of different areas of Ireland around the turn of the 20th century, also made it clear that there were fairies who were never human and had never been human, assigning them origins among the Fir Bolg and Tuatha De Danann, as well as saying they were fallen angels. There were also those among the human dead who could and did return as ghosts or other types of undead spirits that were not considered fairies.

The entrance to Newgrange, sometimes called Bru na Si, known as a fairy mound, home of the Gods, and a neolithic burial place

The subject of the fairies and the dead is not a simple one, but it is clear that the two groups are intertwined. There are those beings who were never human spirits and those human spirits who are not and will not be fairies. But there are also those who were once human and are now fairies because the fairies themselves added the human to their ranks. The different layers of belief make it apparent that while there was crossover between fairies and the dead there was also distinction and separation of the two groups in other ways. If one could imagine it as a Venn diagram we would see fairies as one circle, the human dead as another, and the area where the two circles overlapped – how small or large that is no one can say for certain – would represent those who fall into both groups.

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911). The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Wilby, E., (2005) Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits
Walsh, B., (2002) The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex

All text and images copyright Morgan Daimler

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Spirituality - Why I Don't Believe in Easy

  The other day I was talking to a friend and I happened to mention that when it comes to spirituality I no longer believe in the concept of easy. Simple, yes, because there are aspects of spirituality and spiritual practice that can be simple. But easy, oh no, easy is one of those things that will trap you into laziness and inattention. More often than not the simplest things are actually the hardest precisely because they require the most attention not to mess up. Something that is complicated or difficult by its nature requires a lot of care to do correctly and so we tend to be less inclined to slack when we do those things. Lighting a candle seems easy doesn't it, but when you are doing it with a spiritual intention you have to always guard against the simple action becoming routine and then losing its purpose and power. After all, what is the difference between lighting a candle for its physical light and lighting a candle for a spell or a prayer, except the focus and intent you put into it?

Do you see what I mean? Easy is a deception. Constant vigilance is necessary to keep simple from becoming ineffectual, and that makes simple very, very hard to do properly.

There are many aspects of pagan spirituality and witchcraft that seem easy. They aren't. And so they are usually the things that are most often neglected or messed up. Shielding. Warding. Cleansing. Offerings. These should all be simple to do, and done regularly, yet too often they fall by the wayside or are not given the attention they deserve.

The difficult thing about having a regular spiritual practice is doing the easy things well when the easy things become routine. Because what is easy is to fall into that sort of mindless action that happens when we've done something so often that the doing becomes automatic. When we light incense regularly in our spiritual practice how quickly do we stop doing it with intention and just light it so we can move on to the next step? When we pour out a bit of drink or give a bit of food as an offering to the spirits [outside of ritual] how quickly does the action become habit and the meaning get lost? doing by rote means doing by reflex without the mind engaged and with things like spirituality and witchcraft that isn't always the best idea. Easy is hard.

As soon as we stop thinking about what we are doing and why we are doing it, we are in trouble. Because like everything else, once we stop thinking about it we stop caring about, stop putting emotion and energy into it. Laziness and lethargy sneak in and it is surprising how quickly we can stop doing the 'easy' things altogether. Stop grounding and centering regularly. Stop shielding constantly. Stop cleansing often. Stop all the basic things that the complex things are built on, without realizing that in the process we are undermining ourselves.

I'm not saying everyone has to take their spirituality to a professional level, of course, there have always been lay people in every religion and its fine if spirituality is a casual concept for you. However even a casual spirituality should be done well if you are going to bother doing it at all. I mean I'm not a professional baker, but if I bake a cake I want to do my best to get the best result and the same should hold true for any endeavor including spirituality. Otherwise why bother at all?

I don't believe in easy anymore. The easier it looks, the harder it will be to do well for any length of time.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Wild Hunt

This is an excerpt from my book 'Fairycraft'

The Wild Hunt is a collection of spirits - some say ghosts, or fairies - that travel through the air in storms led by a Huntsman. Who the Huntsman is varies as widely as the geographic areas the hunt is found in and the names it is known by. There have been entire books written about the Wild Hunt - and I highly recommend Claud Lecouteaux's "Phantom Armies of the Night: the Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead" - so this section will by necessity be very limited in its scope but I'd like to offer an overview. I have encountered the Hunt myself a time or two and it is likely that another follower of a Fairy-based witchcraft will also meet them or see them at some point and its best to go into that with an understanding of who and what they may be.
  So, to begin, the Hunt is found in Germany, France, Denmark, Normandy, Sweden, Norway, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the United States (Jones, 2003). The Hunt is interesting though in that although found across a wide geographic area and among different cultures it always takes on a unique local character, often with a specific local spirit or God taking on the role of Huntsman. In the Germanic areas the Hunt is often led by Odin (Wodan), Frau Hulde, or both together, the Welsh Hunt is led by Gwynn ap Nudd, and the English by Herne, while in France it is led by Harlequin, and in other areas a variety of fictional or historic figures including sir Frances Drake (Jones, 2003).  The hunt in Germany is also sometimes led by Frau Perchta or the White Lady, Frau Gauden, who led groups of dead children or witches through the sky and were seen as good omens of abundant crops in the coming year (Berk, & Spytma, 2002) Some modern sources try to relate the Hunt led by Harlequin to the Norse goddess Hel, but it more likely that the name derives from the 12th century term "Herlethingus", a word used to describe wandering spectral troops during the time of Henry the 2nd (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). In Orkney the Hunt is led by Odin but may also be the trows riding out on pale horses to steal cows (Towrie, 2013). In Scotland the Hunt is the Unseelie Court, perhaps relating to the Irish idea of the Slua Sí, the fairy host who travel through the air attacking the unwary. Often when the Huntsman - or woman - is not a God or Otherworldly spirit it is said to be a person who so loved hunting in life that they rejected any other afterlife but to continue hunting and were rewarded or cursed to perpetually hunt for all eternity (Grimm, 1883).
    The Wild Hunt is known by many names. In Orkney it is called the Raging Host (Towrie, 2013).  Associated with Odin the Hunt was called Odin's Hunt/Odensjakt, Odin's Army, Wilde Jagd, the Wild Ride, Asgardeia, Oskerei, Horrific Ride, Thunderous Ride, and also the Ride of the Dead, and the Family of Harlequin (in France) (Towrie, 2013; Berk, & Spytma, 2002). Other names include the Furious Host or Wild Host and in America, the Ghost Riders.
    The Wild Hunt travels in the air, and appears as a group of dark riders, led by a Huntsmen who may be headless, with a pack of fearsome hounds, and accompanied by a horde of spirits who sometimes appear as the newly dead or battle dead (Jones, 2003). When the Hunt is led by Gwynn ap Nudd the hounds are white with red ears, and are called the Cwn Annwn or Gabriel Hounds (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). The Hunt always includes horses and hounds, both usually black, but sometimes white or grey, and always fierce; in some accounts the animals breath fire and they are often missing limbs or with extra limbs and may display the same gruesome wounds as the battle dead accompanying the Hunt (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). The presence of the Hunt is signaled by the unearthly sound of hooves, hunting horns, and baying hounds appearing usually in the night sky and sometimes in storms (Towrie, 2013).
Mary Jones gives us a classic description of the Hunt from 1127 CE:
" was seen and heard by many men: many hunters riding. The hunters were black, and great and loathy, and their hounds all black, and wide-eyed and loathy, and they rode on black horses and black he-goats. This was seen in the very deer park in the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods from the same town to Stamford; and the monks heard the horn blowing that they blew that night. Truthful men who kept watch at night said that it seemed to them that there might be about twenty or thirty horn blowers. This was seen and heard...all through Lenten tide until Easter." (Jones, 2003).
   This description gives the time the Hunt appears as during "Lent" which might be assumed to be roughly March and April. In Switzerland the Hunt was said to appear during summer nights, and those who do not quickly get out of the way of the passing Hunt will be trampled by it (Grimm, 1883). More often in folklore the Hunt was said to ride in late fall and winter, particularly during the 12 nights of Yule. Grimm tells us that in Germany it was believed the Hunt rode during the time from Christmas to 12th Night or whenever the storm winds blew (Grimm, 1883). Yule was seen as a time of high supernatural influence when the Dead were more present (Towrie, 2013). In my own experience with the Ghost Riders of America they appear around Samhain and ride until the first week of January, but in times of great unrest or disturbance they may appear as well.
   In many cases the Hunt is connected to Fairy in some way, but it is equally strongly connected to the spirits of the Dead. Towrie conjectures that the Orkney trows, themselves connected to the Wild Hunt, may have originally been considered spirits of the dead (Towrie, 2013). The dead are often seen in the retinue of the Hunt and that includes both those who may be recognized as recently dead as well as the ancient battle dead, some displaying hideous wounds. Some folklore also says that the wild Hunt rides out seeking the dead, chasing certain types of ghosts or spirits.
 The Hunt appeared for different reasons depending on where it was - in some cases hunting a mythic animal or creature, in others pursuing lost souls or even seeking to punish wrong-doers (Towrie, 2013). As a Fairy Rade* the Hunt is usually hunting human beings, either with the purpose of kidnapping them or tormenting them; in some cases the person might go mad (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). In some cases the Hunt might offer to take a living person to ride with them, but the risk of doing so was great; the person might never return or might become a permanent part of the Host**. Seeing the Hunt could be an ill-omen and the Hunt itself could kill or drive a person mad, but conversely in some areas it was believed meeting the Hunt bravely and politely could earn a person great reward. There are several folk tales, like the story of "Wod, the Wild Huntsman" where the main character meets the Hunt and comes away with gifts of meat and gold as a reward for his cleverness. Showing proper respect would also earn a person a reward, but conversely rudeness would result in the person being thrown a severed human limb, if he was lucky, or his own dead child, if he wasn't; in some cases the Hunt would turn on the person mocking them and tear the person to pieces (Berk, & Spytma, 2002; Grimm, 1883).
   Protection from the Wild Hunt is best achieved through avoiding them by not traveling at night, especially during Yule or other dangerous times. Shelter can also be sought at the first sound of hunting horn or hounds in the air. However, should those fail or not be possible and should you meet the Hunt, and do not feel like taking your chances with them, there is this charm from 14th century Germany:
      "Woden's host and all his men
      Who are bearing wheels and willow twigs
      Broken on the wheel and hanged.
     You must go away from here."

        (Gundarsson, trans. Höfler; Berk, & Spytma, 2002).

*The Fairy Rade or Fairy Ride is a concept seen in many cultures of a procession of higher ranking fairies who ride out together, often at specific times of year like Samhain and Midsummer. Crossing paths with a Fairy Rade is dangerous, although we can see examples in stories such as the tale of Tam Lin where a mortal is recovered from the fairies after being won back during a Rade. The Fairy Rade sometimes is similar to or confused with the Wild Hunt.
 **Some modern spirit workers and traditional witches do choose to ride with the Wild Hunt. I won't say I've never done it, but I also won't encourage other people to try it. There is always a danger with the Hunt that you won’t come back.

Towrie, S., (2013) The Wild Hunt.
 Jones, M (2003) The Wild Hunt. Retrieved from
Gundarsson, K (2007). Elves, Wights, and Trolls
Berk, A., and Spytma, W., (2002) Penance, Power, and Pursuit, On the Trail of the Wild Hunt.
Grimm, J. (1883) Teutonic Mythology volume 3