The Wild Hunt at Yuletide


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The Wild Hunt at Yuletide

During the Wild Hunt ancestral spirits are thought to come back to earth. The deity who ruled over this is Odin, who is actually the leader of the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt was traditionally a procession of spirits and heroes. In European traditions, during the twelve days of Yuletide (those last days of the calendar year), these spirits traveled in a procession to visit families and loved ones.

This may explain why, in Scandinavian lore, it is believed that the spirits of children were along for the wild ride on the night of the winter solstice for the purpose of coming back to earth to visit their parents. These children who had passed over were thought to be under the care of Frigga, so I suppose she turned them loose to travel with Odin so they could visit their loved ones.

I personally was surprised to discover that the Wild Hunt has more ties to Yule than any of the other sabbats we celebrate today. The Wild Hunt was traditionally a procession of spirits and heroes. After Christianity took over, in an effort to demonize the hunt, it began to be called the Parade of the Damned. It’s sad to me that they attempted to turn what was originally a joyous, mysterious, and powerful thing into something frightening. The Wild Hunt is also called Asgard’s Chase, Spirit’s Ride, and Holla’s Troop.

According to legend, if you were caught by the Wild Hunt, you had to keep going with them until they were finished. This was a type of spirit possession, and one where you were truly “along for the ride.” The only way to protect yourself from being swooped up and carried along on those wild winter nights was to consume the herb parsley. The folkloric treatment for the madness that follows having seen the hunt was also to eat fresh parsley.

On wild and windy nights the hunt is out. The procession of spirits led by Odin on his eight-legged horse is indicated by winter storms, howling winds, thunder, and lightning. Another of his cohorts along for the ride was the goddess Freya, a patroness of seers, a shapeshifter, and an all-purpose deity. Other deities along on the wild ride include Hulda (other variations are Holle and Holda). This is a northern German Mother goddess. Holland may have gotten its name from her: Holle’s land. Hulda/ Holle/ Holda was known as the Queen of Witches, and it was thought that Odin’s congregation of spirits traveled together with Hulda’s host of Witches.
In German fairy tales, Hulda is known as Mother Holly, or Mother Holle. She travels about in a long, snow-white hooded cloak. Hulda is a Snow Queen and is associated with Epiphany and fertility. It is thought that when she fluffed up her feather bed, the feathers fell to earth as snow. Hulda is thought to be surrounded by unborn babies. She is their guardian and releases them to be born into the world of men. It is not surprising to learn that she is a deity of fertility and birth.

From the Southern Alps we have Berchta. Offerings of dumplings and pickled herring were left to Berchta and put out on rooftops so she could “grab and go” as she flew by on the Wild Hunt. These wild, white ladies visited the home at Yuletide and were believed to be goddesses that could bridge the gap between the living and the dead.

Ellen Dugan, Seasons of Witchery: Celebrating the Sabbats with the Garden Witch