Wild Hunt

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Friedrich Wilhelm Heine : Wotan's Wild Hunt (1882)

The wild hunt is the German name for a folk tale that is widespread in many parts of Europe and mostly refers to a group of supernatural hunters who hunt across the sky. The sighting of the hunt could have different consequences depending on the region. On the one hand, it was seen as a harbinger of catastrophes such as wars, droughts, or disease, but it could also refer to the death of those who witnessed it. There are also versions in which witnesses became part of the hunt or the souls of sleepers were dragged along to take part in the hunt. The term “wild hunt” was coined on the basis of Jacob Grimm's German Mythology (1835).

The phenomenon, which has distinctly different regional characteristics, is known in Scandinavia as Odensjakt (" Odin's hunt"), Oskorei, Aaskereia or Åsgårdsrei ("the Asgardian train", "journey to Asgard ") and is closely related to the July period . In the Alemannic and Swabian dialects, too, the reference to Wotin / Odin in the name Wüetisheer (with numerous modifications) becomes clear; in the Alps one also speaks of the Gratzug . In England the train is called the Wild Hunt , in France Mesnie Hellequin, chasse fantastique, chasse aérienne or chasse sauvage . In the French-speaking part of Canada, the term Chasse-galerie is used. In Italian, the phenomenon is called caccia selvaggia or caccia morta .

The ghost train

The wild army or the wild hunt moves through the air especially in the time between Christmas and Epiphany (the rough nights), but also the carnival time , the Fronfast and even Good Friday appear as special dates.

The Christian dates have superimposed the pagan dates, which see the wild hunt, especially in the rough nights . This original period of time is thought to be between the winter solstice, i.e. H. December 21st and, counting twelve nights further, January 2nd; in European customs, however, since Roman antiquity, it is usually from December 25th ( Christmas ) to January 6th ( high New Year ).

The ghost train moves through the air with a terrible rattle amid screams, howls, howls, wails, groans and moans. But sometimes he also makes lovely music, which is usually understood as a good omen ; otherwise he announces bad times.

Men, women and children take part in the train, mostly those who have prematurely met a violent or unfortunate death. The train consists of the souls of people who died “before their time”, that is, caused by circumstances that occurred before natural death in old age. Legend has it that people who look at the train are pulled along and then have to pull along for years until they are freed. Animals, mainly horses and dogs, also move along.

In general, the wild hunt is not hostile to man; but it is advisable to prostrate yourself or lock yourself up in the house and pray. Those who provoke or mock the army will inevitably be harmed, and those who deliberately look out the window to look at the army will have their head swollen so that they cannot pull it back.

In Wales , the wild hunt is particularly associated with their leader Arawn , his dogs (the Cŵn Annwn ) and the gruesome Mallt-y-Nos .

In Canada the legend merged with Indian motifs. There the hunters travel across the sky in a canoe .

La chasse galerie, representation by Henri Julien (1852–1908), Musée du Québec

The leader

The procession is sometimes led by a pioneer or warner who warns of the ghost train with shouts like “Ho ho ho! Out of the way, out of the way, so that nobody is violated! ". It bears names like Hassjäger, Helljäger, Tolljäger, Schimmelreiter or Türst , in Thuringia it is also called Elbel, sometimes it has a name, like in Swabia , where Berchtold, accompanied by white dogs, rides ahead of the Wild Army on a white horse.

In Sweden, Odin is named as the leader , who hunts a mythical " forest woman " ( Sw . Skogsrå, Norw. Huldra ). In England Herne the Hunter is sometimes associated with the wild hunt.

In some places a woman is also part of the wild hunt, in central Germany Frau Holle , in southern Germany and Austria Perchta . Some of these take part in the hunt, while in other variants they are hunted themselves. There is also a variant in which a woman is the leader of the wild hunt and leads her on a giant eagle owl .

In North German sagas, Hanns von Hackelberg (also Hackelnberg) plays a role in several places and led a.o. a. a wild hunt up and down the river Oker . The raven flies ahead of him. The name Hackelnberg is said to be derived from Hakul-Berend (" coat wearer ") and refer to Odin. The Saarland legend describes the leader of the "wild hunter" Maltitz, who was damned forever to lead the wild hunt for the sacrilege of having ridden to the hunt on Good Friday. During the “Twölven” in Prignitz , Mrs. Gauden chases through the air with her 24 dog-shaped daughters on a wagon. Even Dietrich von Bern is sometimes called as the leader of the Wild Hunt.

The wild hunter sometimes appears alone.

regional customs

The savage army and its leader also have a relationship with fertility. In Sweden the common peasant believed that if he did not sacrifice tufts of grass to Odin's horses, he would be punished with poor haymaking. In Aargau it was said that the year would be particularly fruitful when the Guenis army sang beautifully. In Beilngries , milk, bread, beer and tufts of wheat were offered to the Waud and its companions, the Waudlgaul and the Waudlhunde at the Waudlsmäh, a harvest festival .

The wild hunt is re-enacted in the Grödig - Untersberg area in the Salzburg region . With dull drum beats and flutes, people in disguise appear on Thursday between the second and third Sunday of Advent at a place that is as secret as possible and go from house to house, shouting : "Luck in, bad luck out, the wild Gjoad is pulling around the house!". The most important figures include Vorpercht, Hexe, Habergeiß , Moosweib, Raven, Giant Abfalter, Saurüssel, Baumpercht, Bear, Bärentreiber and Hahnengickerl. They are led by death.


One of the oldest reports comes from a Norman priest named Gauchelin from the year 1091. He heard a noise like that of a huge army and saw a huge man with a club, followed by warriors, priests, women and dwarves, including friends who had already died. He referred to the apparition as " Harlechin's family" (familia Harlechini) .

The oldest reliable evidence of wild hunting in the German-speaking area comes from the 13th century. In the novel Reinfried von Braunschweig (around 1300) it is said of a band of knights that they rustle like “daz Wuotez here ”. The Munich night blessing (14th century) is clearer and lists a number of ghosts and ghosts, including " Wûtanes her und alle sîne man". Older texts also use the expression “angry army”, but the saga does not have to have been the model with certainty. B. in the Roland song (around 1100) the army of the Pharaoh is called "wôtigez her".

From the 15th century, the reports accumulate. The Lucerne town clerk Renward Cysat (1545–1614) gives a longer report on the ideas of the Guotisheer or Wuotinshör at that time . In 1519 a woman was expelled from the Emmental because she testified to go along with frow Selden and the Wúetisher . In the Zimmerische Chronik several appearances of the "Wuteshere" are presented in great detail.


The legends of the wild hunt are not interpreted uniformly. The names like Wûtanes Heer , Swiss German Wüetisheer or Swedish Odensjakt clearly refer to the Germanic god Wodan / Odin , and many customs and details can be traced back to the pagan god.

The older natural mythical interpretation saw the wild army as a product of fears, since people were afraid of the nocturnal winter storms and to them the closer communion with the dead during the dark midwinter period seemed uncanny. Nilsson attributed Odens hunts in the Swedish landscape of Scania to the sounds of sea birds they make on winter evenings.

A Bernese book of poems explained the thirsty Gjäg by “ear-ears” that swarm and howl at night to steal robbery.

The Germanist Otto Höfler , who differentiated between the Wild Army and the Wild Hunt, abandoned these interpretations and put the Wild Army in closer connection with the cult of the dead, but traced it back to old cults and said “that the mask parades are more ancient Young teams used to represent the Wild Army ”.

Religious scholar Jan de Vries cites the following background: Since during the Julzeit the Masked often have a demonic character, carry it to form the forecast at, also the Wild recalled army of the Einherjar of Valhalla and finally still like the "feralis exercitus" ( Army of the Dead) of the Roman Harians had a possible background to the Wild Army.

The American religious scholar Kris Kershaw puts the wild hunt in further relationships with the Indian Maruts and sheds light on the relationship to the Greek followers of the Hecate . She writes about Höfler: “... that it is impossible to continue to discard Höfler's findings. The entire research has not only confirmed it, but has also proven the same phenomena in the entire Indo-European region, wherever information about cults and myths has been handed down. ”(Kershaw:" Odin ", p. 38)


In France the wild hunt is called Chasse hennequine and in Normandy Chéserquine . The wild hunt has been attested here since the 11th century, which can be traced back to either English or Norman influences. An older form is Hellequin, which used to be interpreted as the German * Helleken "little hell". However, since the English theologian Walter Map calls a Herla rex in his works , which should be * Herle king in Middle English, the name was also interpreted as "King of the Army" and referred to Wodan. These and more modern interpretations of the name, such as * (Wodanes) her laikin "(Wodan's) army in the game" are controversial, but everyone agrees that Wotan is behind it. The buffoon Harlequin then emerged in a roundabout way .

References in modern culture

Appearance of the "Wild Army" in the opera Der Freischütz

In the novel Frau Holda Waldina die wilde Jägerin (1805) by Christian August Vulpius , Goethe's brother-in-law and bestselling author of his time, Frau Holda appears as the leader of the wild hunt, which roams through the woods with her army in the wake during the Twelve Days of Christmas Wants to seduce a knight named Adelbert. The “ loyal Eckart ” precedes Mrs. Holda and her army and warns the people.

Theodor Körner wrote the song Lützow's wilde Jagd in 1813 in relation to the Lützow Freikorps . In his search for a German national identity, he clearly took up motifs from the legendary wild hunt . The setting is by Carl Maria von Weber . Körner fell in the same year as a member of the Freikorps.

The eighth etude of the Etudes d'exécution transcendante by Franz Liszt is named after this myth wild hunt .

In the opera Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber, "the wild army" appears in the second act in the Wolfsschlucht scene at the blessing of the free balls.

In Heinrich Heine's verse epic Atta Troll , the narrator observes the wild hunt as it passes through the Pyrenees, where he notices the poets Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and William Shakespeare as participants on the train . The wild hunt serves as a kind of cheerful, fun-loving counter-image to the frozen conditions in Germany at the time of Vormärz .

The western song (Ghost) Riders in the Sky by Stan Jones from 1948 brings the myth of the wild hunt into the cowboy milieu.

The French crime writer Fred Vargas unfolds the contemporary plot of L'armée furieuse (2011) against the background of this myth.

In his novel The Ritual (2011), the English thriller author Adam Nevill combines motifs from the wild hunt with the original myth of the Yule Goat and contemporary Scandinavian black metal .

The character of Huldra (Holda) plays a central role in the novel A summer of drowning, which is set in northern Norway, by the Scottish writer John Burnside .

The 2018 novel Das Erbe der Rauhnacht by Birgit Jaeckel links the legends about Perchta and the wild hunt with Knecht Ruprecht and Krampus.

A wild hunt occurs both in the add-on Bloodmoon of the computer game Morrowind and in the successor Skyrim . The wild hunt appears as an antagonist in the game series The Witcher , whereby it takes on the role of the main antagonist in the third part. The Witcher game series is based on the "Witcher" books by Andrzej Sapkowskis . In the computer game Guild Wars 2 , the wild hunt - called Wylde hunt in the game - again appears as the purpose of life for one of the playable peoples.

The wild hunt experiences a strong reception in the metal subcultures under various names and representations. References in band names, album and song titles as well as cover art are particularly common in the area of Black and Pagan Metal . Prominent examples are Watain with their album The Wild Hunt, Bathory or Varg , who process the wild hunt lyrically and in the cover design. With Aaskereia a band named after it. The far-right group Absurd named an EP Asgardsrei .

Die Wilde Jagd is the name of the German Krautrock duo Ralf Beck and Sebastian Lee Philipp ( Noblesse Oblige ) .

The wild hunt plays a special role in the 6th season of the MTV series Teen Wolf . Here they are portrayed as riders and rulers of the storm who kidnap people and delete them from the memories of their relatives and friends and are apparently lost forever, but always leave behind a kind of memento.


Web links

The wild hunt, picture by Johann Wilhelm Cordes


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  2. a b Schweizerisches Idiotikon, Volume II, Sp. 1555–1559.
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  4. Swiss Idioticon . Vol. XIII Sp. 1692-1694 ( Türst Bed. 1b).
  5. Ludwig Bechstein: Thüringer Sagenbuch, Volume 1, Vienna 1858, p. 114 ff., No. 72 ( digitized version of the BSB Munich ).
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  9. s: Page: De Zimmerische Chronik 4 122.jpg
  10. Nilsson: Skandinavisk Fauna 2.106
  11. Der Schäfer-Scheid (An attempt in Bern German rhymes); 1831.
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  13. Jan de Vries: Old Germanic history of religion. Berlin 1956 (§§ 167, 306, 308, 401)
  14. Kris Kershaw: Odin (German translation). Uhlstedt-Kirchhasel 2003.
  15. Åke Viktor Ström, Haralds Biezais : Germanic and Baltic religion. Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 1975.
  16. Yannik Behme: Mrs. Holda Waldina the wild huntress. In: Alexander Košenina (Ed.): Other Classics - The work of Christian August Vulpius (1762-1827). Hanover 2012, p. 101 f.
  17. ^ Theodor Körner: Lützow's wild hunt .
  18. Nikolas Immer, Maria Schultz: Lützow's wildest hunter. On the heroization of Theodor Körner in the 19th and 20th centuries .
  19. ^ Susan Hilary Houston: Ghost Riders in the Sky . In: Western Folklore 23, No. 3: 153-162 (1964).
  20. Florian Heesch: The wild hunt as an identity construction in Black Metal. In: Katja Schulz (ed.): Eddische Götter und Helden. Milieus and media of their reception (= Edda reception, 2). Heidelberg 2011, pp. 335–365.
  21. Matt McDermott: The krautrock label will issue the group's self-titled LP in May. Website from April 3, 2015 in the residentadvisor.net portal , accessed on May 3, 2015.