Åsgårdsreien (The Wild Hunt) by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872).

Omen of Odin: The Wild Hunt Thundered Across European Skies, Bringing Calamity and Doom

(Read the article on one page)

Ask anyone who has ever seen Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones —witnessing a Bolton "hunt" is rarely a good sign. So too is the case for the supernatural Wild Hunt of European myth. A phenomenon believed to resemble ghostly knights or hunters chasing the clouds across the sky, the Wild Hunt has long been considered a symbol of impending doom.

The tale of the Wild Hunt predominately comes down through literature and "eye witness accounts" in the British Isles and Northern Europe, two cultures who very strongly value the tales of elves, faeries, and gods. However, the case of the Wild Hunt is a little different: it is thought that the apparition of the hunters is a symbol of the Anglo-Saxon or Norse god, Woden/Odin (respectively), a deity often associated with warfare and the sky. Just as in other myths regarding omens of catastrophe and threats, seeing the Hunt is believed to precede a manmade or natural calamity, generally a war, plague or famine, or—as seen with the Banshee of Irish folklore—the death of the person unfortunate enough to witness the Hunt in action.

The Wild Hunt of Odin by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1868).

The Wild Hunt of Odin by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1868). ( Public Domain )

Finding the Origins of the Wild Hunt

What is interesting when examining the Wild Hunt in depth is that the event itself is not a remnant of a pre-Christian myth that has come down through the ages. In actuality, the concept of the Wild Hunt is itself somewhat "manmade", as it was first documented as a mythological or folkloric trend by Jacob Grimm. Jacob and his brother Wilhelm are remembered for collecting numerous German (and some non-German) fairytales into one codex; yet these brothers—Jacob in particular—did more than merely collect such stories. They investigated the fundamental roots of them. The phenomenon of the Wild Hunt is the product of one such investigation.

"Another class of spectres will prove more fruitful for our investigation:
...they sweep through forest and air in whole companies with a horrible din. This is the widely spread legend of the furious host, the furious hunt, which is of high antiquity, and interweaves itself, now with gods, and now with heroes. Look where you will, it betrays its connexion with heathenism."

- Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology

Oskorei, or the wild hunt, a phenomenon in Germanic mythology. By Franz Stuck (1889)

Oskorei, or the wild hunt, a phenomenon in Germanic mythology. By Franz Stuck (1889). ( Public Domain )

The Wild Hunt somewhat appears to mirror the descent of Odin's Valkyries from the Halls of Valhalla to the various battlegrounds upon which the Norse warriors fought. In Norse myth, these Valkyries were tasked with plucking the noblest and strongest of the dead or dying from the fields and carrying them back to Valhalla to heal and train, and await the final battle of Ragnarök.

The Ride of the Valkyries (1890), William T. Maud.

The Ride of the Valkyries (1890), William T. Maud. ( Public Domain )

As Jacob Grimm describes the Wild Hunt—both as an event and a concept—a similar situation occurs. Kveldulf Hagen Gundarsson states in his poem "Mountain Thunder", "But then the barking of dogs fills the air, and the host of wild souls sweeps down, fire flashing from the eyes of the black hounds and the hooves of the black horses ." The "host of wild souls" sounds quite familiar. In fact, Gundarsson's poem is suspected to have drawn from a Norse myth loosely called "Odin's Chase", in which the titular god becomes the leader of a ghost army.

Illustration of Odin’s hunt by August Malmström.

Illustration of Odin’s hunt by August Malmström. ( Public Domain )

Variations of this tale abound, most significantly in Wales, in which a man (sometimes considered of the Faer Folk) called Gwynn ap Nudd takes on the role of leader of the dead, and in the south of England, where Herne the Hunter takes on the role. Herne has been considered both a pre-Christian forest deity or a mythical version of a king called Herla. Regardless of the name and species however, once again the core elements of the Wild Hunt remain intact.

Illustration of Herne the Hunter by George Cruikshank (1840s).

Illustration of Herne the Hunter by George Cruikshank (1840s). ( Public Domain )

Chasing the Storm

One might wonder why such analysis is significant. A myth about ghostly hunters swarming the sky could just be an old-wives' tale or a much bastardized historical account of an actual event. More likely, also argued by Jacob Grimm, the numerous variations of tale of the Wild Hunt—as is the case with most folklore—are attempts by early cultures to explain natural phenomena and any consequences that resulted from these occurrences. In the case of the Wild Hunt, the most argued natural occurrence is a thunderstorm. The formless, swirling shapes of the deceased warriors engaging in a race against time as they stalk their prey on the backs of thundering horses… Or, thick, dark clouds rolling in from the horizon, lightning punctuating each drumroll of thunder as Nature prepares to devastate the unsuspecting.


"... In the case of the Wild Hunt, the most argued natural occurrence is a thunderstorm. ..."
Even more fundamental for explaining the Wild Hunt is the changing of the seasons: from the - larger -summer season to the - larger - winter season. This started in the old days on the first full or new moon after the september equinox. This larger winter season was the season of darkness, cold, mystery, death, underworld and so on. The idea was that in this season the gods of the underworld were nearby and visited the human world. This was a necessity because fertility itself was believed to originate from the underworld. One of the rituals that you find throughout Europe and beyond is the blackening of the face as a sign of reversal of the seasons and life and death.

The wild hunt is also known in France, under different names, like "Mesnie Hellequin", "chasse fantastique", "chasse Artus", etc. Its origins are germanic for some authors, celtics for other (an avatar of Cernunnos).

In Lord of the Rings, Strider as Aragon leads an army of ghosts to help Gondor :)
Similar in spirit and lore as described in the article above. 

Bhagwat Shah

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Denisova cave, some 150 km (93 mi) south of the city of Barnaul, is the only source of Denisovan's remains. Pictures: The Siberian Times
The distance from the only currently known home of the Denisovans in Altai region to the nearest point of Australia is roughly akin to the length of the Trans-Siberian railway, and yet it is looking increasingly likely that these ancient species of humanoids somehow made this epic journey deep in pre-history, perhaps 65,000 years ago.

Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Ancient Places

Artist’s representation of the sealed door of Vault B at Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Ropes of gold several meters long, Napoleonic coins, Venetian jewelry, diamond belts, emeralds the size of ostrich eggs, and barrels of golden rice…these are just some of the treasures said to have been hidden within Padmanabhaswamy Temple. But insufferable dangers may also be lurking for those who dare to open the temple’s mysterious sealed door. Would you take the risk?

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article