“… many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting." Winter Solstice

21 December: Winter Solstice or midwinter night marks the longest night of the year and one of the traditional dates when the Wild Hunt is abroad.

“… many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge, and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers, and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns.“ (The Peterborough Chronicle)




An imagination of the Wild Hunt painted by Emil Doepler, who died on 21 December 1922 in Munich at the age of 67, an Art Noveau illustrator who designed the eagle decorating the future Federal German escutcheon and various depictions of Germanic mythology.


The Iranian festival of Yaldā night is one of the very few actually celebrated on the longest and darkest night of the year, midwinter. At least according to the few sources we have from the grey past. The Germanic tribes very probably celebrated their Yule festival with logs, boars and goats and what not when the worst was over, on the night of the first full moon, 40 days after midwinter. Because the year’s longest night was the first of the four “Rauhnächte”, the rough nights, when the Odin’s Wild Hunt set forth and the time “between the years” began. The image of spectral huntsmen riding across the skies in the nights following midwinter is almost universal among the Celtic and Germanic tribes across Europe and echo similar beliefs among most other Indo-European peoples. The Germanic belief is generally that the huntsmen are dead warriors or, later, the souls of the restless dead who are condemned to eternal walking because they died before their time. The connection to the Yule festivals are close, though, and Odin bears, among many others, the soubriquet jólfaðr, Yule Father.



John Bauer: "Odin and Sleipnir" (1911)


The “Rauhnächte” beginning on midwinter are generally reputed to be a time when the gates of the underworld are open and the whole caboodle of hellish creatures has a pass to roam the world of the living, from draugr, the Norse revenants who walk during the “rough nights” and feed on the blood of livestock and people, to witches and mages who are supposed to haunt crossroads as werewolves. Several other, less gory but equally deadly tales are told about the four “Rauhnächte”, such as the custom of keeping one’s house clean and especially not leave the washing hanging lest the Wild Hunts steals the bedclothes and returns them over the year as winding sheets as well the rather widespread yarn of animals being able to speak in human tongues during these nights and predict the future, unfortunately hearing these prophecies uttered means death to the listener, sooner than later. Prophecies are quite common during midwinter night all across the Northern Hemisphere, usually with a less fatal outcome regardless of the “Rauhnacht”, from the charming stichomancy, the “divination by lines of verse in books taken at hazard“ practised by picking passages from Hafez’ “Divan” during Yaldā in Iran to various divinations taken from randomly opening the Bible in Central Europe. 




Alfred Kubin's (1877 - 1959) Expressionistic vision of a "Rauhnacht" (1925)



It’s not that occasion was not celebrated in Northern Europe beyond all the charms and commandments to ward off things that go bump in the Midwinter Night, though. Since the late Middle Ages, the date is connected with Thomas the Apostle, in the vernacular midwinter night is called St Thomas Night, and besides the ringing of church bells for the next twelve nights, the bells of St Thomas to keep away evil spirits, fattened pigs are slaughtered for Christmas, various customs to see future husbands and wives at crossroads – in case werewolves aren’t present – or standing naked by one’s bedside and reciting formulas are celebrated and some regions just booze the night away. The following days is consequently called “Kotzmorgen”, morning of vomit.



More about the Wild Hunt on

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Hunt

and Emil Doepler on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_Doepler


A few of his illustrations can be found on this Italian website:

http://bifrost.it/GERMANI/Museo/Doepler-3.html