Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Wild Hunt

by | July 14, 2012 | 6 comments

A portent of disaster.  Reports of the sightings have occurred since the Dark Ages, describing a frightening image many across Northern Europe had seen:

They were once men. Great kings of men. Then Sauron the deceiver gave to them nine rings of power. Blinded by their greed, they took them without question. One by one, they fell into darkness  and now they’re slaves to His will.  They are the Nazgûls, Ringwraiths. Neither living nor dead. At all times, they feel the presence of the Ring. Drawn to the power of the One, they will never stop hunting you. – Lord of the Rings

Chroniclers in the medieval period struggled to describe the sightings.  Many of these writers were Normans monks who had settled in England and began to document the occurrences as described by natives brought up on the old Norse and Germanic oral legends.  Stories that told of strange, mounted warriors crossing the land.  In all cases, the people insisted such visitations were portents of disaster.

“The hunters were black and vast and horrific, and their hounds were all black and broad-eyed and horrific, and they rode on black horses and black goats.”  — the Peterborough Chronicle (Laud Manuscript)

It’s not going to be a good week for tithing.

Victorians loved stuff like this.  Allegations of spectral hunts taking place in Windsor Great Forest were of particular interest.

The legend lives on.  Have you heard that Johnny Cash song “Ghost Riders in the Sky?”  You know.  The one about an old cowboy who went ridin’ out one dark and windy day:

When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw / A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw
Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel / Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky / For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry!


  1. Carole St-Laurent

    I love legends like that. Where I come from, we have one where the devil taunted the lumberjacks working way up north. The devil promised to bring them back to their village for Christmas, even if all the rivers were frozen. The lumberjacks took place in a canoe and the devil flew them to their village, where they partied till dawn. The devil had one condition: when it’s time to leave, don’t look back.

    Of course, one man looked back and the devil took their souls. And one can still see the canoe in the skies with the hopeless men.

    I believe it’s one of the legend behind the aurora borealis. Don’t you just love these stories?

  2. Angelyn

    Oooh–the devil’s taunting. What a way to upset the countryside! Have you seen the pictures of the Northern Lights over Teepees in Canada? One can easily imagine how folks came up with all kinds of stories to explain such incredible phenomena in the sky.

    Thanks for stopping by–

  3. McKenna Darby

    Fascinating, Angelyn! A spectral hunt . . . what a great image. Next time I get to the area around Windsor I’ll have to keep an eye out for one of those.

    I love Tolkien, have probably read LoTR two dozen times. And although I knew he drew lots of his inspiration from legends and lore (particularly The Kalevala of Finland), it never once occurred to me that the Nazgul were inspired by such a legend.

    (And don’t you just shiver every time you hear Viggo Mortensen deliver those lines in Peter Jackson’s “Fellowship of the Ring” movie? One of his finest moments as Aragorn. Brilliant!)

    • Angelyn

      McKenna, I know precisely what you mean about LoTR and specifically Viggo as Aragorn!

      It is tempting for me to draw the conclusion that Tolkien (or more accurately those he borrowed from) relied in part on sources that were contemporary to the Norman invasion and rule in England.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Ally Broadfield

    Fascinating post. I grew up in Northern Michigan, and there were many Native American legends to explain land formations and other things around Lake Michigan. One of my favorites is the Ojibwe story of the sleeping bear and her cubs that explains how the Sleeping Bear Dunes at the National Lakeshore came to be. Not exactly a spectral hunt, but still interesting.

    • Angelyn

      That is VERY interesting–thanks for sharing that, Ally!



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