Samhain: The Fearsome Things 1.3

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In attempts to explain what prompted the legends of the Wild Hunt, scholars looked to natural phenomena for explanations. As storm gods, Odin/Woden represented natural phenomena and storms, especially storms common just before winter. Some scholars thought that early Pagans interpreted thunder and howling storms as the Wild Hunt breaking into this world and giving chase to its prey. Another theory is that geese migrating across Great Britain and Europe in late October sounded like baying hounds at night. Yet another theory is that the wind in the trees prompted earlier people to think a hunt was afoot.

In yet another incarnation of this legend, sometimes it was just one hunter— the Specter Huntsman. Often this was a single hunter on horseback accompanied by dogs. The ghostly hunter often resembled either the Wild Hunt or the Dullahan.

The dogs/hounds that ran on these hunts also had their own flavour of lore. Nicknamed “Gabble Ratchets” or formally called Gabriel Ratchets, they were named after the Archangel Gabriel, who was believed to make announcements/deliver messages at the command of God. The sound or sight of these dogs, considered portentous, usually signalled death for any lone traveller exposed to them. Some legends identified the dogs themselves as the souls of unbaptized children or as will-o’-the-wisps (lights that hovered between heaven and earth) that acted as spirits attempting to lure night travellers to their deaths. These stories caused some people to avoid the outdoors at Halloween, believing that seeing any apparition could induce death.