Three things govern the primitive’s conception of the dead person; He continues to live. He is powerful. He is at once well-disposed and malicious – Karl Meuli Gesammelte Schriften
The Hunt wasn’t always a Hunt, it used to be a Host; a carnival, a Mardi Gras, a parade of the dead wearing the flesh of the living. The Hunt came later with time and memory loss. Originally our youngsters would go out and live in the wilds and there they were talk to the dead, to the ungods of the landscape and to the gods themselves. During winter – possibly at the same time as their own initiation rites were taking place – they would put on masks, paint their bodies and return to the people from whom they had been sent to live apart from and for that time they would be the dead of the tribe.
Ancestor cults the world over either view the dead as beings to be feared or as beings with whom to remain in contact; they are often ambivalent about the living and as such, proper treatment and worship can keep them well-disposed to us. The prevalent attitude amongst the vast swathe of Indo-European cultures leans more towards the dead as having an interest in the living, as being concerned with them and their wellbeing as they are their own descendants and family.
This is the important thing; the dead bring fertility and abundance, whether as the ancestors, whether as chthonic beings or whether as spirits who live in the wild beyond human civilization. This transcends human cultures, occurs across the globe and in widely divergent peoples. Maybe the lines between these Outsider groups have blurred and merged in some cases, but the matter remains that the spirits beyond bring the fertility of the Land to us the people.
Traces remain in mid to late-winter practice and folklore; in Slavic countries, the festivities of Koliada and its variants have bands of people in dress and masks roaming towns singing and asking for hospitality. To do so is to bring blessings and good fortune. They represent the dead and Veles (the god of the underworld) who has sent them abroad at this time of year. Gwyn ap Nudd ‘in whom God has set the spirit of the demons of Annwn, lest this world be destroyed’; is a God who is associated with the hunt and this this raises questions about these demons. Peeling aside the Christian glosses, their identity has been suggested as being part of the andedion; agrarian spirits mentioned in the Irish Lebor Gabála as the andée; husbandmen to the Tuatha De Danan. In the British Wild Hunts, we aren’t really given an identity for the entourage with Gwyn or Arawn, but it would be in keeping with continental and comparable sources for them to be the very andedion who strike the medieval writers of the Mabinogion with fear and suspicion. A quick jump across Eurasia to India and we have Rudra’s Maruts; a storm-riding host of warriors that have striking similarities and fit within the mythic framework of the Koryos as Wild Hunt. Most pertinently, they are seen as rain bringers. Over and over we can find elements of surviving myth linking the Wild Hunt, its predecessors, cousins and descendants as having elements of growth, abundance and blessings.
We can’t expect to reinstate the Koryos as it was to our ancestors, however we can try to breathe some life into a cultic arrangement which many of us already dance the edges of.
The Koryos as an institution was about outsiders; people who spent time away from society. Who immersed themselves in the things beyond; in the gods, the ungods and the ancestors. Their practices involved ecstatic trances, shapeshifting and masking. Their gods were the wild, ambivalent ones who lived in the dark, who trod the forests, who hunted and killed and who ruled the dead in the underworld. To many of us, this is exactly what we are doing now. We don’t work in contingents of our kin and we might not work in contingents of our closest friends, but we work with the dead, with the gods and we work outside in the forests, the hills and the wilder places where something refuses to let go despite our species efforts. We are already walking the same footsteps of our ancestors, albeit in different directions and along different paths.
Our gods arise from the landscape and all that lives within it; they are an integral part of it. Destroy the landscape and we cripple and destroy our gods. If we see others inflict damage, pollute and desecrate our gods – why shouldn’t we turn to those skills and practices to stop them?
The Hunt is as much a part of our landscape and our ancestors as it is us. We already run as part of the Hunt when we step beyond the edges of civilisation and go work our magic with the dead or dance with our gods. Regardless of where we run with the Hunt or what quarry we chase down, the important thing is that we join it, ride with it and fully embrace our place as outsiders and join the ultimate expression of being an outsider amongst our gods.
I laid out last month the intention of this working; to create a spirit house within a cairn to act as an altar, a cultic focus and a place of power at which we can call out to the Wild Hunt and to its Leader.
A Hound to pass between us and the Hunt.
Next month will be the final elements of the working, laying out the processes by which we empower the Hound and lay out the first offerings and calls to the Hunt. The final month will be December – the perfect month to perform this working as it is the traditional time for the Hunt to be abroad. I will describe and lay out how I empowered my Hound, raised its cairn and made the first offerings. With a framework in place, the aim is to set you off to do likewise in the appropriate fashion for your landscape, ancestors and Huntsman.
This month however, we shall turn to the cairn. It seems fitting that in the past few days here autumn has found us, the Indian summer of unusual warmth and sunshine has finally lost its strength and we have turned to cooler winds, russet golden trees and the first real hints that a darker and harsher season is advancing.
Part of the preparation for this working is going to be to find a suitable location for the cairn to be raised. As our intention here is to create something focussed on the beyond, the Outside, those from outside civilisation and beneath the Living, the site for the cairn should be outside of cities or towns and in the wilds. That said, there are suitable liminal spaces inside towns and cities if we live there. I live in a fairly central part of London, but I also happen to live alongside one of the old Victorian graveyards. Nunhead cemetery was opened in 1840 as one of the seven great graveyards created to ease the burden on burials of the time. It is around 52 acres (21 hectares) in size, and whilst a small number of burials are still performed there, by and large it has been turned over to a nature reserve. As such it is almost entirely mature woodland and has a thriving diversity of plant and animal life. It happens to be my favoured foraging spot; blackberries, sloes, damsons and feral grapes. The woodland areas have dirt tracks running throughout and it serves as a community space with a lot of people using it for walking themselves and their dogs. We also have some community events such as film screenings in the old bombed out chapel.
The cemetery is a wild place in the middle of civilisation. It is a place of the dead and of the living. I live right on its boundary; the end of my garden is a couple of feet from the closest burials. This is my perfect liminal space between the wild and the civil, between the living and the dead. If I am to create a space for the Hunt, to inter a Hound, this is the perfect place for me.
In creating a cairn for the Hound we will need to find stones from which to raise the cairn over the spirit house. On one hand, if the location allows it might be possible to simply lie the hound upon the soil and pile the stones above it to create the cairn, alternatively – and what I am going to do – it might be better to bury the Hound in a shallow hole (with suitable libations) and then raise a cairn above that. This second method will not only be less conspicuous, but will also offer a small amount of protection for the cairn should it discovered.
That is all that need be done for now; gather your hound, find a place for his cairn and begin any spirit work with that place in preparation.
Kershaw, K. 2000. The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Männerbunde. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph No. 36. Washington DC
Meuli, K. 1975. Gesammelte Schriften. Thomas Geltzer Ed. Basel: Schwabe.
Parker, W. 2007. The Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Bardic Press.