Oskoreia: The Wild Hunt Dec 28, 2013 9:21:15 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Dec 28, 2013 9:21:15 GMT -5
Oskoreia: The Wild Hunt
The genealogy of the myth is unclear, but the aftermath of an event described in an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 793 suggests a Viking origin:
In this year dire portents appeared over Northumbria and sorely frightened the people. They consisted of immense whirlwinds and flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine immediately followed those signs, and a little after that in the same year, on 8 June, the ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne, with plunder and slaughter.
The “heathen men” were Vikings; “God’s church” was a monastery that was the principal centre of Celtic Christianity; and Lindisfarne was, and still is, a tidal island off the northeast coast of England. The raid shook Christendom and triggered the Viking Age. For 300 years, the Vikings were influential in Europe and beyond, taking their beliefs and customs wherever they went. It was the Viking Age poets who forged the earliest myths that have come down to us in folklore.
Versions of the Wild Hunt share a common scenario: a phantasmagoria of dream-like images of hunters and the hunted engaging in battle and in pursuit across the sky or along the ground. The hunters and the hunted may be alive or dead, real humans or deities, insignificant or noble, male or female. Otherwise, the versions vary by country and have been modified with time.
In Britain, the Peterborough Chronicle gave an account of a Wild Hunt that took place in 1127 following the appointment of Henry d‘Angely as abbot of the monastery there. Later, a Wild Hunt was believed to include King Arthur, and on winter nights as late as the 19th century near Cadbury Castle in Somerset, the King and his hounds were said to charge down a lane bearing his name.
Etymology in Norway provided a link to the mythology of the Viking Age. Oskoreia is understood to be a variant of Åsgårdsreia (literally “Åsgård riders”) in which Åsgard is the home of the gods of Viking times. Dialect synonyms of Oskoreia include Julereia (literally “Christmas riders”), suggesting the influence of Christianity on the myth.
The caveat to the citizenry was clear: prepare properly for the celebration of Christmas lest you risk being swept along should an Oskoreia or Julereia come your way. That retributory aerial version persisted through the 19th century. Peter Nicolai Arbo’s Åsgårdreien painting of 1872 (above) shows tortured souls in battle with cavalry raging across the sky.
By the 20th century, the mood had become more cheerful. Nils Bergslien’s Julereia painting (above) of 1922 shows earthbound trolls and humans, one a fiddler riding a reindeer – and many apparently tipsy – in a ribald procession through a traditional farmyard. Its message apparently is that being swept along might be naughty, enjoyable, or both.
One migratory legend, “The Fairy Hunter,” has been associated with the Wild Hunt. First recorded by the Cistercian monk Heliand de Froidmont (1156-1229), it relates the story of a charcoal-burner who sees a naked woman pursued by a huntsman on a black horse several nights in a row. The huntsman catches the woman, runs her through with his spear and throws her into the fire. Later, accompanied by the local Count, the charcoal-burner sets off to make sense of the vision. Upon sighting the huntsman and the woman, the Count challenges them to speak. The huntsman explains he and the woman are spirits suffering punishment for an earthly sin: she was his lover and murdered her husband. Their punishment is an eternal hunt in which the Devil enters as a black horse.
There are elements of the Wild Hunt or Oskoreia in other Northern European pre-Christian myths that have survived to this day. The most familiar in the Nordic Countries is the tradition of the Julebuk (“Christmas goat,” Juleged in Danish, Julbock in Swedish and Olkipukki in Finnish). Originally, a Julebuk was a goat slaughtered for the Christmas feast.
With time, the word also was applied to a Christmas play based on Oskoreia, then to the practice of gå julebuk (“Christmas goat walk”). This is where masked and costumed people – now usually children – go from door-to-door, singing carols for rewards of sweets, much like the American Halloween.
Source: M. Michael Brady, The Foreigner, December 25, 2013.