I decided to post up some notes I had taken from a translation of "The Saxon Chronicles". Basically this was a historical record where the deeds and events that affected the lives of the Saxon people were listed. Anything that happened of any importance at all was written down in the chronicles.
You would think with all the wars and Vikings hacking up people and such that they would have enough to deal with already. Apparently the powers-that-be didn't agree. On top of all the normal famines and fires and whatnot, they had to put up with some really weird shit. Here's some of the stranger things they recorded:
685(AD) - A "bloody rain" was in Britain, and "milk and butter were turned to blood". (You'll soon notice they were very obsessed with blood.)
774 - "This year also appeared in the heavens a red crusifix, after sunset..."
"...and wonderful serpents were seen in the land of the South-Saxons."
789 - Elwald, King of the Northumbrians, was slain by Siga. "...and a heavenly light was often seen on the spot where he was slain."
793 - "This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: ...and fiery dragons flying across the firmament." (The Northumbrians seem to have had no luck at all.)
799 - The body of a woman named Witburga was being moved to a different location when it was discovered to be "entire and free from decay." This event took place in Dereham. The woman had died 55 years before.
806 - On the day before "the nones of June" a "crucifix" was "seen in the moon" at dawn. (This was on a Wednesday.) And on the third day "before the calends of September" there was a "wonderful circle" about the sun.
979 - "This same year was seen a bloody welkin (cloud), oft-times in the likeness of fire; and that was most apparent at midnight, and so in misty beams was shone, but when it began to dawn, then it glided away."
1098 (The Normans were now in charge, having conquered the country in 1066) - "In the summer of this year also at Finchamstead in Berkshire, a pool welled with blood, as many true men said that should see it."
1100 - "And at Pentecost was seen in Berkshire at a certain town blood to well from the earth, as many said that should see it."
1103 - "In this year also at Hamstead in Berkshire was seen blood [to rise] from the earth." (Told you they were obsessed with blood.)
1104 - "...and on the Tuesday following were seen four circles at mid-day about the sun, of a white hue, each described under the other as if they were measured. All that saw it wondered for they never remembered such before."
1106 - "On the night preceding the Lord's supper, that is, the Thursday before Easter, were seen two moons in the heavens before day, the one in the east, and the other in the west, both full; and it was the fourteenth day of the moon."
1107 - "Many said that they saw sundry tokens in the moon this year, and its orb increasing and decreasing contrary to nature." (The moon seems to have caused people a lot more trouble back in those days too. We're fortunate to have such a well-behaved moon in our own lifetime.)
1122 - "...the Tuesday after Palm-Sunday, was a very violent wind on the eleventh day before the calends of April; after which came many tokens far and wide in England, and many spectres were both seen and heard."
1127 - "...immediately after, several persons saw and heard many huntsmen hunting. The hunters were swarthy, and huge, and ugly; and their hounds were all swarthy, and broad-eyed, and ugly. And they rode on swarthy horses, and swarthy bucks. This was seen in the very deer-fold in the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods from that same town to Stamford. And the monks heard the horn blow that they blew in the night. Credible men, who watched them in the night, said that they thought there might well be about twenty or thirty horn-blowers. This was seen and heard from the time that he [the abbot Henry of Angeli] came thither, all the Lent-tide onwards to Easter..."
Basically what the last account is describing is what is known as "The Wild Hunt", which is sort of spectral nocturnal procession. It has its origins in the nocturnal rides of the god Odin (or Woden as the German tribes called him). Whenever there was a storm, he and his hounds would ride through the skies, so he could revel and lay waste to the land. It was considered unfortunate to meet with him, as it could result (depending on circumstances and the version you're going by) in anything from being transported to a foreign land to death.
As time passed, other gods and goddesses, and even some mortal spirits, were given the credit in various places for leading the hunt. King Arthur and Sir Francis Drake are both sometimes accused of being the lead huntsman. Another frequent candidate is the Devil himself, who is hunting for souls to take.
In some cases, the hunt passed through on a specific night each year and offerings were left for the leader of the group, in order to avert misfortune. In this case, they were often rewarded by having some sort of gift left for them by the leader of the procession. This is actually the origin of leaving "cookies and milk" out for Santa Claus, who of course brings presents to good boys and girls. You see, Old Saint Nick originated from the stories of Odin's nocturnal rides just as the Wild Hunt legend did. What, you thought it was coincidence that he looks just like the descriptions of Odin? Well, except for the whole missing eye thing obviously. At any rate, this also explains why reindeer (horned beast, in honor of the huntsman who is often portrayed as wearing horns and who are often present in the hunt itself) were selected to pull his sleigh. (Originally he seems to have ridden a grey horse, which evolved from Slepnir, Odin's horse.)
Sort of changes your whole perspective on the jolly old fellow when you know his origins, doesn't it? Guess what Santa is bringing you this year, kiddes! Mwahahahaha! I hope you've all been behaving yourselves...
Back to the Wild Hunt. Probably my favorite "leader" of the hunt is a character who likes to hang around on the grounds of Windsor Castle, Herne the Hunter. According to legend, he was a huntsman for one of the former Kings of England and had even saved his lord's life. Apparently a stag almost gored the king, but Herne got between them and was gored instead. In these stories, a passing wizard is said to have advised the king to tie the horns of the beast to his head in order to save Herne's life. Weird cure... Well, Herne enjoyed the king's favor for some time, but then jealous rivals managed to convince the king to let him go (sometimes on the accusation that he had practiced witchcraft) and the guy hung himself from an oak tree in the park out of despair. Not long after, his ghost began to appear in the park, horns and all, and he was accompanied by a pack of spectral hounds. Herne is still somewhat loyal to England even in death, though no one much appreciates his brand of "assistance" - he appears only when England is about to face some sort of crisis. It's said he turned up just before the outbreak of WWII for instance.
Of course the legends of the "Black Dogs", spectral hounds that wander the byways of rural England late at night and who often bring misfortune to those who encounter them also have ties to the Wild Hunt legend. They're often referred to as the "Hounds of Odin". It was this aspect of the legend that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
The leader of the Wild Hunt is also often connected with a powerful character known as the "Horned God". In Celtic legend his name was Cernnunnos, a horned being who seems to have been accompanied by a horned serpent. He is said to have been a fertility god who was associated with the forest and probably was venerated as a "Lord of Animals". As you may recall, the Druids thought the oak tree sacred, which may explain why Herne hung himself from that tree in particular.
Over time, Cernunnos and other such characters, like Pan from Greek mythology, were "demonized" by the Christian church, becoming the basis for their description of the Devil. Hence the Devil's involvement in the Wild Hunt legend. (I forget where I read this, but the "Horned Hand" sign actually started out as a sign for the Horned God rather than Satan. It was a way for worshippers to recognize each other in order to avoid persecution by the Church.)
On a side note, it's thought by some that the “Green Man”, a sort of spirit of the forest, may be another guise of the Horned God. Of course, there are many others who say that he’s another spirit entirely and, after all this time, I’m not sure the real truth of the matter will ever be known. For those who have never heard of the Green Man before, have you ever seen one of those ornamental human-like faces that is carved or molded to appear to be made out of vegetation? That’s a representation of the Green Man. It’s this figure (or aspect of the Horned God, depending on who you believe) that apparently inspired the story of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" from Arthurian legend.
Well, I find it all very interesting anyway. And I think this is quite enough on the subject already, so I'll just cut it off right here.
Oh! And should you have to go out for any reason, try to be home before dark, okay? >D