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The Wild Hunt
These dudes gonna mess up your whole day. note 

"And Meena heard the other thing one night — that awful, hopeless almost-human wail crossing the sky just ahead of the Hunt. [...] She said, very softly: "We have demons in India, demons with a hundred terrible heads — even demons that can be gods at the same time, it depends. We don't have that. We don't."
Peter S. Beagle, Tamsin

Thunder rolls. Or is that hoofbeats in the sky? Above the wailing wind, a hunting horn can be heard, and the baying of cruel hounds. The Wild Hunt roams the land and sky, and all honest men cower in their homes, for even the sight of it can bring disaster.

Originating in European stories recorded in Medieval times as well as Hindu Puranas of the same time period, this trope is Older Than Print. The nature of the Wild Hunt varied somewhat from location to location. However, the overall nature of the Hunt was generally agreed upon — it was otherworldly, the participants were mounted on Hellish Horses and accompanied by Hellhounds. It usually existed to either hunt the living, punish the hunters, or both.

Sometimes the Hunt was hunting the dead or dying with the purpose of taking them to the afterlife, such as the Norse version which was led by Odin or the Welsh version led by Gwynn ap Nudd. A Greek version is said to have been led by Hecate or Artemis. Some medieval regions were led by Diana — though interestingly enough, not in any region where Diana had been worshipped historically.note  The other huntsmen were often the dead or hapless mortals swept up into the hunt for all eternity. This was later adapted by Christianity as being led by Satan, Herodias, Habundia (?), or sometimes a localized huntsman figure like the English Herne the Hunter, the French Hellequin, or the German Hans von Hackelbernd, with the other huntsmen or witches being the damned and the hounds themselves being the souls of unbaptized children.

Other times, the Hunt was made up of The Fair Folk. This version, also known as the Fairy Raed, tends to be led by a bare-chested man with an antlered deer skull for a head. In Norway, it was said that the hunt brought luck to the place where it rested. Certain farms had such legends connected to them.

Modern versions of the Wild Hunt tend to be as varied as the source, but they usually involve a spectral hunter mounted on an unearthly horse, usually accompanied by an equally unearthly host and hounds.

Often the Wild Hunt is True Neutral or a Wild Card. May overlap with Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. For the film of the same name, see The Wild Hunt. Not to be confused with Wild Hunt.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • During the Lying Liars arc in Warren Ellis' Gravel, one of the magicians Gravel faces calls the Wild Hunt down on him.
  • In the Hellboy short story "King Vold" (from the trade paperback The Right Hand of Doom), Vold is headless huntsman in the sky. His hounds are the ghosts of Viking berserkers.
  • A Hellboy miniseries and the ninth trade paperback is entitled The Wild Hunt. In it, Hellboy joins an eponymous group of British noblemen brought together to hunt giants.
  • A version of this popped up in the Shadowpact series in The DCU. It's initially evil, but Rex the Wonder Dog infiltrates the hounds, the hunter is overthrown, and the remaining hounds choose to use their skills for good.
    • There's also the German Global Guardian known as the Wild Hunstman, who fights with the power of a freight train atop his fearsome steed Orkan and aided by his hound Donnerschlag.
  • Tim Hunter briefly becomes the leader of the Fairy Raed in the The Books of Magic. Said grouping had earlier killed Cupid.
  • During the Casket of Ancient Winters storyline in The Mighty Thor, Malekith the Dark Elf called down the Wild Hunt on Thor and the casket's guardian. They made the mistake of riding onto a (mostly iron and steel) bridge; Thor drove them off by hurling an I-beam at the head of the Hunt and saying, in effect, "I can kill you with any part of this bridge, now go away!"
  • In the indie graphic novel series Artesia, the Wild Hunt is very similar to the Christian-era version of the above-mentioned European folktales. The Hunt is led by the Black Hunter, a son of the goddess of Death and the Earth, depicted as a black-skinned giant with antlers, a spear and a chain threaded with the heads of people he's hunted. The other Hunters are either demonic Rahabi spirits, the ghosts of wolves and hunting dogs, and thousands of years worth of individuals who the Hunter asked to join the Hunt — heroic types that he finds worthy hunting companions. As one would imagine, his request to join is difficult to resist, and he isn't happy if he's refused.

    Film 
  • The Wild Hunt, which takes its name from the concept. The film is about a live-action role-playing game that places an enactment of the Wild Hunt as its centerpiece. Things go terribly wrong.

    Literature 
  • In The Dresden Files novel Dead Beat, the Wild Hunt is made up of Wyldfae, and will kill anything in its path that doesn't join the hunt. There are several entities that can lead the Wild Hunt, but it is usually the Erlking (also called Elf-King, Erlkonig, and various different names in different cultures), one of the strongest of the Wyldfae, comparable to Mab and Titania in power.
    • During the book, Harry actually calls up the Wild Hunt, in an effort to keep them away from the Big Bads; when it fails, the Erlking says he'll come back and kill Harry for daring to imprison him. Afterward, though, he's so impressed by Harry's reanimating a T. Rex (a "great hunter" itself) and riding it into battle, that he lets Harry live, for now.
    • He later impresses him further by using the Erlking's own words against him to claim guest rights after inadvertently opening a Way into the Erlking's dining hall and defeating two Red court champions in said hall.
      • And it's topped off by a Crowning Moment of Funny when the Way out of his lair leads to a Bass Pro sporting and hunting store.
    • In Cold Days, Harry tops this by gaining leadership of the Wild Hunt by defeating its leaders the Erlking and Kris Kringle. He leads it to defeat the Outsiders attacking Demonreach.note 
  • Mercedes Lackey loves this trope.
    • In her modern fantasy and alternate history novels, both the Unseleighe and Seleighe Sidhe have a Fairy Raed. The Seleighe version hunts evil men whom mortal laws cannot touch, and the Unselieghe version hunts anyone foolish enough to be out during a Wild Hunt, but especially the innocent.
    • Mercedes Lackey's modern fantasy series (mainly the SERRAted Edge) had mentions of the Wild Hunt being the exact kind of thing you do not want to run into.
    • The Obsidian Trilogy:
      • Anyone banished by the Golden City is given one night to get out of city lands before the Outlaw Hunt, a pack of stone dogs that are tireless and incapable of losing a trail, is released to tear them apart. The trick is that the lands are so large, there's no way for even a mounted man traveling at full gallop to exit the lands in a single night, let alone an outlaw on foot.
      • There is also the Starry Hunt, a primeval force that seems to be some flavour of neutral but will fight for those who summon it.
    • In The Wizard of London, the ghost of a woman who murdered her infant is turned over to the Wild Hunt.
  • William Butler Yeats' poem "The Hosting of the Sidhe" is about the Fairy Raed
  • In Julian May's Saga Of Pliocene Exile, the Tanu (elves) use psychokinesis to levitate their horses and hounds to make a Wild Hunt. Bonus points because this was indicated to be the origin of the early myths.
  • Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time has a Wild Hunt when the Dark One hunts the night. Seems to be directly lifted from the Christianization of the old myth.
    • Also used as a reference to the Dark Hounds themselves.
  • Philip Pullman's Count Karlstein features a demon hunter who seeks young children.
  • Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones, the protagonist turns out to be related to the hounds. In her The Merlin Conspiracy, the main character turns out to be related to the hunter.
  • The Dark Is Rising:
    • The climax of The Dark is Rising (the book, not the entire series) involves the Wild Hunt, led by the standard Celtic deity Herne the Hunter. In this case the hunt is a wild but ultimately positive force that drives the villains to the ends of the earth.
    • The Wild Hunt appears again in the last book, Silver On The Tree.
  • In The Fionavar Tapestry, by Guy Gavriel Kay, the Wild Hunt is the source of chaos (and thus evil, but also free will) in the universe.
  • Andre Norton's Witch World novels have "that which runs the ridges", which turns out to be a Wild Hunt.
  • John Masefield's poem "The Hounds of Hell" is an extremely vivid portrayal of the Wild Hunt.
  • One of the Wild Cards books features a Joker terrorist who goes by the name of Herne the Hunter. In addition to having the most ludicrous accent ever, he has the ability to drive people into a packlike mentality and summon up "hunting hounds."
  • In Charles deLint's urban fantasy Jack, the Giant-Killer, the Wild Hunt are under the control of a mystical horn — and whoever blows it. When prowling the streets of Ottawa, they look like black-leathered bikers on chopped Harleys.
  • The climax of Elizabeth Bear's Blood & Iron involves the Wild Hunt rampaging through Times Square.
  • In Laurell K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry series, the Wild Hunt is part of the Sluagh, an army of nightmare-inducing monsters aligned with the Unseelie Court, and is awakened once again as magic returns to the Unseelie Court.
  • In Silver Raven Wolf's Witches' Night Out (Witches Chillers #1), the Hunt are portrayed as a bunch of dogs that lurk in the Salem family's backyard until such a time when WNO can figure out who killed Joe.
  • In John C. Wright's The Orphans of Chaos, when Vanity accidentally invokes Bran, he recognizes the power of her companions and offers to unleash the Wild Hunt on them for her. Vanity has to talk quickly to convince him that they are her friends.
  • In Alan Garner's The Moon of Gomrath; Colin and Susan accidentally summon the Wild Hunt.
  • In Peter S. Beagle's Tamsin, the eponymous ghost accidentally set the Wild Hunt on her lover, and they've been chasing his spirit for years. At the book's climax, the tables are turned and her murderer (and the man who tricked her into setting the Hunt on her lover in the first place) becomes the Hunt's quarry.
  • The Wild Hunt shows up somewhat often in The Walker Papers.
  • The Headless Hunt in Harry Potter is a Shout-Out to the Wild Hunt.
  • The Nightside book Paths Not Taken shows John offering himself as prey for the Wild Hunt in exchange for Suzie's life and the opportunity to find out more about his Missing Mom.
  • The Hunt also pursues the protagonists of The Age of Misrule trilogy, and Herne the Hunter plays a major part in the development of two of the main characters
  • The dark court's hounds, in the Wicked Lovely series, are the Fae version of this, led by Gabriel, advisor to the current dark king.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel Child of the Hunt is about the Wild Hunt coming to Sunnydale.
  • The Silmarillion has Oromë's wild hunt, in which he and his Hounds range over the hills and woods of Middle-Earth, hunting orcs and demons.
  • The third book in the October Daye series features the Wild Hunt.
  • The Mists of Avalon has the wild hunt as a Pagan rite culminating in sex. Unfortunately for the characters who take part, they turn out to be half-siblings.
  • The oldest unequivocal instance of this trope is probably that found in the Hindu Bhagavata Purana (9th or 10th century), where mention is made of a travelling army of ghosts, headed by Shiva.
  • The Duke and his men in Coldheart Canyon
  • Two versions — one evil, one neutral — appear in the Chronicles of Prydain. There's Gwyn the Hunter, who heralds death but does not cause it (and doesn't seem to have hounds, just rides around blowing a horn), and the Horned King, who wears the antlered mask and is definitely bad news.
  • In Ruth Frances Long's The Treachery of Beautiful Things, Jack characterizes Titania's hunt by calling it this.

    Live Action TV 
  • The episode "The Wild Hunt" of Quatermass And The Pit involves the alien race holding a periodic Wild Hunt to weed out the unfit. Quatermass theorises, and is later shown to be correct, that this urge has been genetically passed down through the human race, leading to wars and racial conflict.

    Music 
  • The classic song "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky." The Wild Hunt with cowboys and cattle. In this case, they warn the cowboy who encounters them, rather than endangering him or chasing him.
    Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat
    They're riding hard to catch that herd, but they ain't caught 'em yet
    'Cause they've got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
    Their horses snortin' fire as they ride on, hear their cry.
    ...Tryin' to catch the Devil's herd across these endless skies.
  • Might also be the subject of "Riders on the Storm." It's hard to tell with The Doors.
  • Panic! At the Disco's music video for "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" runs into this territory. During a wedding, a bunch of odd and interesting people burst in, and the bride and groom go from whispering, "I love you," to each other just before the ceremony to her cheating on him. And then the leader and the groom bow together, and when he straightens, the groom is in the leader's clothing, thereby getting a new leader for The Hunt.
  • Part 3 of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder
  • "Het Wilde Heer" by Dutch folk metal band Heidevolk is about a Germanic variation on the Norse version.
  • Neil Young's "Grey Riders".
    Grey riders on the morning sky,
    The sun made diamonds of their road-weary eyes
    That voice was calling and it cut through the night,
    C'mon boys, let her go!

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Far Side: "Henry! Hurry up or you're gonna miss it—ghost riders in the kitchen!" Larson had been originally considering doing a different variation on that ("ghost riders in the living room," etc.) every day for a week just to mess with people, but, perhaps wisely, chickened out.

    Opera 

    Theatre 
  • The Warriors at Helgeland by Henrik Ibsen, where the wild hunt is summoned, for the purpose of taking the battle couple Hjørdis and Sigurd to Valhalla. She jumps off a cliff, and the other characters claim to see her ride with the hunt. Sigurd doesn`t get a ride, as he is a christian.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has a version of this called, oddly, the Wild Hunt, in the Monster Manual V.
    • No surprises there: the original Deities & Demigods had stats for the Wild Hunt in its Celtic Mythos chapter, making this trope's D&D connections Older Than 2nd Edition.
    • There have also been a few fey-type creatures themed after the Wild Hunt, particularly the Lunar Ravagers, whose society is essentially a perpetual Wild Hunt, and the extremely dangerous, epic-level Hoary Hunter that comes after its prey on cold, moonlit nights-the only way to get a Hoary Hunter off your track is to kill it and its fellows, evade it nine times, or live the rest of your life somewhere that never, ever experiences the Hunter's preferred conditions-it will wait for decades if necessary.
    • In the Forgotten Realms Malar (god of the hunt, among other things) has his own version of this, with a chosen victim being hunted by worshipers of the beast lord, anyone who evades them is granted one request (that doesn't involve hurting his worshipers) by Malar.
    • In the Ravenloft setting, the domain of Forlorn has its own Wild Hunt that pursues those of non-Neutral alignment. Those who encounter the Hunt are either slain or magically compelled to join it.
    • Birthright has the Hunt of the Elves, which attacks humans. And the Wild Hunt proper — those are unseelie fairies hunting elves and ignoring everything else unless it's stupid or slow enough to stand on their way.
    • This article from the Planescape fansite Mimir.net adapts it for D&D (second edition).
    • A small version appears in the classic module Castle Amber though it would still challenge a typical D&D party of that era.
  • In Warhammer the Wood Elf king Orion leads seasonal Wild Hunts throughout the Loren Forest and the surrounding lands of Bretonnia. He looks the part, being an antlered, green-skinned force of nature with a magical hunting horn, and is often accompanied by supernatural wolfhounds and the Wild Riders of Kurnous - savage Wood Elf elite cavalry dedicated to the elven hunting god Kurnous (Orion is a living avatar of Kurnous) and partway to being forest spirits themselves. One scenario representing the predations of the Wild Hunt in White Dwarf featured the objective of "knock down all the buildings".
  • Inverted in Exalted: the Wyld Hunt consists of imperial soldiers out to kill Solars, Lunars, and Abyssals, who are considered "Anathema" in the religion of the Dragon-Blooded. Their name comes from the fact that they were created to hunt creatures of the Wyld (such as, ironically, The Fair Folk) who got into Creation, and were later repurposed to hunt down the beings who formerly ran the show.
    • Also played straight by the Fair Folk themselves, especially in the South but really anywhere/when they feel like it.
    Summoned over the dying embers of a fire, Zsofika appears to take up her arms and begin a celebratory hunt that dates back to the First Age. To the steady beat of far-off drums beating in time to the demon’s heart, insects circle and shadows throb. The mad and the soulless moan and stomp their feet in time. Horses rear and seek to flee... She turns within the fire for 70 beats, her steel-hard skin smoking and her soft eyes ablaze. During this time, the Kite Flute chooses her victim, whether it’s a target chosen by her summoner or one picked by her whim. Thereafter, she steps from the fire to begin her inexorable hunt. Storms and omens follow with her.
  • It happens in Castle Falkenstein, as the Fair Folk variety.
  • Changeling: The Lost features a Goblin Contract (a magical power with negative side effects for the caster) that allows a changeling to summon the Wild Hunt to Earth. This effectively means that the changeling has summoned a hunting pack of his former captors into the world, and if they can't find better meat, then the changeling in question better start running...
    • It bears mentioning that all other goblin contracts have separate drawbacks to the benefits they bring. Here, summoning the hunt already is its own drawback.
    • Oddly enough, Changeling refuses to actually define the Wild Hunt — probably because no-one has ever seen it and lived.
  • In Shadowrun they are a collection of powerful spirits that appear as a pack of black hounds accompanied by at least one hunter, either summoned by a secret ritual known to few to hunt down someone or cause mayhem, or spontaniously, nearly always set to avenge some injustice committed against the natural world. On the bright side, if one can avoid their pursuit during the night on which they appear, by sunrise he may consider himself "safe".

    Video Games 
  • Dark Souls has its own brand, known as the Forest Hunter covenant. A group of bandits lead by the Cheshire Cat, they indirectly guard Sir Antorias' grave with the rest of the forest. Joining up with them allows you to invade other players' worlds and loot their corpse.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series Hircine, Daedric Prince of the Hunt, views the entirety of existence as an unending hunt. In Battlespire and Bloodmoon the player was involved in his hunts and, in each case, there existed the possibility for the player to change his role as Hunted or Hunter.
    • Were-creatures are viewed as Hircine's Lesser Hounds. They can be said to embody his view of the Hunt, as during the day they are Hunted, but at night they are Hunters.
    • Elder Scrolls lore also has an ancient Bosmer ritual called the Wild Hunt. This calls upon the Ehlnofey to transform them into nightmarish hellspawn and drive intruders from the land, before turning on each other and engaging in what is described as a "cannibalistic orgy". Most recently, this ritual was used to end the Five Years War between the Bosmer and the Khajiit.
  • In Guild Wars 2, members of the sylvari race partake in the race's collective subconscious, known as The Dream, before they are born. The Dream periodically grants some a mission to fight enemies of the race, which is referred to as a Wild Hunt.
    • Every playable sylvari is on one such Wild Hunt, out for the Big Bad Elder Dragon Zhaytan. Comes in full effect in the assault on Orr, where you and every other sylvari around are essentially one big hunting party on a rampage through Zhaytan's territory.
    • Many other NPC sylvari are given lesser Wild Hunts, such as hunting the Nightmare Court or anything that may threaten a particular sylvari settlement.
  • In The Witcher, the protagonist's steps are dogged by the Wild Hunt. In one sidequest, you can choose to turn the tables, hunting the Wild Hunt and killing the Huntsman himself. They appear in the novels as well.
    • It also ends up being an optional final battle
    • The second game indicates that the Hunt will be a part of the games' overarcing main plot.
    • And the third game is called The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.
  • In World of Warcraft, Wild Hunt is the name of a hunter-pet talent. All it does is boost its stats, but a reference is a reference.
  • It appears as a demon in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, one that the player can fight against or fuse to use themselves (though good luck trying to negotiate with it in battle... unless there's a Full Moon and you have the Lunatic Sub App installed, and even then, whether it joins you or not is entirely up to chance).
  • Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon has a form of the Japanese version, the Hyakki Yakou (Night Parade of One Hundred Demons), as a Zerg Rush battle sidequest.
  • Armored Core uses this motif when you think about it symbolically. Being employed as a Raven, a PMC pilot that operates an Armored Core, under the private company Raven's Nest in a World Half Empty - which is prone to conflict on every front, by employer or your organization, manipulated by a mysterious red AC - would drive anyone in service over the edge.

    Web Comics 
  • Seen in a recent Tales of the Questor storyline. To wit, the Unseleigh hunt the eponymous hero, from dusk to dawn.
  • The webcomic Mixed Myth has the Wild Hunt specialize in hunting Elves.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court had Mallt-y-Nos (an old woman who rode with the Wild Hunt in Welsh folklore) serving as a Psychopomp. Her hounds, the Cwn Annwn, appear on the "Black Dogs of the British Isles" bonus page.
  • The webcomic Night School, which is about students in a fantasy world going through modernization, features a past Wild Hunt and what becomes of it in the present, the "Wild Commute"which is basically a mystical traffic jam.
  • In the 2012 Halloween arc of Roommates Jareth the resident fae had to host the Wild Hunt (he called it his father's "Magical Men's Club"), which he did highly reluctantly (he needed a "Please" and a favor to accept). He also invited his own (mortal) friends and brought forth some Enemy Without as prey... even the Erlkönig questioned the 'wisdom' of this, and considering his track record he probably meant 'batshit insanity'. At the end the whole thing backfired spectacularly.

    Other 
  • The Hawaiian version of the Wild Hunt is a solemn procession of the dead called Ka huakai o ka po, "The Marchers of The Night" or simply "Night Marchers". Because they're lead by Hawaiian royalty such as King Kamehameha and to look upon them is kapu (taboo), running into them is a death sentence unless you're able to quickly strip down and play dead or have a relative among the marchers. A few recent apocryphal accounts note that foreign ghosts have begun to join the Hawaiian dead or make their own processions.
  • The Japanese version is the Hyakki Yako or "Hundred Demons' Night-Parade", made up of a multitude of youkai and transformed objects like the Umbrella Ghost. Fortunately it's just a bit of mischief, although anyone who comes across the procession will die, unless protected by some Buddhist sutra.
  • The European Wild Hunt, as stated in the main article, is the one that started it all. The first known reference is probably by the chronicler Ordericus Vitalis in the 1130s. Stories vary by country or even regions of the same country, but an extremely creepy trait of some versions is that the farther away the hoof-beats or howling sounds, the closer they're getting to you. And while it's never a good thing to find yourself under pursuit from gods or The Fair Folk, some believe that if you look upon the Wild Hunt, you die.


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White StallionImageSource/ArtThe Wild West
The Fair FolkIndex of Fictional CreaturesElfeminate
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