November through Solstice in feudal Europe betokened an anxious time, dotted with saints’ feasts, funerals and increasing darkness. As the Pagan legends melded into Christian superstitions, another fear emerged from the dark: the Wild Hunt. In areas as far apart as Sweden and Germany, locals passed on tales of encounters in the night woods with beings divine, dead and diabolical. Some tales reported fairy-style kidnappings while others insisted they escaped packs of cursed hunters.
Phantom Armies of the Night: the Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead takes these myriad pieces of folklore and attempts to untangle them. Recently interpreted from French to English, this book offers some of the only in-depth scholarly material focused on the multi-layered legend. Author Claude Lecouteux combed through source materials and hidden records of firsthand accounts from priests and peasants alike, attempting to discover the origin of the Wild Hunt and tracing how that legend changed as Europe Christianized.
Lecouteux concludes ultimately that he does not have enough information to draw any conclusions. The legends are many and change dramatically by location, there are texts awaiting exhumation, and he could not find direct links between Odin and the Wild Hunt aside from popular colloquialism.
This book is an excellent jumping-off point for scholars wishing to untangle the lines between early Christianity as it blended and then separated from European Paganism. Excellent scholarship along with thought provoking legends and a light hand on interpretation makes this an outstanding addition to a historian’s library.
~review by Diana Rajchel
Author: Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 2011 (original printing Éditions Imago 1999)
pp. 309 $18.95