There is an old tale goes that Herne the Hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv’d, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.
“The Merry Wives of Windsor”
Yesterday (18th October) was the Feast Day of Herne the Hunter. Herne is a mysterious figure, often worshipped as a God in many witchy and pagan circles today. My home land of Kent has his name scattered across our towns and villiages…Herne Bay on the east coast, Herne Hill on the borders of London and of course the village of Herne.
But who is Herne? His story is of a man skilled in woodcraft and gamekeeping, a supreme hunter who worked on the grounds of Windsor Park. One day whilst out hunting the King’s life was threatened by a rather pissed of Stag, to save his King, Herne took the full brunt of the Stag’s attack and was mortally wounded. Or so the King thought. A strange man appeared to the King and advised him to strap a Stags skull complete with antlers to Herne’s Head claiming that, along with rest, would heal him. The King took his advice and miraculously Herne was healed although the antlers remained. Unbeknown to Herne, two of the King’s other keepers were jealous of Herne’s ability and prowess and made a pact with the mysterious man, that if Herne survived he should no longer be more skilled than they. The strange man granted their request.
When Herne recovered, the King was less than pleased with Herne’s apparent lack of skill and the King sacked Herne. In shame Herne took himself to the biggest Oak on the Grounds of Windsor Park, and there he hung himself. His spirit restless, Herne’s ghost remained.
The old mysterious man demanded payment for granting the request of Herne’s two jealous rivals and bade them ride out with Herne’s fearful ghost every night. The King, so outraged and inconvenienced by the chaos and damage Herne’s party caused every night that he beseeched Herne to stop. Herne agreed…on one condition. The two men who ultimately caused his suicide, must join him in the spirit world and hang upon the tree as he had done before. The King granted Herne’s request and Herne and his Hounds can still be seen today when the winter draws in, the storm clouds gather and the hours of night lengthen riding out across the land collecting the souls of all who have succumb to winter’s hardships.
Now when I read this story, I think of figures like Robin Hood, Hercules…legendary men who once lived and have been granted ‘immortal’ status either through deed or legend…but is he really a God? I am undecided…if not then why does his influence stretch into my home land of Kent…even as far as the east coast some 3 hours drive from Windsor?
I don’t have the answers to these questions but for some reason Herne has made himself known to me and in a small way seems to have demanded my acknowledgement, so as yesterday was His feast day I thought I would write a little something just for Him (as well as sacrifice half my juicy rare steak for Him and his Hounds).
To all of you, as we come into the darkest time of year, keep your ears and eyes open on those cold misty nights…you never know who you might see riding late at night…listen for the baying of hounds both red and white, and remember to leave a little meat out for the Old Wild Hunt.