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-hornes,
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And make 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
-William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor
Herne the Hunter is one of the oldest ghosts on the book — obviously, if he’s mentioned in a play that was written around 1597. Supposedly, Herne was a hunter employed by Richard the Second in the region of Windsor Forest in England. Poor Herne was attacked by a white deer (though he’d likely been hunting the deer), nearly killing him. The local wizard was only able to cure him by sticking the deer’s antlers on his head and sacrificing Herne’s hunting skills (though personally, I wouldn’t have been all that keen to keep them anyway).
However, the other hunters framed Herne as a poacher — which was a big, big no-no on Royal land in those days. The next day Herne, antlers and all, was found hanging from a local oak tree. But was it murder or suicide?
As these things go, Herne stuck around, becoming a ghost and generally hung around haunting the forest. He rides around on his ghost horse, accompanied by other ghostly hunters, demonic dogs, and a hunting owl.
But he’s just a local legend, right? Not a demon at all, right?
Well… Check out the Gundestrup cauldron, a silver vessel suspected to be from the first century, that was found in Denmark: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gundestrup_antlered_figure.jpg
That antlered guy look familiar? That might be the Celtic god Cernunnos, who was a fertility god and general horny guy (sorry, I should have resisted that one). He looks an awful lot like our Herne, no? And their names kind of sound a bit similar…
Also, any spectral spirit who goes out hunting might just be connected up with the Wild Hunt, which is a group of ghosts, spirits, or even the faery, who band together once in a while to go chasing after some spiritual game.
So, is Herne just another ghost, or is there something more going on here?