Herne the Hunter

Illustration of Herne the Hunter

Image via Wikipedia

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?



Féar Gortach/Féar Gortagh: The hungry man

Note: After I posted this blog this morning, I read it again and said to myself “Gosh darn it, Teresa! What an appropriate post for Canadian Thanksgiving weekend…” Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canucks; Happy Columbus Day to my American friends.


William Butler Yeats describes the ‘Féar Gorta’ (also spelled ‘Féar Gortach’), which means ‘hungry man,’ only as “an emaciated phantom that through the land in times of famine, begging an alms [sic] and bestowing good luck on the giver.”

Other sources are a bit more specific, saying that anyone who doesn’t give the Hungry Man a little something will get very, very hungry, and in the end, eat himself to death. (To me, this sounds like a vengeance curse, so I’d actually go so far as to guess the Hungry Man only shows up at the houses of people who can afford to give.)

But language is a weird thing. There’s another phrase pronounced in similar way–Féar Gortagh–that means ‘hungry grass.’ This is a patch of dead grass, some say it pops up where someone has died violently, some say it happens specifically where someone has died of hunger. This grass turns predator. Anyone who walks across it gets the same sickness as the Hungry Man inflicts on the uncharitable. They get insatiable hunger and eat until they burst.

It’s wafer-thin.


Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Haunt Us, Hunt Us, and Hunger for Us
Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Haunt Us, Hunt Us, and Hunger for Us
by Jonathan Maberry

Vampires we know and love #4: The first English Vampire

Think vampires are all the same? Think again! Vampires come in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins ice cream. So, this special DotW feature, Vampires we know and love, spotlights different kinds of bloodsucking fiends from around the world.

The first English Vampire

Or should I say “vampyre?”

The most famous ghost story-telling session in the history of the world happened in June 1816, in a rented house, Maison Chappius, at Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

Present were poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; the author he would soon marry, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; her half-sister Claire Clairmont (whose parents had obviously been drunk when they named her); the poet Lord Byron; and Dr. John Polidori, Byron’s doctor and traveling companion.

the players

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Mary Shelley
Claire Clairmont (She later bore Byron a daughter, Allegra.)
George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron
John Polidori

It was rainy and the whole company was bored. They turned to reading a book of ghost stories out loud, “Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d’Histoires d’Apparitions de Spectres, Revenans, Fantomes.” That means “Fanstamagoriana, or Collection of Stories of Apparitions of Spectres, Revenants, Phantoms.”

After reading this, Byron–or someone else–suggested that they all write ghost stories themselves and tell them to the group.

By the way, the lot of them were drunk/wasted most of the time.

According to Mary Shelley’s diary, Polidori’s story was pretty bad. But Byron told a story with vampiric elements that wasn’t.

Byron got sick of Polidori and fired him soon after.

A couple of years later, a vampire story appeared in New Monthly Magazine. It had Bryon’s name attached to it, but it was written by Polidori, ‘inspired by’ the notes he had taken on Byron’s ghost story from Geneva. Whether Polidori meant for it to published or not is up in the air. It was titled The Vampyre.

Also, Byron was listed as the author.

Byron was mad, mad, mad. Especially since the vampire villain seemed to have a lot in common with him. Goethe said it was the best thing Byron had ever written (except he didn’t write it).
Byron denied the story and wrote his own vampire tale “Fragment of a Story.”

But it would never change the fact that “The Vampyre” was the first English vampire story and “Fragment of a Story” was the second.

Polidori killed himself. Eventually someone wrote a story in which Byron is a vampire.

But the moral of the story should be this:
While Byron abandoned his tale, forever giving up the chance to write the first ever vampire story and Polidori had to borrow someone else’s name to get published… Mary Shelley kept working on her own story. She stuck to it and worked her arse off.

Eventually, hers was the only novel to come out of that story-telling session, and while The Vampyre and Fragment of a Novel became kinda famous, hers lives on to this day.

It’s a little something called Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

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