I’m reading two books, as one does. One is a mystery set here in the place where I live, and I’ll talk about that another time. The other is Claude Lecouteux’ Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead, a very thorough coverage of the legends and folklore connected with the Wild Hunt, a medieval European legend with its roots in a much deeper past and with echoes that reach us today.
And apparently the Mesnée d’Hellequin, as it was called in Old French has acquired some recent popularity due to a bestselling series of fantasy novels and an equally popular video-game franchise – but I don’t care. I’m doing some research for a story (or five) and I want to go back as close as possible to the original sources.
So, what’s this Wild Hunt all about?
It’s a strange phenomenon, described by a number of pretty unreliable witnesses through the centuries – a large band of hunters or soldiers, usually a-horse, sometimes accompanied by dogs, sometimes by demons, crossing the night as they pursue some unidentified prey.
Lecoteux’ book traces various strands of the legend to Roman times or before, to the ancient Norse religion, to local folk tales, variously cross-pollinated and appropriated by the Church for its purposes.
So you can pick and choose: the members of the Hunt are the damned. Or maybe they are pursuing the damned. Or they are just dead. Or they are the entourage of Hellequin/Harlequin, a devil, or a trickster, or something completely different. Or maybe they serve Woden. Or Herodias. Or someone else altogether.
And then there is a connection with the Commedia de l’Arte, the seminal Italian theater of pantomimes…
The Mesnée d’Hellequin is big and deep and comes in many flavors.
I’ve been toying with an idea, that is not particularly original but might work, about the Wild Hunt as sort of a supernatural A-Team, not-too-wholesome characters that have gone AWOL from the afterlife and that are romping through the skies of Old Europe.
But if you have a (supernatural) problem, and you can find them…
Now the proper Hunt is usually huge – even if there are reports of smaller groups of ghost riders in the sky, and even solitary huntsmen were spotted and scared the beejezuses out of Medieval and Renaissance peasants and priests – but I am planning a small band of characters, five or seven, men and women that died with some atrocious weight on their soul, and that now are condemned to follow Hellequin and do his bidding.
And Hellequin sometimes detaches them to tackle some special mission.
They were dangerous individuals when alive, and are even more so now.
Their condition grants them certain powers, but also imposes certain limits to them. – and working out this part will be the fun of the general worldbuilding.
It will probably be a darker sort of fantasy than the one I usually write, with elements of horror woven in. I might even end up cracking the Grimdark market – but I am not purposefully writing the first story to fit the subgenre.
We’ll see what comes out of all of this.
First, I’ve to finish a few contracted jobs, and then I’ll do my own writing.
In the meantime, I’m quite enjoying my research.