The Wild Hunt – a darker shade of Yule

When the winter winds blow and the Yule fires are lit, from the north of Scandinavia down to Switzerland, it is best to stay indoors, safely shut away from the dark forest paths and the wild heaths. Those who wander out by themselves during the Yule-nights may hear a sudden rustling through the tops of the trees — a rustling that might be the wind, though the rest of the wood is still. But then the barking of dogs fills the air, with the hunters behind whooping “Wod! Wod!” a man’s voice cries from above, “Midden in dem Weg!” and the host of wild souls sweeps down, fire flashing from the eyes of the black hounds and hooves of the black horses.
Though it may be met any night of the year (especially those associated with the dead or their festivals), the Hunt is most prevalent on Winter nights, particularly between Yule and Twelfth Night. This goes back to the very old belief that the dead walk among the living during Yule. Ancestors were honored at this season and food was often left out for them, because the relationship between the living and the dead was essential for the well-being of livestock and family. The Wild Hunt may then be associated with ancestral spirits who come to collect their portion of the year’s spoils in return for a good harvest the following year.
During Christmas and Twelfth Night, Norwegian peasants would leave a sheaf or a measure of grain in the fields to feed the Huntsman’s horse. Until the beginning of this century, young men in Norway enacted the Wild Hunt at Winter Solstice. Costumed and masked, they embodied the souls of their ancestors. Their task was to punish those who violated the rural traditions, usually by stealing beer and livestock. If the riders were given food and drink, however, they brought prosperity.

The wise traveller falls down at once in the middle of the road, face down. (The Hunt leader spares only those who remain in the middle of the path. Therefore he often calls out to travelers, “In the middle of the path!”) If he is lucky, he will take no harm other than the cold feet of the black dogs running over his body. More foolish folk are swept up, coming to earth far from home or left dead behind the furious host. Those who join in the Hunter’s cry may get as their share of the booty a piece of human flesh.This is the Wild Hunt of Germanic folklore. It is known by many names — Wutan’s or Wuet’s Army in the southern parts of Germany, the family of Harlequin in France, the Oskorei in Norway, Odensjakt in Denmark and Sweden — but the basic description is always much the same. A great noise of barking and shouting is heard; then a black rider on a black, white, or gray horse, storming through the air with his hounds, followed by a host of strange spirits, is seen. The rider is sometimes headless. Sometimes, particularly in Upper Germany, the spirits show signs of battle-wounds or death by other forms of mischance. Fire spurts from the hooves and eyes of the beasts in the procession. The horses and hounds may be two- or three-legged. Often the newly dead can be recognized in the train. The furious host is always a peril to the human being who comes into its way, though sometimes it leaves rewards as well.

At the root of the myth lies the Teutonic god Woden, or Odin, to use his Norse name.
Odin, in his guise of wind-god, was thought to rushing through the skies astride his eight-legged steed, Sleipnir. As it was thought that the souls of the dead were wafted away on the winds of a storm, Odin became regarded as the leader of all disembodied spirits – the gatherer of the dead. Eventually, storms became associated with his passing. In this role he was known as the Wild Huntsman. The passage of his hunt, known as Odin’s Hunt, the Wild Ride, the Raging Host or Asgardreia, was said to presage misfortune such as pestilence, death or war. Odin, followed by the ghosts of the dead, would roam the skies, accompanied by furious winds, lightning and thunder. To the believers, the tumult must surely have been evidence of the god’s passing.

Throughout the years, the mythology of the hunt adapted to suit the geographical area and the time period. In the Middle Ages, for example, the lead huntsman included Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa and King Arthur.

Traditions of a Wild Hunt also existed in areas away from Norse influence.
In Wales, for example, the leader of the Hunt was Gwynn ap Nudd. The “Lord of the Dead”, Gwynn ap Nudd was followed by his pack of white hounds with blood-red ears.
These red-eared hounds are also found in northern England, where they were known as Gabriel Hounds. Their appearance was also a portent of doom.
In southern England, it was Herne the Hunter who led the hunt, while elsewhere it is also referred to as “Herlathing” – from the mythical King Herla, its supposed leader.

As recently as the 1940’s the Hunt was reportedly heard going through the English countryside near Taunton on Halloween night. And the unlucky visitor to the West Country of England may still meet the Hunt upon the moors.
But whether in chronicle or legend, in folk practice or personal experience, the Hunt’s underlying meaning and message remains one of remembrance: remember the dead, your kin, so your crops may grow by ancestral blessing; honor them lest they come like warriors to the field claiming tribute.

Much more detailed and fascinating information about this terrifying event at the links below:

Penance, Power, and Pursuit:On the Trail of the Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt – from the Orkney Isles
Wild Huntsman Legends
The Folklore of the Wild Hunt and the Furious Host

The wheel of the year turns

Seven Trees:

Forget “Elf on the Shelf”! Check out this Scandinavian elf that watches over our household and land, visiting with the animals and bringing good fortune to people who know how to treat him right. Most cultures in the northern countries have customs and traditions to deal with the long, dark, cold winters. At Seven Trees Farm, we like to explore and share them, hopefully inspiring others to learn more about their own cultural history that isn’t sold in stores or taught in schools.

Originally posted on Seven Trees Farm:

As winter comes and winter goes, so do many of the traditions that were kept by our ancestors.

My grandmother was from Sweden. In Sweden as well as in other Scandinavian countries, it was important to take care of the small being that watched over your home or farm known as the Tomte, particularly at this time of year. Many believed that the Tomte was the spirit of the farm’s first settler, and it was important not to disrespect them, especially at Yule time or Christmas.

The Swedish name Tomte stems from a place of residence, the house lot or “tomt”.

Tomte are often described as small grey bearded men, half the size or even smaller than that of a normal person. Tradition states they dressed as a farmer, but in many depictions they look a bit like an elf or a gnome.


Image Source: The Tomten Poster

While they…

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Return of the Krampus!

Seven Trees:

It’s that time of year again! Never mind Santa’s naughty or nice list, you’d better worry about the Krampus abducting you for a round of beatings…or worse!

Originally posted on Seven Trees Farm:

Since we first wrote about this sinister counterpoint to jolly old St. Nick in 2008, there has been a renewal of interest in the Chrismas Krampus. You can even buy holiday cards and gear online. Beware the Krampus!

Santa isn’t the only one keeping track of who is naughty or nice. In some Alpine regions of Europe (mainly Austria, Germany & Switzerland), people still carry on celebrations involving one of St. Nick’s lesser known companions, the Krampus.
The name Krampus comes from the Old High German word for claw, apparently referring to just one of this being’s scary attributes. Other less-than-friendly features include a long, long tongue, shaggy black hair/fur, goat’s head with horns, and cloven feet. Krampus was usually equipped with a bundle of birch twigs (for beating naughty children), chains (for capturing naughty children) and a pack basket on his back (for abducting naughty children).
According to Mannfred…

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Raise a glass to Repeal Day!

This Friday, December 5th, marks the 81st anniversary of the nationwide repeal of prohibition – Utah was the 36th state to ratify the 21st amendment, achieving the requisite three-fourths majority of states’ approval, and effecting the repeal the the 18th amendment which had prohibited the sale of recreational alcohol in America. gal-prohibition6-web-jpg

Proponents of the so-called “Noble Experiment” had touted the National Prohibition Act of 1919 (commonly called the Volstead Act) as a panacea for many social and economic woes. In the early 20th century, women had limited rights to divorce, retain child custody, or even control their own wages. Men would often disappear into saloons on payday, coming home broke and violent. Temperance groups capitalized on the assumption that a woman’s role was to preserve family well-being, and were a huge player in the push to criminalize alcohol production and consumption.

Another major pro-prohibition force were religious organizations. Like many extremist groups of today, they threw facts and common sense to the wayside in their crusade to eliminate the “demon rum”. In 1920, evangelist Billy Sunday staged a mock funeral for alcoholic beverages, proclaiming “The rein of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs.”

Temperance activists hired a scholar to rewrite the bible, removing all references to alcoholic beverages. There was also a move to censor references to “poisonous” alcohol in school textbooks, never mind the fact that alcohol was commonly prescribed by physicians of the day for medicinal purposes.


With booze…

An 1848 Currier & Ives print of George Washington bidding farewell to his officers was even re-engraved to delete the toasting glass in his hand and the liquor on the table was replaced by his hat.


…and without.

A temperance publication wrote of drinking parents who gave birth to small children with a “yen for alcohol so strong that the mere sight of a bottle shaped like a whiskey flask brought them whining for a nip.”

The Drunkard’s Progress

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union suggested that school teachers put half of a calf’s brain in an empty jar into which alcohol should be poured. As the color of the brain turned from pink to gray, pupils were to be warned that a drink of alcohol would do the same to their brains.

<Check out more facepalm-worthy fun facts here>

Prohibition also cause myriad problems for the nation’s legal systems. Far from curbing alcohol consumption, prohibition turned millions of recreational imbibers into criminals and turned criminals into national threats. Politicians and law enforcement personnel were also not immune from the opportunities to enhance their incomes while enjoying bootleg hooch. The mayor of New York City even sent instructions on winemaking to all of his constituents.

In Los Angeles, a jury that had heard a bootlegging case was itself put on trial after it drank the evidence. The jurors argued in their defense that they had simply been sampling the evidence to determine whether or not it contained alcohol, which they determined it did. However, because they consumed the evidence, the defendant charged with bootlegging had to be acquitted.

Large-scale bootleggers like Al Capone of Chicago built criminal empires out of illegal distribution efforts (making 60 million per year while the average industrial worker made $1000), and federal and state governments lost billions in tax revenue.

By 1925, the obvious failure of prohibition to make a positive impact on America prompted journalist H.L. Mencken to write:

“Five years of prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”

Abstainer and temperance supporter John D. Rockafeller, jr. also expressed disappointment with the results of the ‘noble experiment’, in a letter to The New York Times:

“When the Eighteenth Amendment was passed I earnestly hoped- with a host of advocates of temperance-that it would be generally supported by public opinion and thus the day be hastened when the value to society of men with minds and bodies free from the undermining effects of alcohol would be generally realized. That this has not been the result, but rather that drinking has generally increased; that the speakeasy has replaced the saloon, not only unit for unit, but probably two-fold if not three-fold; that a vast array of lawbreakers has been recruited and financed on a colossal scale; that many of our best citizens, piqued at what they regarded as an infringement of their private rights, have openly and unabashedly disregarded the Eighteenth Amendment; that as an inevitable result respect for all law has been greatly lessened; that crime has increased to an unprecedented degree-I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe.”

By the election year of 1932, the Democratic Party platform included an anti-Prohibition plank and Franklin Roosevelt ran for the presidency promising to repeal National Prohibition. On February 20, 1933, Congress enabled states to ratify the 21st Amendment if they chose, and most did, leaving North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and
South Dakota as dry states for years to come. 21st-amendment-fdr-proclamation-l

So raise a glass to Repeal Day, and sing a round of Happy Days are Here Again! gooddays

There is a lot more to read about the Prohibition Era at the links below, plus some entertaining cartoons and illustrations -

Prohibition: The Noble Experiment

The Anti-Saloon League Museum

Ken Burns/PBS Prohibition series

Temperance & Prohibition @ Ohio State University

The Volstead Act

Good read! The Lost Female Figures of Christmas – Part I

Check out the intro to this fascinating article, then click on through and read the rest at the author’s (Carolyn Emerick) website. So much lost information from our pre-Christian past!


The Lost Female Figures of Christmas – Part I MeadHornIntroduction and Background

It may come as a surprise that there were a great many female figures associated with this time of year that have been obscured from much of our contemporary memory. Many of these figures are still popular in their home countries. But, America has a very different historical landscape when it comes to holiday practice, and it is the American brand of Christmas that has recently been exported to non-Western parts of the world.

Much has been said about Santa Claus being an amalgam of influences, and especially about his image being based on the Germanic god Odin. But, it is important to realize that there were many other holiday figures, both male and female, that did not find their way over to our modern American Christmas celebrations. German male figures such as Krampus and Knecht Ruprecht are coming up more and more in news and entertainment media. So I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate the female side of Old Yule.

<<<<The rest of the article contains the sections listed below, plus a link to part 2, featuring the more sinister female characters of Christmastide.>>>>

  • Mōdraniht – Mothers Night
  • The Important Roles of Germanic Women
  • Obstacles in Getting to Our Roots
  • Hagiography Throws People Off
  • Saint Lucia
  • Germany’s Christkind
  • Snegurochka – Snow Girl
  • Holle, Bride of Wotan

<<<<There is also some great art accompanying the text.>>>>


Crop Report 2014

A few results from the 2014 growing season, some new-to-us varieties, and some familiar old favorites.UncleSam

Garlic – This fall we planted our 5th generation of Chesnok Red, a hardneck variety, and 5th generation of softneck Kettle River. The ‘seed’ cloves were harvested and cured this summer, and we plan to keep both varieties in our permanent rotation, since they seem able to cope with all kinds of soil and weather conditions. Chesnok-RedThe Chesnok stores much better than the original source described, and the Kettle River can grow extra large if we don’t get too much rain.

Luscious corn – Since we have plenty of feed/flour corn stored up, we splurged on a patch of this bicolor sweet corn. Once we figured out that our germination problem was actually our resident feral doves pulling up sprouts, we protected the replants long enough to ensure a bumper crop. Really tasty corn, nice full ears, and freezes well after a quick blanch and into the FoodSaver.

GunmaCabbageGunma cabbage – The cabbage worms and slugs loved this new-to-us variety, but we still managed to harvest some heavy flattened globe-shaped heads for pickling. A second, late planting did equally well, but the timing was even more beneficial to the hungry bugs. Since we had plenty pickled and frozen, awaiting use as cabbage roll wrappers, we let the chickens have the fall crop when we turned them into the nearly empty garden. They were eaten to the stem within a few days.

NantesFancyNelson carrot – a new variety for us, and touted as a sweet, tender, crisp Nantes type by Fedco Seeds. It was meh. Really poor germination, and just not as tasty as our usual Nantes Fancy. We’ll skip this one in 2015. We planted a late crop of Nantes Fancy (just after the garlic harvest) and they were spectacular.


Search results for “potato scab compost”.

Carola potato – Just nope! The area we planted potatoes was a little ‘hot’, meaning the added compost could have been aged longer, so a little scabbing was understandable, but these spuds didn’t produce as well as hoped, so the extensive skin damage was another blow. This crop probably won’t store well, so we’re processing them into mashed potatoes, then freezing portions for later.

Desiree potato – A red skinned, white fleshed spud we’ve grown before, but this crop had the same problems as the Carola.

We also planted some Maris Pipers that made it through storage from the previous year, and these did ok after an initial brush with blight. Since potatoes are a land-hungry crop, and we can buy good local spuds when needed, our 2015 potato patch will probably be some earlies for a late spring treat.

Peppers – As usual, we tried growing our own starts with susbstandard infrastructure. With so many projects in the works, an efficient, space-conserving seed starting set up just hasn’t made it to the top of the list yet. So the homegrown varieties didn’t do much, though the three store bought starts (mini-bell, ancho, early jalapeno) managed to hang in there for a decent harvest. I think we’ll refrain from starting our own seeds until we have a better place to do it.

potimarronPotimarron winter squash – Winner! On a whim I grabbed a packet of seeds, even though a big squash patch wasn’t part of the plan. We had grown these years ago in some really crappy soil, and they begrudgingly produced small red-orange fruits. This year the two plants we grew got a wide expanse of perfect soil, and we harvested 17 bowling ball sized squash. We haven’t cooked any yet, but the name potimarron refers to a chesnut-squash flavor, so they should be a nice sweet baking squash.

SweetDumplingSweet Dumpling delicata squash – A regular favorite, this small squash looks like a cross between acorn and delicata squash, and cooks up dry and sweet. One larger fruit serves two people, and is especially wonderful baked with kielbasa or breakfast sausage chunks in the cavity. The two vines we planted produced 37 squash.

BlacktailMtnBlacktail Mountain watermelon – Developed to withstand chilly Idaho nights, this variety was happy with our mild summer and rich soil. We ended up with a surplus of ripe melons and shared them with friends. Even though they taste fairly sweet, the inside flesh doesn’t get very dark. We’re still trynig to figure out the best way to judge ripeness, and will probably keep growing these as long as we have space. This year’s crop came from saved seed, and we saved seed again to keep developing an acclimatized strain.

Miyashige white daikon radish – It’s tough to time planting & harvest of this radish to coincide with the Napa cabbage we use for kimchi makings. Carrot rust flies love this as much as carrots, so getting pretty roots means a later planting. Last summer we let a few unharvested roots go to seed, and some of the feral seedlings were content to turn into nice big un-buggy radishes. I had meant to pull them, but left them when I saw how many bees were taking advantage of the early fall flowers. We’ll probably just buy some when we need to make more kimchi, and enjoy the random volunteer radishes as they mature.


Temperatures dropped very abruptly recently, and we had just enough time to get some late starts planted out and under a row cover. Once it warms up a bit we can take a look for any survivors. There is spinach, chard, lettuce, kale, parsley, and a wee clump of chives from our Swedish seed bank experiment. Stay tuned for exciting updates!

Martinmas Day – let the feasting commence!

Seven Trees:

2014 is almost over! Our livestock are ready for winter, either hunkered down in the henhouse, or chillin’ in the freezers. Thanks to modern food storage methods, our feasting isn’t relegated to a few special days, but it looks like our ancestors found ways to extend the party season anyway – “Tween Martinmas and Yule, water’s wine in every pool.”

Originally posted on Seven Trees Farm:

Armistice Day is a relatively recent addition to our calendar of observances. An earlier tradition marked on November 11th is Martinmas Day, also know as St. Martin’s Day and Martlemas. It was a time to wind up outdoor work in the fields and start preparing for the long dark winter.

In Britain (and northern Europe) people couldn’t afford to winter over much stock besides the family milk cows and prized breeding animals. So in November “spare” animals were sent to market. In country areas, families would go in together on a cow to butcher and eat immediately. These markets eventually became known as “marts” after St. Martin’s day, when the markets took place. Martinmas was also an important day in the rural legal calendar. Hiring fairs were held at this time, with their opportunities for agricultural labourers to gain better employment and the chance of a holiday. It was…

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Day of reckoning

I’m sure most of us know that Hallowe’en was originally an old Celtic holiday called Samhain (pronounced sow’an), but not everyone knows that Samhain was about cattle, crops and kin, back in the day.
Imagine you’ve been working your butt off to harvest everything you can before first frost, before winter really hits. The teenagers and unmarried folks have been up in the hills all summer, pasturing the cattle herds on abundant summer grass in a tradition called transhumance. After living in booley huts for the season, they are bringing the livestock back to the lowlands, and you get to see family members for the first time in months.
But a few other important things happened on Samhain. Rent day, for one.

In early Irish society, land was owned, not by individuals, but by the clan (or tribe) as a whole, and administered by a chief. The chief assigned the use of portions of land based on skill, family connections, popularity and politics. You would also be set up with a grubstake of livestock, housing and equipment based on your station in life. At some point you had to repay the inital investment, but any “surplus” livestock and crops you could produce were yours. Sometimes rent was payable in livestock, sometimes in service to the chief, and sometimes in agricultural products like butter or malted barely for brewing. Anyone who wasn’t a chief or clan head owed rent to someone up the food chain, but often a chieftain would use some of the bounty to have a Samhain feast for the people s/he governed.
The myriad details of these transactions were governed by a complex system called the Brehon laws. Another facet of Samhain administered by this law code was the uptick in livestock value that was accounted for on this day. Every animal and piece of equipment on a rath was worth an assigned value (like in an insurance policy). Calves that were born before Beltaine of that year (May 1st) would now be worth even more money. That was always a good thing to a struggling farmer. Samhain is also the day when all crops and wild fruits were considered off-limits. Anything not harvested was food for the fairies or Puca. Children were warned against eating berries left unpicked for fear of angering the fairy folk, that it would make them sick. In more practical terms, farmers should have their crops in by now, and know just how much food they can count on until the next harvest.

So, the cattle are in for the winter, and valued higher according to their age and gender. The rent is paid, crops are in, family are back from the hills, and it’s almost winter. Time for feasting before the cold dark weather settles in for the long haul. And living family members weren’t the only ones ready to reconnect after a long separation. This time of year, the walls between the dead and the living were considered the thinnest, and family members who had passed on were expected to return home, at least for one night. Places were set at the table and around the fire for departed loved ones who might return for a visit.

As times changed, and the Christian religion absorbed indigenous traditions, the focus of Samhain became more about placating ghosts and getting treats than about settling debts and visiting with loved ones. At Seven Trees Farm, we like to celebrate Samhain by enjoying all the harvested yummies, visiting with friends, preparing for winter, and remembering our ancestors.