Legends of the Hunt

Legends of the Hunt : St Hubert’s Day – November the 3rd

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At this time of reverence for the traditions of our ancestors, it is interesting to discover some of the lesser known observances, especially where they savour a rich homily, an ethic to hold in high esteem, still. The Huntsman is directed to one such premise:

“For example, the hunter ought to only shoot when a humane, clean and quick kill is assured. He advised to shoot only old stags past their prime breeding years and to relinquish a much anticipated shot on a trophy to instead euthanize a sick or injured animal that might appear on the scene. Further, one ought never shoot a female with young in tow, to assure the young deer have a mother to guide them to food during the winter.”

In an article by Robin-the-dart, an explanation of this ethic is exampled as follows:

They Call Me the Hunter

“the boar, the stag, the ram we become, the hunter and hunted are but one”

As human beings, our basic needs are well, human. And so our ancestors also sought mastery in part at least of their environment. This becomes particularly important when we realise how the life and well being of their communities depended upon it. Hunting and fishing within these societies reflect cultural activities, often ritualised, that have distinguished humankind from the animal kingdom. And yet we retain an instinctive interconnectedness and relationship within both society and the natural world.

A certain dynamic tension exists between the need for a people’s survival and the ability of the hunters to meet it. So magic enabled those people to establish a link to an unknowable or uncontrollable object, to effect their control of that object they desired. Enacting a scenario that anticipates the successful intent of the hunt relies on a systematic and logically coherent set of ideas about the relations between the shaman and the subject pursued. Taboos are placed to minimise the possibility of failure. The shaman knows and accepts how all things have an unpredictable influence upon such matters. These things find their origin from within a mysterious realm beyond the kenning of human laws.

Each hunt is a rite of passage, one ventures out into a wilderness, beyond the known safety of the people towards a hostile environment and an uncertain outcome. In this place, nature alone is Mistress; here Her laws preside over the Hunt. The true hunter thus prepares himself fully, ritually, first in the act of separation, first in mind, then in body. In his mind he will immerse himself and become the prey, he envisions himself as the prey, to move look smell as the prey would, until their spirits link and they can move as one. At that point, he makes the switch. He becomes the hunter and makes his kill. A true hunter and man of the woods once told me how the last few moments are key to a successful quarry, and that under no circumstance to allow eye contact. Fail this one premise, and all is lost. That precious link, so artfully woven allows the prey to know the mind of the hunter and take flight as the hunter sees himself reflected in those mirrors that link their souls; in that brief pause, the prey seeks its freedom.

In hunter/gatherer societies the hunter had to go through a ritual to honour the prey on its final journey, its own rite of passage, if you like. It was revered in the initial rites of preparation, consciously respected in the hunt, and then dispatched without malice and finally prayed over in death. This was no blood sport, no pleasure shoot, but a simple matter of survival, one life for another. No savagery here.

This arcane and quite profound relationship between the hunter and the hunted links them essentially as one. Even clothing and weapons become imbued with the spirit presence of the animal and are thus assimilated one to another; no separation exists magically between the hunter, his tools and his prey. Where success is required, it is to magic they turn, utilising all available spells, charms and offerings to their totemic deity. Thus all magic becomes focused on the prey its self, to allow itself to be killed, or to be easy to find, to make the hunter invisible to it, and always to respect the spirit of the prey.

It was believed that the hair, meat and blood of wild prey had a dangerous potency, and had to be neutralised. The concept of the man/animal relationship underlying the practice of hunting magic is sophisticated and complex; the rituals maintain a managed symbiosis to increase all species through survival which depended on need, rather than greed. The First Nation Tribes Peoples of America are fine exemplars of this vital tenet, to take only what is needful, understanding that, if you take too much, the herd is depleted, and this means no food for future generations. Some hunter societies believed that all life is interlinked, such that if you engage in dishonourable hunts, the grim outcome decrees that it would be your soul hunted by the Lord of the Animals, taken to his cave and reincarnated as a hunted animal.

This idea that all animal spirits return to the Lord of the Animals in his cave is very interesting, especially with regard to the Craft concept of the cave as a womb. Many caves have been discovered adorned with sparse but graphic scenes of hunting. Animal’s bones and effigies are often found in heaps towards the back of the caves in middens. Others are found nearer the front, pierced with holes that suggest a different usage and significance. Some hunter societies share similar beliefs to certain craft practices of an animal duality, of an inner spirit – the primal totem self, which if properly understood and contextualised, will help and guide the individual.

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It is also believed that to kill a persons spirit totem will affect the human person, that a family will recognise its own totem children and be able to repel any that is not its own. Thus on the other side of this bridge in life, the watcher will recognise his own by name and totem. The ‘hunter’ always remembers his ancestors; be, before, and beyond the hunt. Countless superstitions that require fore-knowledge in the victim that magic has been worked upon them, though undoubtedly successful present to my own understanding, a very different scenario lacking in a very real magical command of spirit, to the works of a true shaman where, like the hunter, they ‘create’ and manifest the reality of their magical will through wit and cunning rather than by psychological trickery.

The underlying purpose of hunting magic was and remains to maintain steady contact with their subject and afterwards to integrate the hunter safely into the community, as well as to promote the success of all ventures into the animal world. To that end, I wish to share a very fine and poignant tale that includes a genuine hunting spell from the myths of the Sami peoples, the oldest extant hunters who still have a deeply respected tradition of Shamen.

“I have a mind a thought occurs, a mind to go to my totem, to the foot of the tree, to the Ide of the forest girls, to the courtyard of the woodland maids, to drink the forest mead, to taste the honey of the woods in the shadow of my totem. By the watchful maidens I shall doff my tattered working clothes, dash down my working birch-bark shoes, put upon my hunting shoes, my stockings of darkest hue. I afterwards equip my limbs. My body I protect with a jacket shaggy at the edge, with a shirt of blue. I brush my head with twigs of fir. I comb it out with juniper, in order no scent escape, no human breath exhale. I put my bow in order and detach my honoured spear. I anoint with grease my shoes with the fat of swine, my feet have covered the snow, my feet have covered the heath. I carry my staff and move at a steady pace, I head towards the forests edge. And into the hazy wooded wilds, at the head of a copse I sing a song, into the inner depth of the forest-to amuse the forest girls, to delight the maiden of the wood. The old one has laid down fresh snow for me, fine snow does the old one send, as white as autumn ewe, as white as winter hare. I, leaving men, start forth to hunt, quit full grown men for outdoor work, on the old ones newly fallen snow, on the old ones snow without the footprint of a hare, unbroken by a foxes track.

First I make ready with my bow, unloose my spear, and address my snow skates with my lips; A skate is of the family of foot, a spear is of the axe`s race, a bow has kinship with the hand; grand is a bow of hardened yew, a spear-shaft made of a tree`s hard side, grand is one`s shoes that fits one well. I then when going to the woods, when I am leaving home, I have my guide`s, my three dogs, five dogs of mine with bushy tails, they guide me true. My dogs have eyes as large as a blessed oath ring, my dogs have ears as large as a water- lily on a lake, my dogs have teeth as sharp as a scythe.

What temper and what change has come o`er the delightful hunting-ground. While trapping, a maiden made rich my tract of wood, she made my beat abound with game. To take and not respect, to not [forfeit but accept in] gyfu [only]my life, will tilt the millstone, unbalance the order, and all abound will be cast in chaos. In the maidens hold, I hold my weapon’s in truth I ask no more, so I with chosen words beseech. I do not hunt on holy days, others may take by knavery, will take by fraud, I would not take by knavery, nor will I take by fraud. I only take that I have earned, I take with the sweat of my brow, I bring the best offering, I sing the best songs, thou are my shield under thee I sing.

My power is insignificant, my walk on you is short, my guide provides me all I need. Bread and mead I share with thee, I have hunted in this forest long, three forts in the forest lay, the one of wood, the other of bone, the third was a fort of stone. I took a glance at them inside as I stood at the foot of the wall; there the givers of gifts abide, the maiden lived there in. As for the wooden fort, the forest lassies lived within, the maiden in the one of bone, but in the fort of stone the forest`s master dwelt himself. All sparkled in there gold attire, were swaying to and fro, on his head the sun`s-son had a hat, three branches were in that hat. The arms of the forest`s mistress, of the kindly mistress, had golden bracelets on, upon her fingers golden rings, on her head a crown of gold, in golden ringlets were her locks, gold pendants in her ears. Her skirt was hung in golden pleats, around her neck hung pearls. Oh kindly maid oh pleasant mistress of the woods, glance kindly to thy servant here, be well disposed to give thy gifts, be generous with thy largesse’s. Hold not thy gaze from thy Faithfull son, not let binding or hunger strike me, for in thy shadow I shall hold thy light, and take nobly all I am given. I leave it to you, in whose hands we are held, to bless the hel shoe I am given.”

The death runes and hel shoes were an integral little known part of early death rites, still used in certain Craft families. There is much Craft Law here written, and much of the Mystery Tradition’s teaching in this simple charm.

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The hunter who established this ethic established a legend that has many parallels with the heroic figure of Robin Hood, whose ventures harken to us at this seasonal interstice most profoundly. Of him, Robin-the-Dart has this to say:

“In my own Craft, we firmly believe in the reality of ‘Utopia,’ a hope for the future. Never mourn the past; the lessons are there to see, where symbols retain the truth of this. It is for each of us to see beyond what we see, to discover the presence of myth beyond the drab and miserable illusion of what is presented as life.

A quote I particularly like is by Antoine Faivre: Myth is the founder of all culture and that without it, a humanity that has forgotten its lost civilization cannot make a new beginning.”   An ‘Old Craft’ saying – “nothing is forgotten, nothing is ever forgotten.”  that means as long as some of us can listen to the wind, interpret the symbols, then the word will always remain manifest for those with eyes to see and ears to listen. For true understanding of all you see and beyond, the gift of insight, prevalent within the Old Craft, we need to approach the word through the symbols it describes and upholds.” 

St Hubert

And so we come to the hunter, once a prince who is perhaps the earliest  exemplar of the archetype we know and celebrate in myth and legend as Robin hood and herne too. November the 3rd. Feast Day of St Hubert. His feast day marks the formal opening of the hunting season in Europe. Somewhat akin to Robin Hood and St Francis, his legend is worthy of investigation.

St. Hubert: a prince, huntsman, healer, and saint. Interestingly, he is also the patron saint other groups, some associated with the hunt, but some having no apparent connection, including butchers, soldiers, machinists, mathematicians, metal workers, furriers and trappers. In his capacity of healer, he is invoked against both rabies and bad behaviour in dogs–especially in hounds and other hunting dogs. This gift is celebrated still in a ceremony named ‘Blessing of the Hounds.’

Hubert, was born in 638CE, the eldest son of Bertrans, Duke of Aquitaine, and naturally as his heir, became a prince in the House of Aquitaine in France.  In 682, Hubert married into a powerful Merovingian family, taking Floribanne, daughter of Dagobert, Count of Leuven as his wife. Their son Floribert would later become bishop of Liège, though he nearly died at the age of 10 from a fever.

Hubert was a seasoned and skilful hunter, spending much of his privileged life in the forests where, as legend has it, he had a vision that was to convert the pagan prince into a mendicant. Seeking the familiar fauna of his hunting grounds, Hubert encountered a magnificent Stag; between its huge antlers he caught sight of the Holy Rood accompanied by a voice reprimanding his pagan ways. This profoundly affected Hubert causing him to renounce his privileged lifestyle. Rejecting even his title and his family,  he gave up his birthright to the Aquitaine to his younger brother Odo, whom he made guardian of his infant son, Floribert. He distributed all his personal wealth among the poor, then studied for the priesthood. Hubert was quickly ordained, applying his passion for the forests and for the animals therein for his remaining years. Within his arboreal retreat, Hubert successfully established Christianity in large sections of the Ardennes forest of Belgium, stretching from the Meuse to the Rhine. He gave succour and wisdom to its many hunters and foragers there, establishing a hunting ethic adhered to still, especially his native regions across the Netherlands.

Hubert taught compassion for them as God’s creatures with a value in their own right. Moreover, St. Eustace and St. Hubert thus appear to share many similarities to Robin Hood.  This was his coat of arms:

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Hunters rely heavily upon their dogs. Rabies, then a common problem decimated very quickly many prized hounds. Hubert was gifted with a natural immunity to this disease and also to cure its affliction to the unfortunate hound. Due to his great love for the hounds, the monks of the St. Hubert abbey named a breed of hound after him – the ‘chien de Saint-Hubert’ in his honour. The breed, a forebear of the modern bloodhound was originally black or black and tan, medium-sized, and smooth-coated, with shorter legs, designed specifically for hunting boar. Rather curiously, it is believed this breed was later crossed with the Talbot Hound, a pure white hound, now extinct, to generate the modern bloodhound. Again, a strange legend surrounding the white hunting hound that haunted the forests. Perhaps linked to the fae hounds of scarlet ear?

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In the Middle-Ages, an Order of knightly brotherhood (Rittersbruderschaft), reflecting the overlapping religious and military aspects of medieval court life was established too in Hubert’s honour as the patron saint of hunters and knights. The founding of the Order of the Golden Fleece in the early 15th century started a trend in confraternal princely orders. The purpose of these, whether established by monarchs or princes, was to foster loyalty to a sovereign, replacing the old Chivalric orders developed in the Crusades.

Both the Netherlands and Belgium claim saint Hubert as their own, holding a special Mass for him that celebrates sharing ‘mastellen’ before the hunt begins. This bread is akin to a cinnamon doughnut or bagel. There is an old folk rhyme for the blessed bread. It is a very special bread, some of which the hunter kept in his pocket to place into the mouth of the stag or hind  as a final  sacrificial meal to honour its passing – a tradition much upheld by those hunters today who observe still the ethic of St Hubert!

The hunt is followed by a traditional and hearty game casserole at the end of the day 

“I came all the way from Saint Hubert’s grave,

Without stick, without staff.

Mad dogs, stand still!

This is Saint Hubert’s will.”

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Refs:  Quotes by Robin-the-dart from ‘They call me the Hunter‘ www.clanoftubalcain.org.uk

And from ‘Pagan Symbolism within the Sherwood Legends’ by Daniel Bran Griffith {foreword by Robin-the-dart}
http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/221930799938?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649

And

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/191766488/pagan-symbolism-within-the-sherwood?ref=shop_home_active_2

Images and info sourced in:

https://houndwelfare.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/st-hubert-and-the-blessing-of-the-hounds/

http://catholiccuisine.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/st-hubert-patron-of-hunters-november.html

http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=3802

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~ by meanderingsofthemuse on November 3, 2015.

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