Herne the Hunter

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Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes 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 a figure from English folklore. In life Herne is said to have  been a Keeper of Windsor Forest.  The legend varies between sources as to when he was alive. Some say he was a keeper during Richard II’s reign but others suggest it was  during Elizabeth I’s reign.
Most sources agree that he hung himself from a tree one night, either after being accused of committing a terrible crime or because of more mysterious circumstances, such as being cursed by a magician. The tree is now referred to as Herne’s Oak.
He is a portrayed as a horned huntsmen who continues to lead a spectral hunt through Windsor Forest. He is considered to be a localised God of the Hunt in Berkshire, probably based off of Cernunnos. Cernunnos is part of Celtic mythology and is the Wild God of the Forest. He is also horned and associated with lust, fertility and nature.

Herne the Hunter in fiction:The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper



2 responses to “Herne the Hunter

  1. This is really interesting! Folklore is so full of intriguing and great stories and characters. I have to say that my favorite part of stories like this is that many of them leave things for the listener to make up themselves. Why did Herne hang himself? Was he guilty or was he a victim? It’s really thought-provoking!

    I look forward to more of this feature. I have a feeling that I will learn a lot from it!

  2. I’m looking forward to writing more posts for this feature, too. This gives me an incentive to research and learn about all kinds of old tales. When I started looking for something to write about for this post I managed to jump from bakeneko (I found really good articles on them, like this one: http://hyakumonogatari.com/2012/06/03/bakeneko-the-changing-cat/ ) to Herne, I’m not quite sure how :/. But it’s a fun process!

    Yeah, I agree the ambiguous sides of folk tales are often the most thought provoking parts. They let the listener take an active role in imagining the details for themselves. I think that is often how folk tales can become increasingly complex and change over time because each time it is passed on someone adds a bit of what they think happened when they tell it..

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