Ride In Power

The holiday season is the season of The Wild Hunt, an ancient European folklore motif that continues to manifest in the collective consciousness through the enduring story of Santa Claus — that bearded magic man from the North who rides through the air on Christmas eve, barely two days after Winter Solstice.

The theme of The Wild Hunt, or Die Wilde Jagd, was first identified by Jacob Grimm, who theorized that the recurring stories of some dread hunt or huntsman found throughout Germanic folklore were the persistent echoes of pre-Christian pagan beliefs.  

The hunters have been variously identified as dead warriors or simply the dead, and the hunt has been led by everyone from Cain to King Arthur, but Grimm believed it was Odin who originally led the hunt.

In the American West, the Wild Hunt recurred in cowboy legends that were immortalized in the song “Riders in the Sky.”

Visions of The Wild Hunt were often believed to be harbingers of doom and war, but Grimm thought that this was probably due the Christian demonization of indigenous European beliefs. 

These divinities present themselves in a twofold aspect. Either as visible to human eyes, visiting the land at some holy tide, bringing welfare and blessing, accepting gifts and offerings of the people that stream to meet them. Or floating unseen through the air, perceptible in cloudy shapes, in the roar and howl of the winds, carrying on loar, hunting or the game of ninepins, the chief employments of ancient heroes : an array which, less tied down to a definite time, explains more the natural phenomenon. I suppose the two exhibitions to be equally old, and in the myth of the wild host they constantly play into one another. The fancies about the Milky Way have shewn us how ways and waggons of the gods run in the sky as well as on the earth. With the coming of Christianity the fable could not but undergo a change. For the solemn march of gods, there now appeared a pack of horrid spectres, dashed with dark and devilish ingredients. Very likely the heathen themselves had believed that spirits of departed heroes took part in the divine procession ; the christians put into the host the unchristened dead, the drunkard, the suicide, who come before us in frightful forms of mutilation.

Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology (Volume 3).

In researching this for a recent ritual at Waldgang, I was struck by the fact that in both the hunt and the lore regarding Valhalla, the valorous dead are actively engaged in joyous strife. Warriors hoped that if they were slain in battle, they would be chosen and find themselves among the other Einherjar. It was believed that in Valhalla, they would battle each other all day, and then be healed so that they could feast all night and then fight again the next day. 

This is a stark difference from those who yearn for an afterlife of rest and relaxation, of simple “happiness,” of passive communion with the divine, or even for an extinguishing end to cycles of death and rebirth. 

These noble, adventurous men dreamt of a “heaven” that promised endless adventure and lively struggle. They dreamt of man’s primal and primary occupation at the perimeter between order and chaos. They dreamt of hunting and fighting — forever and ever.

This spirit is captured by my favorite poem about the Wild Hunt, written by painter Arthur Fitger in the late Nineteenth Century. In it, Odin tells the reader to call him in the storm and the night to avoid the stifling grave and join in the wild hunting life for all eternity. 

Ruf’ mich in Sturm und Nacht
Empor, dich zu geleiten
Auf wilder Lebensjagd
Durch alle Ewigkeiten.

What we hope for in death also says something about what we want from life. 

Some dream of a heaven that promises a freedom from exertion, conflict and challenge. The reward they seek for a lifetime of struggle and suffering is an eternity of relaxation and recreation — or “oneness” with divinity. They have oriented themselves to “struggle to blank,” and they want to “rest in peace.” 

Perhaps some men feel most alive at a party or on vacation. Poolside with a margarita in hand. And while I’ll admit that sounds very nice, especially as I sit here watching the snow creep down from higher elevations, those aren’t the moments that define a man’s life. When I look back at the moments I am proud of, they are moments of creation or competition — moments of struggle and overcoming. Instants of inspiration and flow. 

It makes sense that ambitious and adventurous men who thrive on challenge and strife would dream not of eternal rest, but of an eternal ride. Of an endless adventure, engaged forever in the hunt or the fight. I have known many men like this, and in the absence of some immanent trial, they self-destruct. They don’t know what to do with themselves. Men of action need a purpose, an objective, some goal toward which they can direct their virile exuberance. 

Regarding the dead, I’ve heard men say, “rest in power.” 

Why wish them the torment of rest at all? Why not wish them a never-ending ride? 

Why not wish them, in death, the joy that they sought in life?

Why not say, “RIDE IN POWER?”

The act of riding is the most dynamic expression of the masculine principle. To ride is to seize some wild, chaotic thing and rein it in, to control it and impose your own will upon it with the loose snap of confidence and authority.

Imagine the audacious moment of the primal ride, when man first leapt on a horse and found he was able to give it direction and command that mass of muscle and breakneck speed. Imagine this moment repeated thousands of years later when men sat in the first automobiles fueled by fire, and again when they shot themselves into the sky, and again when they exploded themselves into space with the power of the sun.

This is the magic of the ride — that holy shit moment of daring and total engagement and total investment. It’s there in the hunt and the chase, it’s there in the battle, it’s there in the scrambling fight. This is the aggressive magic of men who train wolves and conquer women.

And, if I may quibble with Conan (from a wise distance), perhaps this is, truly, what is best in a man’s life. The ride.

This atavistic apparition, this dream of the wild dead hunting and fighting their way through the afterlife is a reminder to the living of what living is.

You can rest in peace if you want to, but there is more. Men become what they are when they venture out into uncertainty and assert themselves. That is how we have always been initiated — by learning to master and command chaos, in the world outside, in others, and in ourselves.

To initiate and continue this eternal becoming, to keep the wheel spinning, we must continue to seek out new challenges, new quests and quarries, and commit to that hunt. Commit to that fight.


Durch alle Ewigkeiten

“Wilde Jagd” – by Arthur Fitger

Wilde JagdWild Hunt
Es pfeift im Hagedorn,
Laut ächzt es in den Föhren,
Da läßt sein schmetternd Horn
Der wilde Jäger hören.

Hoch droben durch die Schlucht
Der sturmzerriss’nen Wolke
Jauchzt er in wilder Flucht
Vorbei mit seinem Volke.

Er schwingt den Eschenschaft
In erzgewalt’gen Händen,
Und Lebensüberkraft
Flammt in des Auges Bränden.

“Der du verschmäht die Rast
Des Himmels und des Grabes,
Der du begehrt die Last
Des ew’gen Wanderstabes,

Ruf’ mich in Sturm und Nacht
Empor, dich zu geleiten
Auf wilder Lebensjagd
Durch alle Ewigkeiten.

Die Seel’ erstickt in mir,
Denk’ ich der Gruft, der engen,
Und to bend möcht’ ich schier
Des Todes Fesseln sprengen.

Endlose Lebenslust,
Nein! du sollst nicht verrauchen,
Nicht elend in den Wust
Des Staubes untertauchen.

Wenn über meiner Gruft
Die Frühling
swinde pfeifen,
Wenn wirbelnd in der Luft
Die falben Blätter schweifen;

Dann bannt auch mich nicht mehr
Der dumpfe Totenhügel,
Dann jag’ auch ich daher
Auf freiem Sturmesflügel.”

It whistles in the hawthorn
Loudly it creaks in the pines
There his chilling horn
The wild hunter let hear

High above through the canyon
The storm-torn cloud
Exult he in wild escape
Over with his folk

He swings the ash tree shaft
In ore like/powered hands
And strength that goes beyond life’spower
In his eyes burning fires

“Thou who refuses to rest
In heaven or grave
Thou who crave the burden
Of the eternal wanderstick

Call upon me in storm and night
Up to give you retinue
On the wild hunt of our life
Through all eternity

The soul is suffocating in me
When I think of the so tight grave
And in fury I want
To burst the fetters of death

Endless lust of life
NO! You shall not vanish like smoke in the wind
Not miserable into the heap
Of dust drowning

When over my crypt
The winds of spring whistle
When twirling in the air
Pale leaves fly

Then I wont be captivated
By the dull hill of the death
Then I hunt around
On the free wings of the storm.
  Arthur Fitger . 1840 – 1909Translation: V. from Wölfe Nordland
Night sky over Waldgang. Jack Donovan. 2019.