The Wild Hunt of Avalon

The Glastonbury Dragons Wild Hunt parade takes place every year during the Samhain season, and is a local depiction of the European folklore motif – the Wild Hunt.

The Wild Hunt is a supernatural procession of ghostly riders, who gallop across the night sky in pursuit of lost souls.

In some regions, seeing the Wild Hunt was a harbinger of disaster, while in other versions of its story, it symbolised the cycle of the seasons, and the passage of time. Watching the Wild Hunt foretold war or disease (like plague), or even the death of those who witnessed it. If you ever encountered the Hunt, you could be swept up by the hunters and carried to the underworld or fae realm. The Hunt is always associated with wild, untamed forces of nature and the Otherworld.

Asgårdsreien [The Wild Hunt of Odin], by Peter Nicolai Arbo, 1872

The origins of the Wild Hunt can be traced back to pre-Christian times. The leader of the Hunt is often a legendary or deific figure – in the Germanic tradition it’s Odin, in others it’s been Sigurd the dragon slayer. Early biblical versions were led by the archangel Gabriel, Cain, or even the Devil.

However, in the Glastonbury procession, the Hunt’s leader is the Welsh Celtic psychopomp Gwynn Ap Nudd, king of the fae and ruler of the Underworld.

The Glastonbury Dragon Wild Hunt processions are held on the closest Saturday to Samhain. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
The winter king is paraded through Glastonbury. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Glastonbury’s Wild Hunt is a modern-day reimagining of this ancient tradition. The festival brings together people from all walks of life, to participate in storytelling and folk music to drum circles and masked processions. There’s a wide range of experiences throughout the town, evoking the spirit of the spectral Hunt.

Another important aspect of the Wild Hunt is its connection to the natural world. Glastonbury, with its mystical landscape of hills, valleys, and ancient ruins, is a place where the boundaries (or ‘veil’) between the human and spirit realms are especially thin. By celebrating the Hunt in this sacred setting, festival-goers connect with the primal forces of nature and gain a deeper appreciation for interconnectedness.

Above and below: The Glastonbury border morris dance at sunset. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The festival attracts thousands of visitors each year, who come to Glastonbury during Samhain to experience its unique atmosphere and take part. Samhain is the time when the Fae walk among us, and the veil is thinnest. It’s when our ancestors can be called on, and we embrace the necessity of death and decay in the natural cycle. Holding the Wild Hunt at this time of year always brings a deeply magical and encompassing experience.

The winter king holds a flaming sword as he celebrates Samhain. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Glastonbury’s Wild Hunt festival is a vivid connection of ancient traditions and modern creativity. By bringing the myths and legends of the past into a contemporary world, the festival offers an opportunity to connect with our own wildness and transformative power. It invites us to explore new ways of thinking and being, and embrace the magic and mystery of the unseen world around us.

A festival-goer at the Wild Hunt in Glastonbury. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

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