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Tales of Santa Claus have delighted children all over the world throughout the ages. However, upon closer inspection of historical data, some found on Wikipedia.com an on line encyclopedia, the legend of a German god named Woden seems to have survived the centuries, evolved and draw similarities between itself and the legend of Santa Claus and his elves and the Wild Hunt.
Culture Changes the Name
The Wild Hunt (also known variously as Woden's Hunt, Herod's Hunt, Cain's Hunt, the Devil's Dandy Dogs, and in North America Ghost Riders) was a folk myth prevalent in former times across Northern, Western and Central Europe, according to Wikipedia. The fundamental premise in all instances is the same: a ghostly group of huntsmen with horses and hounds in mad pursuit across the skies or along the ground, or just above it.
Dogs and horses were commonly among the procession of the Wild Hunt. Dogs have long been connected with death throughout Northern Europe and the horse has taken many a rider between the nine worlds of Norse Mythology, according to Alfta Svanni Lothursdottir, author of "The Religious Practices of Pre-Christian and Viking Age North," found on Northvegr.org.
Researchers on Wikipedia say that the hunters may be the dead, or the fairies (often in folklore connected with the dead). The hunter may be an unidentified lost soul, a deity or spirit of either gender, or may be a historical or legendary figure like Dietrich of Berne, the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag, Woden (or other reflexes of the same god, such as Alemannic Wuodan in Wuotis Heer ("Wuodan's Host") of Central Switzerland, Swabia etc.), or Arawn.
The leaders of the Wild Hunt were known by many names, including Wodan (or Woden), Knecht Ruprecht (or Krampus), Berchtold (or Berchta), Holle (or Hulda), and Selga. It depended on what group of people repeated the oral history. The Wild Hunt is known from the post-medieval folklore of Germany, Ireland, Great Britain, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, and to a lesser extent Norway and the chasse-galerie, or the flying canoe of Québec that contained fur pirates who made a deal with the Devil, as written on Wikipedia.
Harlequin, a mute character in traditional pantomime, typically masked and dressed in a diamond-patterned costume comes from obsolete French, from earlier Herlequin or Hellequin, the name of the leader of a legendary troop of demon horsemen; perhaps ultimately related to Old English Herla, a mythical figure sometimes identified with Woden, writes Elizabeth Knowles in the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
Herla and the Wild Hunt Legend
According to the twelfth century writer, Walter Map in his book De Nugis Curiallium, Herla was a legendary king of the ancient Britons who became the leader of the folkloric Wild Hunt after a visit to the Otherworld, only to return some two hundred years later, after the lands had been settled by the Anglo-Saxons.
Herla and a dwarf king with a great red beard and goat's hooves who is mounted on a goat, make a pact: if the latter attends Herla's wedding, Herla will reciprocate precisely one year later, according to the book.
On the day of Herla's marriage, the dwarf attends with a vast host, bringing gifts and provisions. The dwarf king's followers attend to the wedding guests so efficiently that Herla's own preparations are untouched. The otherworldly king then reminds Herla of his promise, and departs.
A year later, the pygmy king sends for Herla, who summons his companions and selects gifts to take to the other's wedding. The party enters an opening in a high cliff, passes through darkness, and then enters a realm seemingly lit by lamps.
After the wedding ceremony, which lasted for three days in the pygmy king's realm, was over, Herla prepares to depart. The dwarf gives him hunting animals and other gifts; in particular, he presents Herla with a small bloodhound, advising him that no man should dismount his horse before the dog leaps down.
Rip Van Winkle Effect
An elderly shepherd described a legend of a very ancient queen of the Britons bearing the name mentioned, the wife of a King Herla, who had disappeared with a pygmy king into that very cliff and was never seen again. The shepherd also added that currently the Saxons had been in possession of the kingdom for the last two hundred years, and had driven out the native Britons.
Herla, who thought he had been away for just three days, is so amazed he can barely stay in the saddle. Some of his men jump down from their horses, only to crumble quickly into dust. Herla warns his remaining companions not to dismount until the dog alights. But the dog, Map says wryly, has not yet alighted, and Herla and his host have become eternal wanderers. Another legend recounted how King Herla was warned not to step down from his horse until the greyhound he carried jumped down and he and his men are still riding, because the greyhound has yet to jump down.
Tricked by a Dwarf
As stated on Wikipedia, and Reference.com and several other books on elves, "Vættir" were similar to elves and wights which are nature spirits in the Norse religion. These nature spirits divide up into 'families', including the Álfar (elves) and Dvergar (dwarves). The term 'families' (ættir) is often translated as 'clans' or 'races'. By extension, the dead are grouped among the families of Vættir, especially when understood as being in the Underworld (Hel).
According to Reference.com, during the 19th century, Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe compiled the folk tales among Norwegians. These stories reflected the 'folk belief' that preserved earlier elements deriving from the Viking Era but strongly influenced by the medieval Christian cosmology of Germany, Britain and France.
Prominent are stories that reflect later views of the Vættir, usually called the Huldrefolk (of old Norse) meaning 'concealed people' and referring to their otherworldliness or their power of invisibility.In addition, the world of humans as a family is also counted among these worlds.
De Nugis Curiallium by Walter Map, Edited by F. Tupper & M.B Ogle (Chatto & Windus, London 1924)
British & Irish Mythology by John & Caitlln Matthews (Diamond Books, London 1988)
The Enchanted World: Dwarfs by Tim Appenzeller (Time-Life Books, New York 1985)