A woman stands in the city park amid early-morning walkers, and faces the sun. She kicks off her shoes, wiggles her toes in the grass and raises her arms.
“Herne the Hunter, Lord of the Wild and King of Windsor Forest! Hear your Daughter’s call!”
I fell in love with Herne the Hunter in 2003. It’s not something I hear about often – falling in love with a “character from mythology” but when I first found out about him, I fell in love and became obsessed for a while. It waxed and waned depending on where in life I was, but I always went back to him. Because I was always meant to. He waits and watches us when we first introduce ourselves to him, making sure we are honest and truly want him to be a part of our lives. He will come when called upon in ritual for spell work and the like, but it’s different when you both know that you will be a Dedicant of his. To have a continual relationship with him, or work with him and learn from him, to give him offer every day/week/your choosing and have him by your side, I can’t help but smile. I feel so lucky to have him in my life. As I said, I’m in love!
Normally when people ask me about my tattoo and I reply “it’s Herne the Hunter” I’m either given a blank look, or a look of “that girl’s speaking pig latin?”
Often associated (or sometimes mistaken) for Cernunnos, Herne was once a man, living and breathing as we are right now. After death his spirit was once a ghost, then rose/became a Deity most likely through a connection to Cernunnos, but intuition tells me it was through people being shit scared of him, so offerings were made for safety. His story isn’t a pretty one – it’s rough and harsh and sorrowful and dangerous. I have written his story from his point of view. Some words weren’t mine, as I know he was whispering in my ear for parts.
There are so many variations to the story of Herne. But he was a hunter, the favourite hunter to King Richard II. One day in the forest, they found a rare white stag. Arrows pierced it, but did not bring it down. And with such a regal animal, only a King may slay it. The stag retaliated and charged at the King, now off his horse. Herne, being loyal to his King, stepped in front and took the force of attack, drew his sword into its heart, then passed out. A magician, sorcerer, whatever you’d like to call him, came to them. He said he was in the area, and heard what happened. He told the King that he could save Herne, but he would need the other Hunters to take the stag’s horns and tie them to Herne’s head. King Richard nodded approval, and the other hunters did as told. The Sorcerer followed them back to the castle, and continued to tend to Herne with oils and ointments, with drinking tonics and herbs. Eventually, Herne made a full recovery, but he found his hunting skills were gone. The Sorcerer had taken them as payment for his life. Herne continued to go out with the King, but could not find animals. Each day he came back with nothing. The other hunters were still jealous of Herne being the Kings favourite, so they decided to set him up. They hunted at night, without the King, and brought back the hides of the animals. They left them in Herne’s chambers, and told the King that Herne was himself going out at night and hunting, so there were no animals to be found during the day. The King refused to believe this. Over time, still no animals were found, and the hunters once again told the King it is because of Herne. Ready to put this slander to rest, the King ordered Herne’s rooms be checked. And there they found hides of animals. Outraged, the King banished Herne from the castle, and from the Kingdom. Herne’s body was found the next day, hanging from an Oak in the forest.
For me, as much as he is definitely a Winter God and a Dark God, I do find a lot of balance within him, or at least with how I perceive him and how he is with me (sometimes he’s gentle with me, but he will kick my ass and pull me into gear, or even pull me into the darkness if he believes it’s what I need to experience). He is the light shining through the forest, and the dark of night. He is both the sun shining upon the land, and the moon shining bright in the night sky. He is both the hunter and the hunted. He is the power of the wilderness, the strength of the running stag, and the autumn leaf falling to the ground on the gentle breeze.
He can be a bit of a larrikin, and I’m in love with his sense of humour. In July 2012 I was walking to work through Hyde Park. Sometimes (because I don’t trust what I hear) we converse through my iPod on Shuffle. Having neared the end of the North park and about to cross the road to the South, we saw people doing training on the other side, running up and down the hill. I made a comment about wishing I could have time in the mornings to do classes like that, and he responded with “Eye of the Tiger”! I burst into laughter and got some strange looks from passers by!
That said, his darkness is dark, and can be suffocating at times. When you yourself are going through the harsh times, or when you need to go into the darkness to work through personal demons, he is someone you should call upon. If you’re going through depression and need help, or a divorce, or grief, or anything where you know you need to work through the dark cave to find the exit and sunlight – he is something who can help guide you to what you need to do, as he’s been there, done that.
Herne does have attributes that are associated with him.
Hunting. He always knew where they would be. He knew the forest like the back of his hand, he knew their tracks. He would read his surroundings – the moved earth, the broken branch, the echo of sound. He never came back empty handed. Herne is not for the weak willed, or those against killing animals. To work with Herne is to honour the sacrifice. We eat animal and surely as they eat each other, and sometimes us. Sometimes the animal will understand its time has come to an end, and will offer itself in self-sacrifice. Herne sacrificed himself so his King could live. He threw himself into the path of the White Stag, and coped the brunt of its force. Like Herne, we too must make sacrifices. Perhaps not on the same level, but in our own. We sacrifice what we love for the good of society, to keep the peace within our relationships, for our children and family. We sacrifice what we believe in to hide our ways. Like the animal in the forest running from the hunter, we too must run to save ourselves from those who do not understand, and those who chose to remain ignorant.
Reverence of nature. As mentioned above, the forest was his second home, where he felt most comfortable. Stories say he hunted on his horse, but intuition tells me that he would often hunt barefoot, so he could feel the earth between his toes to assist in being as quiet as he could. He could feel the earth move beneath him, feel the rumble as herds raced by, better than if he wore boots or on horseback. He worked with nature, honoured his surroundings. As must we, if we are to work with him. Honour the green, the blades of grass, the fallen leaves. Honour the flower as it opens to the sunlight. But also honour the urban jungle that so many of us live in. This is hardest for me, given my job is in construction. So I honour what is beneath the surface, find joy from seeing the different layers of earth, the limestone and the others.
Sovereignty. It is said Herne will be seen when Britain is in trouble. He is the King’s man, and I believe he always will be. He gave his life for his King, for this country, and will rise again and again and be at Britannia’s side. He is no longer loyal to one King, as we’ve seen how that worked out. He’s loyal to the land, to the Kingdom, and the energies of the land. It doesn’t matter were in the world you live, or whether your country is still a part of the Commonwealth. Honour where you live, help look after where you live. Honour the land and its inhabitants.
The Darkness Within. Herne hung himself from a great Oak when King Richard II cast him out of the Kingdom. The other hunters had won, and turned the King against his favourite hunter. There is no balance to light without the darkness. I have witnessed Herne be ‘one of the boys’ and a larrikin (as mentioned earlier), but I admire his strong, darker side. The madness, the distress, the hurt that led him to the Oak. The confusion of what to do without his hunting skills.
Knowledge. He’s often associated with this through his ties with the oak and what the oak represents. His knowledge of the hunt and of the forest is what I first associate, and then transfer that to knowledge in general. You cannot master your craft without knowledge of skill, of the field, and knowledge of self. He knew what he was capable of. He knew the forest like the back of his hand. He knew how taught to pull the bowstring, or how hard to throw an axe.
The Wild Hunt. There’s going to be a separate post on this, so I’m going to hold off writing here. Stay tuned!
For me, it was like finding an old friend, and realising that although there are years between speaking, no time has passed. It was finding a teacher who you automatically hit it off with. It was finding such admiration that you want to soak up all the knowledge and teachings he could offer. Becoming a Dedicant of Herne wasn’t something I decided upon lightly. Being a Dedicant and Daughter of Herne means honouring yourself, both dark and light elements, and it’s a journey and I want to say ‘task’ but it’s really the wrong word. It’s something that you do for yourself, but you never stop doing it. Like breathing. With each day, you find more to yourself, you understand who you are more and more, and before long he’s helped you realise that you’re able to achieve more than you could have ever imagined. Working with Herne means honouring the land, honouring your environment, and honouring sacrifice. Know sacrifice, and we all know it, we’ve all experienced it and many of us are living through it. As much as I can disagree with what I’ve had to sacrifice in my own life, sometimes it is for the better. It may not seem like it at the time, but it leads you to a new journey and a new opening. It’s throwing yourself in the deep end, standing up for what you believe in, regardless of the consequences. It’s speaking for the earth, being her voice to those who are too deaf to listen.
There is one particular book which I highly recommend for those who are interested in learning more about Herne the Hunter. “In Search for Herne the Hunter” by Eric Fitch is amazing. I cannot praise this book highly enough! Words don’t exist! Eric has done amazing research into every aspect of Herne, down to similarities of neighbouring countries and cultures, and the detail is incredible.
Some thoughts on other associations…
Some associate him with the number 7, but I feel that is more Cernunnos. I struggle to find a number to associate with him. The story says that Cernunnos had 7 tines on his antlers, where I feel Herne as 6. But through a numerology stand point, he’s not a 6 number.
Colours (for me) are greens, browns, greys, and metals such as copper and silver. Leather and wool are two more that I feel drawn to with him – real, natural fibres.
If he had to have a time of day it’d be in the early hours of the morning, just as the animals are rising, and the sun begins to dance through the trees onto the forest floor. That time between pre-sunrise and sunrise. The cool of the air before the heat kicks in, the fog before the rains come.
Scent is masculine and woody. I’m creating an incense for him at the moment and it’s very personalised. It mixes the scents of both our lands but very, very masculine. If I could bottle man sweat and pheromones, I would use that in the mix!
If you’d like to honour him, do what feels right for you. I will not say, “you must use this particular fruit, or this particular scent, and he doesn’t like this or that.” What makes you think of him, what do you think he’d like? I’ve been wanting to leave an offering of cider for him, but I drink it all before I have a chance to pour him a glass.
If you need protection, call upon him. If you need guidance in a rough part of life, call upon him.