“And so the hunt begins. Tonight we will feast, we will drink and we will celebrate as we await the beginning of the hunt. He rides out on his great steed, hunting the spirits who wander the earth, on these the darkest days of the year. We put up the tree for the benevolent spirits to hide in, out of the cold and safe from Wodan’s hunters. We burn our yule log to protect us from the evil spirits, those that would try to enter and harm us. When it ends, in 12 days time, we will feast again and celebrate the return of the light.”
Grandfather told this story every year, and every year, I listened and dreamed of meeting Wodan and joining him on his hunt. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a part of that hunt, not huddled inside, feasting and warm, laughing and telling stories. I waited for the feasting to end, for the mead to run dry and the elders to doze off and dream their muddled dreams of warmth and wine. I dressed quickly in the soft supple leathers given to me as a gift this very night. My pack was ready, and uncle’s axe, left carelessly by the door, slid into my belt easily. I wrapped myself in my fur cloak and took one look back at those I loved as I walked out the door, sliding it closed silently behind me. I climbed onto my horse, a shaggy thick thing who shambled across the snow.
Weariness set into my bones as I plodded along, searching until finally I saw a speck in the sky, there and then gone, to the east. I set my horse to a canter as I rode off in search of Wodan’s ravens. The horn blew, loud and insistent. Excitement fueled me as I rode straight into the famed hunt. Wodan pulled up quickly in front of me, his hair and beard a shock of thick white standing out against his dark armor.
“What do you seek? The hunt begins, return to your home or fall victim to the spirits of the land.” Wodan spoke in a booming voice, tall upon his horse with his spectral army arrayed behind him. I looked him straight in his eyes, one blue and one black as night, an eye in which the wonders of the worlds are revealed. Inside I quivered, but my voice was steady and strong.
“I come to join you on your hunt. I would bring in the sun with you and defeat the darkness.” I said.
His laughter came as a surprise, echoing across the land. “Then tonight you shall.” He said, his eye twinkling. I felt the change in me as I became a part of the hunt, my steady horse turned into a wild destrier, snorting and stomping her feet, ready to hunt. “Come young one, hunt with us,” he said, and I fell in beside him, removing my axe from my belt.
We hunted throughout the night, finding spirits and demons across the land and sending them back to the darkness of their world. Long into the night the hunt continued as I rode beside Wodan, never feeling the cold. We talked as we rode, telling each other stories, stories I would one day tell my own children and grandchildren as my grandfather did. We hunted until the darkness began to fade.
“Return to your home now, young one.” He said as he turned away, his army following behind as they rode up into the clouds.
I awoke in my bed, huddled beneath my furs, no sign of my ride with Wodan. Around me the elders still slept. I padded across the floor, wondering if it was all a dream when I noticed a small package beneath the tree. I opened the package quickly. A small stone, the size of an eye and black as onyx fell into my hand. I grasped the stone in my hand, closing my eyes and feeling the power in this small stone, this gift left for me from the great Wodan.
*This story was originally published in the Womanthology Holiday PDF for backers of Womanthology.