aka Herne the Hunter

A figure from British folklore, later incorporated into Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor as a disguise worn by Falstaff in order to woo the said wives:

There is an old tale goes that Herne the hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner:
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Received, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the hunter for a truth.

Supposedly, Herne was a groundskeeper of Windsor Forest for King Richard II (1367-1400). One day, when Richard was hunting, a stag turned upon the king and tried to kill him. Herne lept between the two, killing the stag but being gravely wounded in the process. A "dark man" appeared, and offered to heal Herne. He cut off the stag's head and placed it on Herne, thus giving the huntsman his famous antlers.

Versions differ as to what happened next. Some say he lost his woodsman skills, and commited suicide, while others say that upon receiving the deer's head, Herne became a phantom, condemned to hunt souls. Either way, he was apparently connected to the Wild Hunt.

There is little evidence that Herne is a later manifestation of Cernunnos; though the names are similar, the story of Herne is localized to Windsor, and the name is found nowhere else. Cernunnos seems to be a continental figure, and his name only appears on one inscription, the Sailors' Pillar of Paris.

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Mary Jones 2005