Show Notes: Herne

The Second American Revolution

The Post Office where I grew up had a very interesting, eerie, spooky mural.  I hail from Delaware County, which lies in the Catskills of upstate NY.  What see below is a mural by Mary Earley, who was commissioned by the federal government.

The land was rented to tenant farmers who paid their debts with crops and other capital. In this semi-feudal but legal arrangement, a few privileged families controlled more than 2 million acres of land from Albany to Delaware Counties, as well as the lives of about 300,000 people.

Feudalism was declared illegal in New York State in 1782, but the practice continued. After the War for Independence, many farmers found themselves still beholden to these old aristocracies. The farmer paid all taxes, while the landowners paid nothing. The farmer had no right to buy the land, even though, in many cases, the landlords did not have legal title to the land they were renting out. 

SVR IV responded pretty much as King George III did; he ignored their demands and sent local sheriffs in to collect. They refused. The Anti-Rent Wars were on


Inspired by the Boston Tea Party, the farmers disguised themselves as “Calico Indians,” with costumes made from their wives’ calico dresses and sheepskin masks, and took names like Big Lion, Black Hawk, Red Wing, Pompey, Thunderbolt and, yes, Big Thunder. They would sound tin dinner horns, and the “Indians” would gather to meet, disrupt property sales, resist evictions, tar and feather opponents, and cause other acts of mayhem. In January 1845, 150 delegates from 11 counties met at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Berne to call for political action.

Four sheriffs were killed, and 400 people in Delaware County were put in prison for months. “I think people felt shame that they broke the law and killed a sheriff,” he says. “I talked to a historian who knew a woman who, as a kid, had found an outrageous Indian costume at her grandmother’s house. The grandmother told her, ‘You put that away and you never talk about it again.’”

Fionn Mac Cumhaill / Finn McCool

In Irish and Scottish legend,  Fionn was associated with deer, dogs, hunting and amazing feats of strength.  Fionn is a derivative of Fianna which means deer herd, and Finn in Old Irish means light or fair.    Like many heroes of folklore, he was rescued as a babe and hidden in a far land, raised to be a warrior who would return.  Even at the age of 10 he was described as an outlaw, but also assumed a role similar to David in the Bible when he fought The Fire-breather of the Tuatha de Danann, who came each Samhain (Hallows Eve) to wreak havoc and destruction.  Fionn defeated the Fire-Breather, and his feats of strength and cunning used to rescue the king’s daughter Tara earned Fionn the command of the Fianna, hunter warriors of Ireland.

Some legends claimed that Fionn was the descendent of elves, given his near silver hair.  If you met Fionn in the woods and were considered an enemy, mischief would ensue.

Herne The Rider, Shakespeare And The Dark Is Rising

Windsor, England has the legend of a hunter, like Fionn, but of more mysterious character.  Herne the Hunter rides before the Winter Solstice on a hunt to chase the souls of those who have sinned.   He is associated with protection of hunters, with fertility, and with fall as the season transitions to winter.

You can see some parallels with the imagery evoked by the Anti-Rent war rebellion, where they felt they were falsely represented and accused of breaking with the terms of their land leases.

Some legends claim Herne was a huntsman employed by King Richard II. In one version of the story, other men became jealous of his status and accused him of poaching on the King’s land. Falsely charged with treason, Herne became an outcast among his former friends. Finally, in despair, he hanged himself from an oak tree which later became known as Herne’s Oak.


Shakespeare wrote about Herne In The Merry Wives of Windsor

There is an old tale goes that Herne the Hunter,
Some time 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
Receiv’d, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.

The author of the Herne The Hunter legends adds this interesting local legend reminiscent of the Holy Ghost descending upon Egypt:

When I was at University, I had a good friend who lived in the Windsor Great Park. She told me (true or not) that on the 12th Night after Christmas, all the animals would be brought under cover as it was reputed that Herne and the Wild Hunt would ride. Any animal that witnessed this would quickly become gravely ill. She loved The Dark is Rising as much as I did which depicts the Wild Hunt. As I say, sometimes ancient memory remains in our bones.

The Dark Is Rising

Herne has come to be associated with Oak trees, nature, the Wild Hunt from Celtic lore, and some equate him with the Green Man, regarding him as a Horned God from Germanic legends.  In that capacity Herne is not described in terms of good or evil, but is a force of Nature.  

In the Dark Is Rising, a series of tales regarding the struggles of the Light against the Dark in England, Herne is a terrifying yet neutral force.  In this story, Will Stanton, the Seventh Son of the Seventh Son, must complete a quest of securing the Six Signs, talisman that give the Light power over the Dark, but only if Will’s offering and sacrifice can persuade Herne that Will’s deeds are worthy of reward.  Here Herne is terrifying figure:

The moon came sailing suddenly out from behind a cloud, and for a moment his eyes dazzled as he looked full into its cold white light; then it was gone again, and the white horse was moving out of the shadow, with the figure on its back changed in outline against the dim-lit sky. The rider had a head now that was bigger than the head of a man and horned with the antlers of a stag. And the white mare, bearing this monstrous stag-man, was moving inexorably towards Will. He stood, waiting, until the great horse came close; its nose gently touched his shoulder, once, for the last time. The figure of the Hunter towered over him. The moonlight now glimmered clear on his head, and Will found himself gazing up into strange tawny eyes, yellow-gold, unfathomable, like the eyes of some huge bird. He gazed into the Hunter’s eyes, and he heard in the sky that strange high yelping begin again; with the difficulty of escaping an enchantment, he dragged his gaze aside to look properly at the head, the great horned mask that he had given the Hunter to put on. But the head was real. The golden eyes blinked, feather-fringed and round, with the deliberate blink of an owl’s strong eyelids; the man’s face in which they were set was turned full on Will, and the firm-carved mouth above the soft beard parted in a quick smile. That mouth troubled Will; it was not the mouth of an Old One. It could smile in friendship, but there were other lines round it as well. Where Merriman’s face was marked with lines of sadness and anger, the Hunter’s told instead of cruelty, and a pitiless impulse to revenge. Indeed he was half-beast. The dark branches of Herne’s antlers curved up over Will, the moonlight glinting on their velvety sheen, and the Hunter laughed softly. He looked down at Will out of his yellow eyes, in the face that was no longer a mask but living, and he spoke in a voice like a tenor bell. ‘The Signs, Old One,’ he said. ‘Show me the Signs.’

Forgotten Conflicts of the Past Need To Be Retold


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