#38 – “Gandreið”

Gandreið is yet another Old Norse term often interpreted as “Witches’ Ride”. The word gandr seems to have had several meanings including “hound” and “gander”. Greylag geese are sometimes known as Heaven Hounds – their cries sounding like a pack of baying hounds. 


The Wild Hunt (Wilde Jagd, in the original German) is a term popularised by the folklorist Jacob Grimm in his 1835 work Deutsche Mythologie. There are many variations of the Wild Hunt, dating back centuries and varying according to their location, but all share certain characteristics: On certain nights, a supernatural party travels noisily through the air, hunting for unwary humans. In many stories an uncanny a pack of hunting hounds or wolves accompanies the party.

The Wild Hunt has been led by many: Diana, Goddess of the Moon and of hunting; Odin, Father of the Slain; Herne the Hunter;  the Queen of Elfland; King Arthur, the Devil himself… the list goes on and on. The hunt has also had many, many names including Odensjakt (“Odin’s Hunt”), Oskoreia (“Terrifying Ride”), and Gandreið.

Although Gandreið is often interpreted as meaning “Witches’ Ride“, the Old Norse word gandr actually seems to have had several meanings, including “stick” or “staff”, “wolf”, “hound”,  “swift horse” and “gander”, as in a male goose. (It is worth nothing that word gandr survives today in Scandinavian languages, meaning a “magical gust of wind”). Witches, of course, were known to ride all of these things through the sky on their way to their Black Sabbats. What, even geese? Yes, geese.

Mother Goose, the Fairy Tale figure popularised by Grimm’s French competitor Charles Perrault, was depicted as a pointy-hatted, staff carrying witch-figure from the early 19th century (at least), and as the rhyme tells us:

“Old Mother Goose,
When she used to wander,
Would ride through the air,
On a very fine gander.”

Greylag geese – the larger, wild ancestors of the domestic European goose – are, in certain places, nicknamed Heaven Hounds, or Gabriel’s Hounds – names they share with some British Black Dogs of folklore and legend. The cries of Greylag geese in flight are said to sound like a pack of baying hounds and, as the birds migrate to and from different parts of Europe at the turn of the season, their calls are only heard at certain times of year. 

[This mini essay is basically a chunk that I cut out of my forthcoming piece on The Wild Hunt, which will appear in Hellebore #2 (pre-order at https://helleborezine.bigcartel.com/product/hellebore-2 ), because I realised I was going off at a bit of a tangent about geese]