Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. — JRR Tolkien
The Wild Huntsman that I know doesn’t ride a horse or wield a sword. Of course, my teenage imagination wanted him to. I wanted to believe that somewhere there were druids and standing stones and everything as perfect once upon a time and we lived in a fallen world and we merely needed to be led back to the garden…
Wait…I’ve heard that story, somewhere. But I digress…
The Wild Huntsman that I know drives a fine piece of Detroit steel, probably a Mustang or a Thunderbird, model circa 1969. An unlawfully loud, gas-guzzling, fume-spouting, dragon of a car.
When I first started driving, I started to feel Him on the roads. On image came into my mind, fueled half by stories I read, half by my own experiences and visions. I could imagine him clearly, on the streets that I knew. His steed either red or black, depending on the night. When it rained or snowed, it was black. The paint gleamed with lambent unnatural silver under the streetlights. Cruising down Woodward, or Jefferson, you swore the damned thing glowed…but no, it was a trick of the fog. If you were on the freeway, all you saw were its red tail lights and you were just thankful He wasn’t interested in taking you with Him.
On clear nights it was red, and even the cops let Him slide, “Didja see that guy?” the younger cop would ask, as it flew by, clocking 98.
“Didn’t see nothin’” said the older guy, “Drink yer coffee.”
I always knew the nights He was on the road. I’d make it from Southfield to Ann Arbor in half the time it should have taken. On I-75 between Downtown Detroit and the Ohio border a pack of cars might find themselves caught up in the Hunstman’s chase. In the morning they’d wonder how the hell they made Toledo in forty minutes and Dayton in two hours, but at least tonight, the Hunter wasn’t up for a wreck
Maybe the Wild Huntsman as phantom automobile is just a figment of my mad imagination, but what else would the Huntsman ride, now?.
The automobile is the teenage spirit of sex and death in modern America. The names themselves are totems: Mustang, Lynx, Thunderbird, Impala. The list is endless.
An automobile moves with the power of fire. We invest it with a bit of our own spirit. When we drive, we refer to the car as “Me” and “I”. One might say, “I wish that guy would get off my butt.” meaning the vehicle behind is being driven too closely. Is it any wonder we anthropomorphise them? Give them their own houses? Take care of them as if they were our children? It would be a little mad not to. We lose our virginity in them. We construct our identity around them. We die in them. Stealing a car is treated much more seriously than rape or perhaps even murder. The Archetypical American story is the Road Story; whether it’s some dirt track somewhere, Route 66 or any part of Eisenhower Interstate System.
Every road has a spirit. That’s why crossroads are so powerful. It’s where the ley lines meet, if you will. But we’ve made a huge system of roads that have no crossroads. They are merely lines of force and power. They join as rivers join and branch off, nothing to stop it.
We’re enticed with the idea of “the Freedom of the Road”, even if we never take the road farther than our job. It’s just knowing that we could.
Sometimes we do make those road trips. When I was a child, I made many with my parents, and then as a teenager and young adult. The only way to properly see parts of this country is from the road. Specifically following those paths that are limited to vehicles with combustion engines.
Buried in the Interstate system is the knowledge that, like Roman roads, like Gothic castles, they were built for warfare; to move troops and weaponry. More, they carry our food, our goods, the stuff of our lives. Everything in the room with you, right now, has a 99.9% chance of having had to be shipped in a container truck across some interstate. More than anything, the Interstate is what binds our Early 21st Century lives together.
They are very serious about their mission, but like soldiers off duty, they want to play. With the sun shining, on a clear day, when traffic is light, you can feel the Hunter in his guise as Young Lover. Think James Dean, think Easy Rider, think a thousand other road movies. If you want to see the God as Lover, you have only to look beside you, at the red light. He’s there, in that boy’s eyes as he drops his foot on the accelerator and disappears in a cloud of testosterone
Where’s the Goddess in all this? These roads are not exclusively male, by any means. Perhaps they were built so, in the early days, but no longer. Look at that road again. There she is…Venus turns to give a you a slow wink before she floors her sweet pink roadster, making you feel young again. Look to the medians. A hundred wildflowers and grasses spring up, where by rights, nothing should be able to survive the constant car exhausts, but the land struggles on. The Goddess laughing at our foolishness, because one day we will be gone and the roads will be all that is left of us. She knows. She’s seen it. The old Roman roads still endure here and there, after all. In the mean time, Hera’s driving a peacock green mini-van with a few kids in back, watching out for all the soccer moms. Persephone’s sitting beside Demeter, tooling around in a yellow Viper with the top down.
I have felt the Goddess ride beside me when the music was just perfect and I was on I-94, headed to Chicago, just for a pizza. I have felt Her, watching from the woods, on a bitter cold January night when I pulled off to the side of the road, fifty miles from any light pollution and saw the Milky Way the way the ancients saw it. I have heard her voice when she’s said “Slow down hard. NOW.” just before someone pulls an asshole move and cuts me off.
These roads have powerful magic. They were built by people, to serve people. But every creation has a dark side.
If the Wild Huntsman calls you, He calls you to get lost on these roads. He may call you to die on these roads. Drive in the middle of the night and you can feel Him. Look at the thousands of roadside shrines for your proof of the human sacrifices He demands.
Six million accidents every year.
Not all of them fatal. Most of them just fender benders, not even worth mentioning. But more die in wrecks than are killed by drugs or disease or any other single cause.
Remember how young you were the first time you knew someone who died in a car wreck? For me it was fifteen, maybe.
I’m an EMT, so I go to these wrecks, and help who I can. When it’s bad, its very, very bad. And it’s human error or hubris that cause most wrecks. The Spirits of the Road are unforgiving and The Huntsman is not known for mercy.
As you drive by those roadside shrines, spare a thought to the power of that gesture. A cross, a marker. Many cultures believed that if one died on the road, one had to be guided home. Great power is evoked at places of death. Our roads are haunted places.
When someone dies on scene, at a wreck, there is a protocol. Next time you’re stopped on a freeway for hours, consider that an accident might have been a death and they’re waiting for someone with the proper authority to come to move the body.
The gods and goddesses of death are there too. If they’re lucky, an accident victim dies instantly, their shade standing, staring at the wreck. “What happened?” they always ask.
If they’re not lucky, a broken body is pulled from twisted metal, lasting just long enough to die on the way.
When you pass one of those shrines, spare a prayer that that shade has been guided safely home.
We do not honor the Spirits of the Roads at our peril.