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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ghost Riders and the Wild Hunt by Kaye Spencer

Image courtesy*
Artist: Leno Prestini (1906-1963)

Ghost riders in the sky…

Those five words conjure vivid images for me, not the least of which is “Slade’s Last Ride” scene from the 2007 movie, Ghostrider, with Nicolas Cage and Sam Elliott.

The song, (Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend, was written by Stan Jones and released on June 5, 1948, and has been heralded as the Number 1 country music song of all time**.

There are many, many recordings of this song that cross the musical spectrum. Here is a partial list of performers who have recorded the song:
  • Vaughn Monroe
  • Bing Crosby
  • Frankie Laine
  • Johnny Cash
  • Willie Nelson
  • Eddie Arnold
  • Peggy Lee
  • Gene Autry
  • Burl Ives
  • Duane Eddy
  • Sons of the Pioneers
  • Judy Collins
  • Willie Nelson
  • Roy Clark
  • Lawrence Welk
  • Patrick Stewart
  • Baja Marimba Band
  • Tom Jones
  • Spiderbait
  • Boston Pops Orchestra
  • Elvis Presley
  • R.E.M.
  • Chris LeDoux
  • Blues Brothers
  • Dean Martin
  • Marty Robbins (my personal favorite)
  • Christopher Lee (Some ideas are better left unfinished...)

The legend of the ghost rider has its roots in Europe, particularly Britanny, Ireland, Wales, Scandinavia, Spain, France, and Germany. Jacob Grimm of the fairy tales Brothers Grimm, developed the idea of the 'wild hunt' through comparative mythology that he published as Deutsche Mythologie (1835) " a folkloristic survival of Germanic pagan tradition, but comparable folk myths are found throughout Northern, Western and Central Europe...The Wild Hunt is an ancient myth of a spectral or otherworldly hunting party that sometimes appears at night."***

The warrior-leaders most associated with some form and version of the Wild Hunt are Wodin, Wodan, Odin, Herne the Hunter, King Arthur, and Old Nick. A few modern works of literature that use the Wild Hunt myth as part of the story are Sir Artur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, William Butler Yeats' 1893 poem The Hosting of the Sidhe, and Susan Cooper's 1973 book series The Dark is Rising. There are also comic books, movies, and operas with the wild hunt/ghost rider theme woven throughout or as the predominate story line. I've read that the song Ghostriders in the Sky was the inspiration for the song Riders on the Storm by the Doors.

The Wild Hunt: Asgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo****
My novel, The Gunfighter's Woman, is a paranormal western romance inspired by this legend and the song. I incorporated the wild hunt in the form of the cowboy ghost riders as a motivating force in the hero's life to change his ways before it’s too late. This story was originally published in 2006 as a novella, and several years later, along with a significant amount of plot added to the story, it became the novel-length story it is now with a deeper romance and nastier villains. The ghost riders still want to claim the hero's soul, but he's not going down without a fight now that he's found the redeeming love of a good woman.

Here’s a little more about The Gunfighter’s Woman:

When beautiful widow Brenna Gérard comes upon semi-conscious gunfighter Matt Caddock, all hell is about to break loose. An unholy storm’s a-brewin’, and Brenna makes a split-second decision to save Matt from the spectral fire-eyed cowboys who forever chase the devil’s herd—and pick up lost souls along the way.

Once they reach the safety of the ranch, Brenna cares for Matt’s wounds and makes him welcome—no questions asked. But Matt must learn to accept the fact that Brenna is being guarded for a while longer by her deceased husband’s spirit—and he’s not leaving her just yet.
Though Matt and Brenna are fast falling in love, there’s the matter of a fortune in gold that stands between them—gold that Matt never wanted, but now must find and use to keep Brenna’s ranch from failing. Archer, an outlaw who Matt once partnered with, wants that gold just as badly—and he’s prepared to kill for it.

Can Matt settle the score with Archer and keep Brenna safe? And when the ghost riders return on the next lightning-laced storm, will they be taking Matt with them? Or will the love of The Gunfighter's Woman be enough to ensure the future they hope for together?


“We have to leave. Your horse is still on the other side. We can ride my horse to the ranch.” She pointed to her horse, Samson, and immediately felt silly for the gesture since the man’s eyes were clamped shut in a grimace of teeth-gritted pain.

Lightning slashed the sky with an explosion of thunder that shook air and Earth and deafened ears.

The man came off the ground in a lunge, feet planted wide, and his attention fixed on the black billowing cloudbank rolling along McBride Mesa to the west. Mesmerized, Brenna stared at the clouds as they transformed into a mighty herd of cattle stampeding along the mesa’s rim. As she watched, the herd curved east, dipping low along the ancient stone wall and then soaring into the sky. The herd doubled-back with the sinuous motion of a Chinese dragon in an undulating journey from ground to towering clouds and back down again.

On the second pass, the cloud-herd swung south and swooped down from Trinchera Pass, passing overhead on a blast of scorching wind. Brenna flinched and ducked as the lead steers overtook them. Samson snorted, bolted, but she held fast to his reins. Eyes blazing with the fires of Hell, the herd pounded the air with steely hooves on peal after peal of thunder as it swung out north across the prairie to come charging low over Pine Canyon on the east.

Then, the clouds split open into a sandy ravine that cut a wide, ragged path to a range in the heavens. Brenna felt their breath in a whoosh of hot wind and saw their black horns glistening and brands flaming with each lightning blaze as the ghost herd plowed up that draw.

“No! Not going. They’re not taking me!”

“What is that?”

The man snaked an arm around Brenna’s waist and tossed her to the saddle then swung up behind her. “Hang on!”

Clamping one arm around her middle, he grabbed the saddle horn with his other hand, and slapped spurs to Samson.

The horse reared, leaped, and came down at a dead run, ears flattened against his head, and his neck stretched out. A mournful, skin-prickling cry cut through the air. Hot wind whipped their clothes; lightning-scorched air left an acrid sulphur stench in its wake. Brenna twisted to look behind. The sight coming at them was terrifying and fascinating.

Hurdling from the midst of the churning maelstrom of boiling black clouds came spectral cowboys riding hard and fast after the phantom herd on hollow-eyed, fire-snorting skeleton horses pawing the air as they roared toward them. A low keening wail rose on the wind.

Matthewwwww Matthewwwww Caddockkkkkkk.

The man warned, “Close your eyes! Don’t look!”

But Brenna couldn’t look away from the spectral cowboys charging over them, their gaunt eyes staring from fire-flaming faces as they swung around and away in their relentless pursuit of the ghost herd. Rain burst from the clouds; hail peppered down. A blast of frigid wind hit them broadside...

The Gunfighter's Woman is available on Kindle, in print, and through| KindleUnlimited at 

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing the West one romance upon a time

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**Stan Jones

***Wild Hunt

****Megalithic Myths


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Loved "Gunfighter's Woman".

    The history of the Wild Hunt is a fascinating one. Came across some hints as I was researching the German and Viking stories. Of course, I loved the song and you are correct, the scene in 'Ghostrider' with Sam Elliott and Nick Cage is goosebump worthy. Doris

    1. Doris,

      The Wild Hunt does have an interesting history. So many cultures have a variation on the theme. While the movie Ghostrider was over the top cheesy (as Nicolas Cage movies tend to be), Sam Elliott's Carter Slade character makes up for it. *grin*

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Febulous, Kaye. I've loved and been fascinated with Ghost Riders in the Sky since I was a child and it so captured my imagination. I look forward to reading your book as I loved your excerpt. Your description is captivating.

  4. Thank you, Elizabeth. I appreciate your kind words.

  5. I'm sorry I'm so late coming here, Kaye. I found the notification in my spam box.
    I am very familiar with the song "Ghost Riders In The Sky" It's a wonderful, kinda eerie song. This was a well thought out post. Loved the photos and the video. You are so talented to have put that video together. I wish you every success with THE GUNFIGHTER'S WOMAN.