AIKEN — Almost every time one of the clergy mentioned the creatures that inhabit Hitchock Woods, one of the hounds would bark approval.
It was, after all, the Blessing of the Hounds.
The Thanksgiving Day tradition was held Thursday morning to mark the formal start of the drag hunt season for the Aiken Hounds. It dates to 1914 in Aiken and features about two dozen riders, a dozen hounds and hundreds of humans who gather in the urban forest.
“Bless the creatures which fly, run, slither and scurry,” Jane Hostetter, deacon at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church, said in prayer as one of the hounds voiced his OK.
The annual ceremony puts a spotlight on horse and rider, but the hounds get plenty of attention too. After they entered Memorial Gate, the symbolic entrance to the woods, they playfully rolled on the grass and visited the brick wall to get treats.
Linda Knox McLean, one of the hunt’s three masters, asked if people gathered on the hillside could hear her as she began the ceremony.
As if on cue, a hound barked playfully.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she said.
The ceremony to give hunters and their animals safe passage originated in the eighth century with St. Hubert of Liege, patron saint of hunters.
“Bless, O, Lord, rider and horse, and hounds that run, in their running, and shield them from danger to life and limb,” said Joseph Whitehurst, assistant rector at St. Thaddeus, in the traditional blessing.
No live foxes are actually hunted these days, but the scent of a fox is put on the trail for club members to chase.
After recognizing members and conferring of colors to multiple riders, the group broke into three separate flights before embarking into the woods.
“It’s a privilege to be in the heart of these woods on this special day,” McLean said.
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337