Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Headless Horseman

When Halloween draws near the one story I remember being fond of as a kid was the Headless Horseman. I couldn't wait for the cartoon that Disney did to come on every year. Now there is also a movie about it that Johnny Depp stars in. (Though that is more for the adults.) There are actually many stories of this infamous horseman...New York, Texas...even in Europe where many say the story originates from. Exactly where, I am not sure yet. There is even an account of it by the Brothers Grimm.

In one story a man wanted to ride in a local race, even though he knew his horse really isn't the best. He sets out late, and meets up with the local ghost - a headless spirit on a black stead. The ghost challenges the man to a race, and since the man's a good jockey he manages to win it. The ghost is amused by the whole thing and loans the man his spirit horse for the race. That was the rough but it is out in a book somewhere.

Even in Ireland they have their story. The Dullahan - Ireland’s Headless Horseman. My friend sent me this story years ago. I think it was written by a B. Haggerty. And seeing as some of my ancestors are from Ireland...I thought I'd post a story about it here...

It is said that after sunset, on certain festivals and feast days, one of the most terrifying creatures in the spirit world, the Dullahan, can be seen riding a magnificent black stallion across the country side. Wherever he stops, a mortal dies. Clad in flowing black robes, the Dullahan has no head on his shoulders. He carries it with him in his hand, and because he is endowed with supernatural sight, he will hold the head up high. This allows him to see great distances, even on the darkest night. But beware watching him pass by. You’ll be punished by either having a bucket of blood thrown in your face or you might be struck blind in one eye. The biggest fear of all, however, is if he stops wherever you are and calls out your name. This will draw out your soul and you’ll no longer be among the living. Unlike the Banshee, which is known to warn of an imminent death in certain families, the Dullahan does not come to warn. He is a definite harbinger of someone’s demise and there exists no defence against him - except perhaps, an object made of gold. For some reason, the Dullahan has an irrational fear of gold and even a tiny amount may be enough to frighten him off.

One story from Galway says that a man was on his way home when all of a sudden he heard the sound of horse’s hooves pounding along the road behind him. In dread , he turned around to look. It was the Dullahan. He tried to run, but nothing can outrun the angel of death. Then the man remembered that if he couldn’t outrun him, he could outsmart him. With that, he dropped a gold coin on the road. There was a loud roar in the air, high above him, and when he turned to look again, the Dullahan was gone.

While no-one knows for certain how the Dullahan originated, it is thought that he is the embodiment of the Celtic fertility god, Crom Dubh, who was worshiped by an ancient king of Ireland, Tighermas. Each year, Tighermas sacrificed humans to Crom Dubh, and the usual method was decapitation. The worship of Crom Dubh ended in the sixth century, when Christianity came to Ireland and the old sacrificial traditions went out of favor. But Crom Dubh was not to be so easily forgotten, for it’s said that he then took on a physical form - the headless Dullahan - which means dark man - riding his mighty charger and using a human spine for a whip. And, while this is the way he is most often described, in some parts of Ireland, he drives a black coach drawn by a team of six black horses. They travel so fast that the friction from their hooves is said to set the hedges on fire along the sides of the road. And, no matter how firmly they are locked, all gates fly open to let the Dullahan through.So, if you’re in Ireland this Hallowe’en season, be safe at home by sunset, don’t look out your window, and definitely keep a gold object close at hand!

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