#FolkloreThursday, Cracked Flash Fiction Competition, Death, Dullahan, Faerie, Faeries, folklore, folklore creatures, Headless Horseman, Irish folklore, Origin of the Fae, preview of work, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, short story, Stories on Scrolls, W. J. Fitzpatrick, Wattpad, writing
Stories involving headless horsemen are prevalent throughout folklore, myth and legend. The scariest one, though, is the Dullahan. It is said that none can ignore his call to death for he is the herald of Death itself.
The horse that carries him is just as terrifying. *Shivers*
The dullahan is a headless rider, usually on a black horse who carries their own head under one arm. Usually the dullahan is male, but there are some female versions. The head and the mouth is usually in a hideous grin that touches both sides of the head. Its eyes are constantly moving about, and can see across the countryside even in the darkest nights. The flesh of the head is said to have the color and consistency of moldy cheese. The dullahan uses the spine of a human corpse for a whip, and its wagon is adorned with funeral objects (e.g. candles in skulls to light the way, the spokes of the wheels are made from thigh bones, the wagon’s covering made from a worm-chewed pall or dried human skin). When the dullahan stops riding, that is where a person is due to die. The dullahan calls out the person’s name, at which point the person immediately perishes.
There is no way to bar the road against a dullahan—all locks and gates open to them when they approach. They do not appreciate being watched while on their errands, throwing a basin of blood on those who dare to do so (often a mark that they are among the next to die), or even lashing out the watchers’ eyes with their whips. They are frightened of gold, and even a single gold pin can drive a dullahan away.
When you search Google images for “dullahan” you get this:
The ancient Celts had hundreds of deities, but as with most cultures, they had their demons as well.
In celebration of Halloween, an ancient Celtic festival originally called Samhain, IrishCentral has hunted down the 10 most frightening of these Celtic and Irish demons and monsters.
- The Dullahan – the Irish headless horseman
Another legendary Irish monster is the Dullahan, a name that can be translated to “dark man.”
Often portrayed in contemporary fantasy fiction and video games, this foreteller of death is the Irish version of the headless horseman.
The Dullahan rides a headless black horse with flaming eyes, carrying his head under one arm. When he stops riding, a human dies.
Some versions of this legend say that the Dullahan throws buckets of blood at people he passes, while other say he simply calls out the name of the mortal that will soon die.
As with most evil forces, the Dullahan has a weakness – gold.
The creature is scared of the substance, so any lonely travelers this Halloween night would be wise to have some on him in case they have a run-in with this headless horror!
Check out the other monsters on IrishCentral http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/the-10-scariest-monsters-and-demons-from-celtic-myth-132875633-237739191.html
The dullahan is one of the most spectacular creatures in the Irish fairy realm and one which is particularly active in the more remote parts of counties Sligo and Down.
Around midnight on certain Irish festivals or feast days, this wild and black-robed horseman may be observed riding a dark and snorting steed across the countryside. W. J. Fitzpatrick, a storyteller from the Mourne Mountains in County Down, recounts:
“I seen the dullahan myself, stopping on the brow of the hill between Bryansford and Moneyscalp late one evening, just as the sun was setting. It was completely headless but it held up its own head in its hand and I heard it call out a name. I put my hand across my ears in case the name was my own, so I couldn’t hear what it said. When I looked again, it was gone. But shortly afterwards, there was a bad car accident on that very hill and a young man was killed. It had been his name that the dullahan was calling.”
Dullahans are headless. Although the dullahan has no head upon its shoulders, he carries it with him, either on the saddle-brow of his horse or upraised in his right hand. The head is the colour and texture of stale dough or mouldy cheese, and quite smooth. A hideous, idiotic grin splits the face from ear to ear, and the eyes, which are small and black, dart about like malignant flies. The entire head glows with the phosphoresence of decaying matter and the creature may use it as a lantern to guide its way along the darkened laneways of the Irish countryside. Wherever the dullahan stops, a mortal dies.
This fairy has a limited power of speech. Its disembodied head is permitted to speak just once on each journey it undertakes, and then has only the ability to call the name of the person whose death it heralds. A dullahan will stop its snorting horse before the door of a house and shout the name of the person about to die, drawing forth the soul at the call. He may also stop at the very spot where a person will die.
Unlike the banshee, the dullahan does not pursue specific families and its call is a summoning of the soul of a dying person rather than a death warning. There is no real defence against the dullahan because he is death’s herald. However, an artefact made of gold may frighten him away, for dullahan’s appear to have an irrational fear of this precious metal. Even a small amount of gold may suffice to drive them off.
A Dullahan has no head. They can either be created after the head has been severed, or at the time the body is beheaded, depending on how the creature is made. Sometimes necromantic energy naturally seeps into the body at the time of death, and at other times they are “blessed” by fairies, often Unseelie fae.
The prime motivations of any Dullahan are finding their head and/or revenge. Often these two goals intersect, as whoever killed the person who became a Dullahan took their head. Most often the Dullahan takes their revenge by beheading the offender. However cruel fate generally does not release the Headless Horseman from their curse by this alone, and most often the only way for them to move on is to rejoin their head with their body.
A Dullahan’s horse is often a magical creature, undead or fey, which he can summon or dismiss at will. These spectral creatures are loyal only to their rider, and cannot be tamed by mere mortals.
The Dullahan is creepy.
But such a great subject for stories.
I even wrote flash fiction concerning this monster (Dark Knight). It can be read on Cracked Flash Fiction Competition.
The Dullahan can also be found on the Origin of the Fae page on this blog. Here’s what it says about this dark Faery:
A terrifying creature. The only thing equally as scary is the steed he rides: a black horse which snorts sparks and has glowing eyes (colour differs from one steed to the next).
Dullahans are headless. They’re usually horsemen, though on occasion they will ride out in their carriages of death. The black coach has skulls all over lighted with candles from within. The wheels’ spokes are made of the femurs of humans and Fae alike. Six black horses swiftly and silently draw the carriage, creating fires in its wake.
Whether riding coach or steed, nothing can keep the Dullahan out. All locks unlock, doors and gates fly open whenever he wishes to enter. No-one is safe from the attentions of this Dark Fae.
The Dullahan’s head can either look like mouldy cheese, stale dough or some weird combination thereof with the distinct form of a skull. A terrifying, hideous, idiotic grin splits the face – broadening the closer the creature is to calling a soul to ride with him to the realm of the dead. The entire head glows phosphorescent, the strength of the light varying for stealth. Sometimes the Dullahan will use his own head as a lantern to see by…
The Dullahan likes blood. He carries with him a basin full of it, throwing it at the inquisitive who look upon him and sometimes on his victims to subdue them.
Probably the most macabre aspect of this Faery is the human spine he uses as a whip. Legend has it that the spine belongs to someone he cared for in a previous life.
Dullahans are created by the Unseelie Court as part of some weird ritual to appease the dead. Dullahans can either be made from humans (they don’t last really long) or from Fae who were chosen for this sacrifice. Always the one chosen to become a Dullahan is beheaded by a gold axe.
They have a strong allegiance to the Unseelie Court.
Dullahans don’t like speaking all that much. Mostly because the head settled on the saddle-brow can be dislodged by too much talking. A myth had arisen that this Faery has a limited power of speech because the disembodied head mostly only calls out the name of the soul he came to collect.
Though there’s no true defence against this herald of Death, the Dullahan seems to have an irrational fear of gold. (Probably due to it being a golden axe that killed him in a previous life.) Only gold weapons have any effect on them. Gold gathered from the ground with magic and then thrown at them works like shrapnel and is quite effective at chasing them off.
This dark Faery also features in the newest instalment of the Stories on Scrolls, Chasing the Nightmare Steed.
“I barely took enough time to recuperate after my fight with the necromancer before insisting on seeing the Commander of the Paladins. Though the fight had left me exhausted and nearly deprived of all light, I felt that after a night’s sleep I had had enough rest. It was time to inform the other Paladins that something worse than the eclipse was upon us.” – Chasing the Nightmare Steed, Stories on Scrolls, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading the third tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Did you find this to be terrifying? Any other horsemen from folklore that creeps you out as much?