Around midnight, this black-robed horseman can be seen riding a dark
snorting steed across the countryside. The dullahan is one of the most
spectacular creatures found in the Irish fairy realm and is particularly
active in the more remote parts of Ireland. Dullahans are indeed headless
horsemen, but he carries it with him, either on the saddle brow of his
horse or upraised in his right hand. You can just make out a hideous grin
is on his face and his small black eyes are constantly darting about. The
head may glow, acting as a lantern to guide the specter along the darkened
lanes of the Irish countryside. Where the dullahan stops, a mortal dies.
The dullahan has supernatural sight. By holding its head up, he can see for very long distances even on the darkest night. Using this sight, he can spot the houses of the dying. If you witness the dullahan riding by, you may be struck blind in one eye. The dullahan uses a human spine as a whip. Sometimes flames shoot from the horse's nostrils. The head is only allowed to speak once on any given journey and then he can only call out the name of the person who is about to die. The dullahan is thought to be derived from the Celtic Black Crom, who was known in Ireland some fifteen hundred years ago. The black Crom would demand sacrifices and he would always like for them to be headless. When the Christians arrived in the 6th century, they denounced the practice. Since the black Crom didn't get the souls he wanted, he took the form of the dullahan.
Another Irish harbinger of death is the banshee. She is a spirit woman of the hills. Her nocturnal visits are punctuated by her sad, eerie moans and wails. Some believe the banshee to be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn the members of certain Irish families. The banshee has three guises ― a young woman, a matron or an old crone. Typically, the banshee has long, streaming hair and is usually dressed in a gray cloak over a green dress. Her eyes are fiery red from the constant weeping.
The Scottish version of the banshee or the Bean Nighe, (ben-nee'-yeh) wanders near deserted streams where she washes the blood from the grave-clothes of those who are about to die. It is said that these apparitions are the spirits of women who died giving birth, and are doomed to perform this work until the day their lives would have normally ended.
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Wendy Brinker is an artist and writer in Columbia, SC.
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