Around Halloween, one of the most terrifying creatures in the spirit world, the Dullahan, can be seen riding a magnificent black stallion across the countryside. 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 will 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 describes a man who 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 Halloween, be safe at home by sunset, don’t look out your window, and keep a gold object close at hand!