H is for Headless Horseman

I love the TV show Sleepy Hollow and I enjoyed the movie with Johnny Depp. However, in doing research for this month’s A-Z challenge, I was surprised to know there are more and older versions of The Headless Horseman besides our colonial and Ichabod Crane.

A headless horseman maybe be from the middle ages and may not have originated in America.

“The Irish dullahan or dulachán (“dark man”) is a headless fairy, usually riding a black horse and carrying his head under one arm (or holding it high to see at great distance). He wields a whip made from a human corpse’s spine. When the dullahanstops riding, a death occurs. The dullahan calls out a name, at which point the named person immediately perishes.[2] In another version, he is the headless driver of a black carriage.[3] A similar figure, the gan ceann (“without a head”), can be frightened away by wearing a gold object or casting one in his path.[4]

The most prominent Scottish tale of the headless horseman concerns a man named Ewen decapitated in a clan battle at Glen Cainnir on the Isle of Mull. The battle denied him any chance to be a chieftain, and both he and his horse are headless in accounts of his haunting of the area.”1[5]

“The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm (Deutsche Sagen) recount two German folk tales of a headless horseman being spotted with their own eyes.

One is set near Dresden in eastern Germany. In this tale, a woman from Dresden goes out early one Sunday morning to gather acorns in a forest. At a place called “Lost Waters”, she hears a hunting horn. When she hears it again, she turns around she sees a headless man in a long grey coat sitting on a grey horse.

In another German tale, set in Braunschweig, a headless horseman called “the wild huntsman” blows a horn to warn hunters not to ride the next day, because they will meet with an accident.”1

I guess it’s safe to assume just because you aren’t in America, doesn’t mean the headless horseman can’t find you.



  1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headless_Horseman
  2. Jump up^ The Dullahan – Ireland’s Headless Horseman at Scary For Kids
  3. Jump up^ The Dullahan at Shee-eire.com
  4. Jump up^ McKillop, James A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 2004, cited at gan ceann, encyclopedia.com
  5. Jump up^ Fox, David The Headless Horseman at Federated Caledonian Societies South Africa


4 responses to “H is for Headless Horseman”

  1. i would not want to meet that fae! that whip! ew! you are unearthing such awesome things.

    considering that one of irving’s parents was scottish, i’m not surprised that he knew of the european version of the story.

    i’m going to have nightmares now! =D

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