Back in the 80s, the local mall held a few Halloween events where children attended to paint, get free candy, see a puppet show or watch a magician. During this time, I went to one and had my first introduction to the concept of the Headless Horseman. At eight years old, I knew the adults were in costumes, however seeing someone walking around with no mask or no head had me bewildered in trying to figure out what I seen. To my relief, a head peeked through the chest to drink some pop revealing the man in a some costume. When I asked the individual what he dressed up as, his response was the Headless Horseman from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. A few years would pass before I would read the story along with the myth of the Irish dullahan in the final installment about monsters of nightmares series.
Before the Internet, any information you wanted to learn about required a trip to the local library. While, seeking out a book to do a report on, I came across a cover with the title Sleepy Hollow on it. In recalling the events during that Halloween event, I settled on checking it out to read. I found America author Washington Irving wrote the short story, The Legend of Sleep Hollow, published in the 1820s. The tale revealed how an artilleryman, during the American Revolution, gets killed when decapitated by a cannonball. His remains were buried without a head, as it was never found resulting in the birth of vengeful spirit to rise every Halloween night to seek it out. The ghost became the Headless Horseman and for the longest time I believed it was only a work of fiction, until I researched into Irish folklore.
Apparently, the concept of this ghost may had originated from the Irish legend of a headless fairy called the dullahan. This creature in described by lore as either a headless man or woman, carrying a whip made from a human corpse’s spine, while riding on a horse drawn wagon at night through the countryside. In different version of the myth, the dullahan’s head is said to be under his arm, held up high in the air or on the lap smiling with a sinister grin as the eyes constantly move side to side searching the land. As legends warns, an encounter with this fairy meant death would soon follow.
If the dullahan ever stopped riding, someone within the area would die. A person could instant be killed if the creature pointed at them and spoke their name. Even some stories mention, when one’s time among the living was up, the headless horseman came to that person. In every account, this rider can not be evaded as whatever locked barrier he approaches will open up allowing him through. Some legends do mention a defense or a means of escape, if every faced with the headless horseman which is to lay down a gold coin in his path which either he would be frightened off or pause to collect it.
The headless horseman is truly a frightening image for anyone to conceive through legend or watch in entertainment, yet what would be the outcome to confront it in really life. Sightings of this creature have been reported in the past, as today some posts online mention accounts of encountering a headless entity before the death of a loved one. Hopefully this Halloween the only headless people you run into are those wanting candy.
Haggerty, Bridget. “The Dullahan-Ireland’s Headless Horseman.” Irish Culture and Customs. (Accessed October 15, 2016). http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com