In Celtic folklore
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 dullahan stops riding, a death occurs. The dullahan calls out a name, at which point the named person immediately perishes. In another version, he is the headless driver of a black carriage. A similar figure, the gan ceann ("without a head"), can be frightened away by wearing a gold object or casting one in his path.
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.
In German folklore
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 which warns hunters not to ride the next day, because they will meet with an accident.
In some German versions of the headless horseman, he seeks out the perpetrators of capital crimes. In others, he has a pack of black hounds with tongues of fire.
In American folklore
The Headless Horseman is a fictional character from the short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by American author Washington Irving. The story, from Irving's collection of short stories entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., has worked itself into known American folklore/legend through literature and film.
The legend of the Headless Horseman begins in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The Horseman was a Hessian of unknown rank, one of many hired to suppress the American Revolution. During the war, the Horseman was one of 51 Hessians killed in a battle for Chatterton Hill, wherein his head was severed by an American cannonball. He was buried in a graveyard outside a church. Thereafter he appears as a ghost, who presents to nightly travelers an actual danger (rather than the largely harmless fright produced by the majority of ghosts), presumably of decapitation.
It was said that an apparition of an actual headless rider on horseback had once been seen in Winfield, West Virginia. On an unrelated but interesting note, on the third season episode of Haunted Collector it was confirmed that during the Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tennessee during the American Civil War, Union Lt. Col. Julius Garesché was actually decapitated by a cannonball while riding alongside Union Major General William S. Rosecrans.
The comic book series Chopper, written by Martin Shapiro, is a modern-day reimagining of the headless horseman. It features a headless outlaw biker on a motorcycle who collects the souls of sinners. The only people who can see him are those who have consumed a strange new Ecstasy-like drug that triggers their sixth sense and opens a gateway to the afterlife. During the hallucinogenic high, any characters who have committed significant sins are hunted by the headless ghost. Once the drug wears off the victim is safe and beyond the headless horseman's ghostly reach.
The Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "Chopper" (initially broadcast on January 31, 1975) features a headless motorcyclist who enacts revenge for the loss of his head on a rival biker gang, 20 years after his murder.
The TV series Sleepy Hollow features the Headless Horseman as a major recurring character. This version of the Horseman is revealed to be Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as well as Ichabod Crane's former friend Abraham Van Brunt, who sold his soul to Moloch after Katrina Van Tassel broke off their engagement and left him for Ichabod.
- "Headless Horseman". Mythical Creatures Guide.
- The Dullahan – Ireland's Headless Horseman at Scary For Kids
- The Dullahan at Shee-eire.com
- McKillop, James A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 2004, cited at gan ceann, encyclopedia.com
- Fox, David The Headless Horseman at Federated Caledonian Societies South Africa
- Cozzens, pp. 128-30, 166; Daniel, p. 212; McDonough, pp. 299-301; Hess p. 215; Eicher, pp. 422, 424; Street, pp. 118-20; Welcher, p. 813.
- Shapiro, Martin (2011). Chopper. Asylum Press. ISBN 978-1-61724-110-9.
- "Chopper". ComicBookDB.com. Retrieved 2013-03-11.
- "New Chopper Comics Series". Fangoria.com. Retrieved 2013-03-11.