Headless Horseman

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The headless horseman has been a motif of European folklore since at least the Middle Ages.[1]

In Celtic folklore[edit]

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.[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.[5]

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a Middle English poem that utilises a decapitation myth.[6][improper synthesis?]

In German folklore[edit]

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.

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[edit]

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, during the American Revolutionary War. Traditional folklore holds that the Horseman was a Hessian artilleryman who was killed during the Battle of White Plains in 1776. He was decapitated by an American cannonball, and the shattered remains of his head were left on the battlefield while his comrades hastily carried his body away. Eventually they buried him in the graveyard of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, from which each night he rises as a malevolent ghost, furiously seeking his lost head.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

US postage stamp, 1974

Comics[edit]

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.[8][9][10]

Films[edit]

The 1999 American film, Sleepy Hollow starred Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci.

Television[edit]

The Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "Chopper" (initially broadcast on January 31, 1975)[11] features a headless motorcyclist who enacts revenge for the loss of his head on a rival biker gang,[12][13] 20 years after his murder.[14]

In the Midsomer Murders episode "The Dark Rider", a killer lures several victims to their deaths by masquerading as a headless horseman from local legend.[15]

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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Headless Horseman". Mythical Creatures Guide. 
  2. ^ The Dullahan – Ireland's Headless Horseman at Scary For Kids
  3. ^ The Dullahan at Shee-eire.com
  4. ^ McKillop, James A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 2004, cited at gan ceann, encyclopedia.com
  5. ^ Fox, David The Headless Horseman at Federated Caledonian Societies South Africa
  6. ^ "Sir Gawain And The Green Knight", Page 194, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 9 Ed., Volume A: The Middle Ages
  7. ^ Steiner, Henry John (24 January 2014). "A Phantom is Born? 235 Years Ago". River Journal (Tarrytown, NY: River Journal Inc.). Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  8. ^ Shapiro, Martin (2011). Chopper. Asylum Press. ISBN 978-1-61724-110-9. 
  9. ^ "Chopper". ComicBookDB.com. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  10. ^ "New Chopper Comics Series". Fangoria.com. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  11. ^ "Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Guide 1975 Season 1 - Chopper, Episode 15". TVGuide.com. Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  12. ^ Stephen King. Danse Macabre. Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  13. ^ TV.com. "Kolchak: The Night Stalker - Season 1, Episode 15: Chopper". TV.com. Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  14. ^ John Kenneth Muir. Terror Television: American Series, 1970-1999. Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  15. ^ "The Dark Rider". Midsomer Murders. Retrieved 2014-02-18.