Tag Archives: headless horseman

A Modern Bestiary – G is for Gan Ceann

   1126931186_imefairy32  I’d rather not even look at one.

To the Irish, the Gan Ceann is better known as the Dullahan, but in this country, he’s the source of all those stories about the Headless Horseman!

Dullahan 1 And that whip of his?  It’s made from a human spine.  You do not want to meet with the business end of it, as he is quite fond of snapping it into the eye of an onlooker, thereby removing the organ.

In most cases, the Gan Ceann rides a black horse and carries his head underneath his arm. The rider’s eyes are small, black, and beady, and they’re in constant motion.  The mouth, however, is locked into a death’s head grin that changes only when he speaks.

Dullahan 3 You do not want to hear him speak, because he can say only one word – the name of the person about to die.  Which might well be you.

Some say the rider is what remains of the ancient Celtic god known as Crom Dubh, or Black Crom.  And yes, this is the very same Crom that Conan worshipped in the stories written by that madman, Robert Howard.

conan  I wonder if Mr. Muscles has heard enough of “the lamentations of the women” yet.

In his heyday, Black Crom demanded human sacrifices each year during his festival, which was held at the end of August or in early September.  This much I can tell you is true.  For when St. Patrick (the much misnamed in my opinion) became a Christian missionary and then returned to Ireland, it was he who put an end to all that, along with the Red Serpent sect of the Druids.  St. Patrick’s purpose had little to do with religion, of course, but that is a tale for another day.

Crom-Dubh-by-Bryan-Perrin  The annual rites of Crom Dubh were a harvest festival of sorts, the crops including both wheat and human beings.

Defeated by St. Patrick and his henchmen, the worship of Crom Dubh was abolished early in the 6th century A.D., but some say that he still wanted his due and took to collecting souls himself, as the Gan Ceann, the Dullahan  or the Far Dorocha (meaning the Dark Man.)

The Gan Ceann will sometimes drive the Deaf Coach, and use it to collect more than one victim at a time.

dullahan 4

Only two horses are shown here…

The coach’s name comes from the Irish phrase coiste bodhar, meaning ‘deaf or silent coach’ because you won’t hear it until it’s upon you.  Normally drawn by six black horses, the coach can travel so fast the friction created by its movement often sets fire to the bushes along the sides of the road.

In any case, you cannot escape him.  All gates and doors will fly open at his approach to let the headless horseman through, no matter how thoroughly they are locked.

dullahan nightstalker  Since the Fall, however, the Gan Ceann has sometimes taken to riding motorcycles.  The upkeep is cheaper and he no longer gives a damn about how much noise he makes.

So how can you protect yourself from this fell creature?  Throw gold at him.  A coin, a necklace, a watch…anything made of gold.  The legends say it will scare him off, but that’s not true.  The Horseman isn’t afraid of gold.  He adores it, and while you are running hell for leather down the road, he will stop and pick it up.  That’s how he’s progressed from riding that cheap little Honda to this gold-plated Harley:

dullahan Harley

And yes, that is his girl friend.  Don’t even ask about the ruby slippers.