Tales of the spectral horde known as the Wild Hunt abound throughout Europe. Since pre-Christian times, the Wild Huntsman and his horde of hunters and hellhounds have hurtled through the night sky. Those who find themselves alone on a winter night may hear the sounds of a horn, the distant wail of the hounds, and the pounding of hooves as the Wild Huntsman and his supernatural companions approach. Continue reading
The Banshee is an ominous spirit of the Irish fairy realms whose presence foretells the loss of a life. This “woman fairy” (from bean, a woman, and sidhe, a fairy), announces an imminent death with her mournful and terrifying keening. When she can be seen and not just heard, the Banshee usually appears as a beautiful woman, often clutching a hairbrush. In Scotland she is bean nighe (the Washerwoman, whose spectral form can be seen washing the bloody clothes of the soon-to-die), while in Wales she is Gwrach-y-rhibyn (Hag of the Mist).
The Banshee is sometimes seen along with a cóiste-bodhar (coach-a-bower), pulled by headless horses and driven by her fellow Celtic death omen, the Dullahan. Although like the Dullahan (and the Cluricaun), the Banshee is usually classified in lore as a solitary fairy, it has been suggested that she may in fact be a sociable fairy who has only become solitary due to her constant sadness—unlike most solitary fairies, she is generally not malevolent, but only foreboding and frightening. Continue reading
You’ve heard of the Irish leprechaun, but do you know about the Cluricaun? Although considered by some to be the same creature, just more liquored up, the Cluricaun is among the “solitary” class of creatures of Faerie, who “are nearly all gloomy and terrible in some way” (Yeats). Like other Irish elvish creatures, Cluricauns are said to be descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann. The naughty drunkard of the family (called Clobhairr-ceann in Irish), the Cluricaun is a trickster, thief and mischief-maker who inhabits beer and wine cellars. He (for, as with leprechauns, there is no lore of the existence of females of the species) is known to go out drunk-riding on the backs of hapless dogs and sheep on moonlit nights. His face is flushed with gin blossoms and his clothing is neat and bright, and often includes blue stockings, gold-laced hats and silver-buckled shoes—but rarely an apron or tool belt. Unlike some other, more industrious creatures of Faerie, a Cluricaun doesn’t work! Continue reading
A mother had her child taken from the cradle by elves. In its place they laid a changeling with a thick head and staring eyes who would do nothing but eat and drink. In distress she went to a neighbor and asked for advice. The neighbor told her to carry the changeling into the kitchen, set it on the hearth, make a fire, and boil water in two eggshells. That should make the changeling laugh, and if he laughs it will be all over with him. The woman did everything just as her neighbor said. When she placed the eggshells filled with water over the fire, the blockhead said:
Nun bin ich so alt Now I am as old
Wie der Westerwald, As the Wester Wood,
Und hab nicht gesehen, But have never seen anyone
Daß jemand in Schalen kocht. Cooking in shells! Continue reading
The Dullahan is a headless horseman from the Unseelie Court of the Irish fairy realm. Although in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the mysterious rider is implied to be only a man in disguise, the early American short story’s antagonist is modeled from legends of the Dullahan.
The Dullahan carry their grotesque, rictal heads with them, either aloft in their hands or in their saddlebags. (They in fact see through the heads’ eyes, though their sight extends vastly farther than human eyes, and through the pitch black of night). Unlike Death itself, the Dullahan rides a steaming stallion of jet black. The Dullahan maintain classic hallmarks of a Death Omen—if it bears a lantern, it is made of human skull. If it wields a crop, it is the spine of a corpse. In some parts of Ireland the Dullahan is seen in a drawn coach rather than on horseback, with a carriage of skin and wheel spokes of bone. Whatever the conveyance, it is surely a terrifying sight. Continue reading