Mythology Monday: The Dullahan

Welcome back to Mythology Monday! During this, the spookiest of seasons, I’ll be talking about one of Irish mythology’s most dangerous creatures: the Dullahan.

It’s still September, you say? Silly child! Didn’t you know Halloween starts the day after Labor Day?

Anyway, to basics: the Dullahan, to start off with, is basically a type of fairy. Now, I’m not talking about your dinky little Tinkerbell fairies that traditional Celtic fairies got bastardized into. Oh no, Irish fairies will fuck your shit up. They are explicitly not to be fucked with.

What does he look like? Well, he looks like a dude riding a black horse. Not particularly scary, right? There’s also the fact that he has no head. Well, he has a head, it’s just not connected to his neck, and he carries it around under one arm like a football. Said horse also pulls a cart decorated with funeral stuff and made of human bones and skin, and he has a whip made from a human spine.

As for what the Dullahan does, similarly to the banshee he’s a harbinger of oncoming death. Unlike the banshee, though, the Dullahan actually calls forth the spirit of the person who’s about to die, rather than just signaling that it’s about to happen. He does this by speaking the name of the person, which is the only time he’s allowed to speak, and he can only do that once per journey.

Now, unlike death, the Dullahan does actually have a weakness: gold. One example of this comes from a tale from County Galway.

So, there’s this guy, and he’s walking home one night. He’s just ambling along, minding his own business, when he suddenly hears hooves beating against the ground behind him. Sure enough, the Dullahan is there. As I think any of us would react when confronted with the headless harbinger of our own mortality, he screams and runs away. The Dullahan, though, is still gaining on him, and would have caught him if not for one thing: a gold pin falling from his shirt. The Dullahan roars, and then disppears.

Tales of the Dullahan have had some influence in literature and other art forms. The most well-known example of this is probably the Headless Horseman from Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The weirdest place I’ve seen them crop up, though, is probably Japanese pop culture. Both the Final Fantasy and Devil May Cry series have enemies named for the apparition. The most explicit one, however, would be the light novel and anime series Durara!, which features a female Dullahan as its protagonist.

I think that’s pretty cool. I want to see more urban fantasy (or fantasy in general) take inspiration from Irish mythology. They have some of the coolest creatures.

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