This last week I wanted to work on a Halloween themed illustration in time for the day. Unfortunately due to technological complications the illustration did not make it out on the day of but I was still able to complete the concept and upload that in my art gallery (shown and linked at the bottom of this post).
The Headless Horseman is one of my favorite Halloween themed icons and naturally I wondered at the origins of the myth. I found a simple break down of the cultural origins in a short Headless Horseman on Wikipedia.
As it is there are several versions of the Horseman across over five cultures, including a warrior who was decapitated in a clan battle, a headless rider on a headless horse, a Horseman whose presence is announced by a hunting horn to wanders in the woods, a Horseman who warns hunters to pass the hunt the next day lest they meet with an accident – there is even a headless man driving a black carriage! As for the popular American version we are familiar with, it roots from a man killed during the American Revolution by cannon. Upon his death the soldier’s head was shattered. His comrades buried him without it and he rose from the grave upon a steed, searching for his lost head…
Did you know Sir Gawain’s tale also involves a headless horseman? In the Middle English poem the following is depicted:
“…when the Green Knight mocks Arthur’s silence, the king steps forward to take the challenge. As soon as Arthur grips the Green Knight’s axe, Sir Gawain leaps up and asks to take the challenge himself. He takes hold of the axe and, in one deadly blow, cuts off the knight’s head. To the amazement of the court, the now-headless Green Knight picks up his severed head. Before riding away, the head reiterates the terms of the pact, reminding the young Gawain to seek him in a year and a day at the Green Chapel. After the Green Knight leaves, the company goes back to its festival…”
For my version of the Horseman I have pulled from mainly the Irish and German versions. In an Irish version he is known as dullahan or dulachán which means “dark man” and is not actually a man but a fairy/sídhe. The whip he wields is made of a human spine. Another Irish version of the story depicts him as gan ceann which means “without a head” and an item made of gold will frighten him away. The German version identifies him as a pursuer of perpetrators of capital crimes. I do wish I had time to add a pack of black hounds with him – in that version the hounds have tongues of fire! Ah well. Next year.
Until next time, go out there, utilize your search engine to conduct some research on your own favorite icons. What will you learn?
Other “Ratified Research” posts: