Beyond Sleepy Hollow: Other Headless Horsemen

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving is one of my favorite spooky stories. I grew up attending and still attend a Headless Horseman Festival in my hometown of Fishers, Indiana. My favorite part? A haunted hayride through the woods with a headless horseman chasing us along the way. It is so realistic and thrilling.

Headless Horsemen are not limited to Irving’s story, though. Today, I am going to share five more headless horsemen.

Hold on to your heads! 

The Wild Hunt (German and Scandinavian Folklore) 

In German and Scandinavian folklore, both the phantom rider and horse are pitch black. They can gallop on the ground and in the air. Sometimes these headless horsemen are said to be outcasts from The Wild Hunt, which is a folklore motif concerning mythical or supernatural beings leading hunts across the sky, leaving disaster and death along the way.

The horsemen could also be great chiefs who lost their heads in battle or were beheaded. 

Source: A Dictionary of Ghost Lore by Peter Haining (p. 87)

The Dullahan (Ireland) 

The Dullahan rides a black horse across the countryside, holding his head under one arm and a human spine as a whip in the other hand. The head’s flesh has the color and consistency of moldy cheese and the eyes constantly move.

The Dullahan sometimes drives a wagon (called a coach-a-bower, or death coach) pulled by six black horses. The wagon is made of human skin and adorned with skulls. The wheel spokes are made of thigh bones. 

If you hear the horse’s hooves, don’t look out the window! You may have blood thrown in your face or you may become blind. When the Dullahan stops in front of your house…death is coming. The demonic fairy will call your name, pulling out your soul and watching as you drop dead immediately. Some say gold (even the smallest amount) will protect you from the Dullahan.

Source: Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker, Wikipedia, A Field Guide to Irish Fairies by Bob Curran 

Ewan the Headless (Scotland) 

In the 1500s,  Ewan of the Little Head from the Maclaines of Lochbuie branch of Clan Gillean, lost his head in battle. His army went head to head (pun intended) against his father’s army (Ian the Toothless of Lochbuie) and the other branch of Clan Gillean, Macleans of Duart. These two branches paused their rivalry to thwart Ewan’s attempt to dispose of his ill father.

Obviously, Ewan lost the battle and his head. He was decapitated when he charged into battle in a last ditch effort. Legend says that, even without his head, he kept fighting (or his body was just moving around a lot). He wounded some enemies before his horse took off. They called the battle off. 

The horse and a headless Ewan returned home. His body sat upright in the horse and was still twitching. It must be the work of the devil! Thinking they found the source of evil, they decapitated the horse. Ewan was buried. 

The ghost of Ewan and his horse, both headless, still ride around the Highlands. Some say if you see this headless horseman, you will soon die. When a member of Lochbuie Maclaine dies, the family can feel Ewan’s presence and hear the sound of ghostly hooves. 

One version of the story I found online tells of Ewan coming across a Bean Nighe (banshee) before his battle. She was washing a bloody shirt in the water. Coming across the Bean Nighe is a very bad omen, but Ewan had a solution (kind of).

Ewan snuck up behind her, while she is sang a lament of soldiers who had fallen in battle. Ewan took her breast in his mouth and suckled it like a baby. He told her that he is her first born, so she granted him a wish (I am not sure where he got this idea). Ewan asked what the outcome of the battle would be. She replied: “If tomorrow morning you are given butter with your porridge without asking then you will be victorious.” Ewan was angry at this answer and cursed the washer woman. It is not a good idea to curse a washer woman. (ScotClans)

And, as you know, he died. 

Source: Hunting the Headless Horseman by Mark Latham (p. 50) , Tales and Traditions of Scottish Castles by Nigel Trantner (p. 30), and

Allens Lane’s Headless Horseman (Pennsylvania)

In Philadelphia, witnesses have reported a headless horseman in Revolutionary War garb, riding along Allens Lane in Mount Airy with his head in his hands. Legend says he was a British solider who was decapitated at the Battle of Germantown. Sightings were reported as early as the Revolutionary War. 

Source: Haunted Philadelphia: Famous Phantoms, Sinister Sites, and Lingering Legends by Darcy Oordt (p. 156) 

Coral Hill’s Headless Horseman (Kentucky) 

I saw this story floating around on the internet and I just loved it. A man was traveling home (I have not been able to pinpoint dates) when he spotted a ghostly headless horseman. Well, this ghost followed him home. When his family woke up, they saw the headless horseman in the yard and all their windows and doors were open. Imagine that scene. Source: Courier Journal

Featured Image: John Quidor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: The Banshee


When I was little, I would watch the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People every St. Patrick’s Day. My favorite scene (of course) was the one with the banshee. A beautiful lass Katie is sick and on her death bed. The banshee is flying and screaming outside her window. Because of Irish folklore, the audience knows this means Katie may die. The banshee calls forth the cóiste-bodhar, a death coach that will carry her to the land of the dead. I don’t want to give away the ending, but her father Darby breaks the curse. Katie survives and they sing a sweet Irish song.

The famous banshee scene from Darby O’Gill

The banshee is a complex death omen and, like most folklore characters, has many variations. Both Scotland and Ireland claim the banshee. In Irish folklore, the banshee can appear as a young woman, an old hag or matron. When I was growing up I was told that if you hear a banshee, someone in your family will die. If you see a banshee, you are going to die. The banshee’s sound is a scream, a song, or three knocks on the door. She may wear all red or green. She might have fiery eyes. She may fly. Some even say she might appear as an animal associated with witches in Irish folklore: a hooded crow, a stoat, a hare, or a weasel. Either way, you don’t want to see or hear her (source).

Irish folklore says that the banshee attaches itself to 5 families (although intermarriage expanded the list): O’Briens, O’Neils, O’Grady’s, O’Connors, and the Kavanaghs.

Another version of the banshee (and my favorite) is most commonly associated to Scottish folkore: the Bean Nighe or the “Washer at the Ford.” Said to be the spirit of a woman that died during childbirth, the Bean Nighe wanders around streams and washes the blood-stained clothes of those about to die. As Wikipedia explains, she is a very interesting creature.

A bean nighe is described in some tales as having one nostril, one big protruding tooth, webbed feet and long-hanging breasts, and to be dressed in green. If one is careful enough when approaching, three questions may be answered by the Bean Nighe, but only after three questions have been answered first. A mortal who is bold enough to sneak up to her while she is washing and suck her breast can claim to be her foster child. The mortal can then gain a wish from her. If a mortal passing by asks politely, she will tell the names of the chosen that are going to die. While generally appearing as a hag, she can also manifest as a beautiful young woman when it suits her, much as does her Irish counterpart the bean sídhe.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends!