Episode 56: Workers of Death: Dullahan
The folklore of Dullahan in a nutshell, how I reimagined it for my writing.
Written and narrated by Ronel Janse van Vuuren.
Copyright 2023 Ronel Janse van Vuuren — All rights reserved.
Learn more about dullahan here.
Get the transcript here.
Music: Secrets by David Fesliyan (FesliyanStudios.com) and Dramatic Heartbeat by FesliyanStudios.com
You’re listening to the Faeries and Folklore podcast by Ronel.
I’m dark fantasy author Ronel Janse van Vuuren. With nearly a decade of digging around in dusty folklore books, researching creatures of imagination that ignited my curiosity, I’m here to share the folklore in a nutshell and how I reimagined it for my writing in an origin of the fae.
This is the Faeries and Folklore podcast.
Hi, I’m your host Ronel Janse van Vuuren. You can just call me Ronel. In today’s episode, we’re continuing our exploration of the fae realm.
This episode is brought to you by my Origin of the Fae book series. You’ve met them on the podcast, now see them in action. Go to ronelthemythmaker.com/originofthefaeseries for more.
You can now support my time in producing the podcast (researching, writing and everything else involved) by buying me a coffee. This can be a once-off thing, or you can buy me coffee again in the future at your discretion. Go to buymeacoffee.com/ronel to support me.
We’re continuing our exploration of the workers of death.
Today’s Faery: Dullahan
Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel
Dullahan: the headless horseman from Irish folklore. This faery rides a black horse with flaming eyes, galloping across the dark countryside with his head under his arm. Once he stops riding, someone will die. In some versions of the legend, he throws basins of blood at people while in others he just calls out the name of the person about to die.
In most stories, his head is the colour and consistency of mouldy cheese, with his grin stretching from ear-to-ear. In some legends, he uses his head as a lantern as it is phosphorescent. All stories, though, say that the dullahan is male.
When he doesn’t ride his horse, he has a wagon drawn by skeletal horses – or headless horses, depending on the tale. He uses a human spine as a whip and his wagon is made of the bones of humans – even the wheels are made of thigh bones. If the wagon has a covering, it is made of human skin. It is covered with candles so it can easily be seen by humans. Though, if you peek out your window, you’re likely to lose an eye from that vicious whip.
The dullahan is aligned with the Unseelie Court. In some tales he is a soldier beheaded in battle, brought back to life by the Unseelie to seek his revenge. In some tales, a banshee accompanies him on his nightly travels.
No locks or gates can bar him: everything flies open when he wishes to enter. His only weakness: gold. He has an irrational fear of the substance. Even a tiny bit is enough to drive him away.
Whether you believe he rides a horse or travels by wagon, just stay inside and don’t look outside or you’re likely to be covered with blood, lose an eye or die.
And now for my interpretation of the fae in an Origin of the Fae: Dullahan
A terrifying creature. The only thing equally as scary is the steed he rides: a black horse which snorts sparks and has glowing eyes (colour differs from one steed to the next).
Dullahans are headless. They’re usually horsemen, though on occasion they will ride out in their carriages of death. The black coach has skulls all over lighted with candles from within. The wheels’ spokes are made of the femurs of humans and Fae alike. Six black horses swiftly and silently draw the carriage, creating fires in its wake.
Whether riding coach or steed, nothing can keep the Dullahan out. All locks unlock, doors and gates fly open whenever he wishes to enter. No-one is safe from the attentions of this Dark Fae.
The Dullahan’s head can either look like mouldy cheese, stale dough or some weird combination thereof with the distinct form of a skull. A terrifying, hideous, idiotic grin splits the face – broadening the closer the creature is to calling a soul to ride with him to the realm of the dead. The entire head glows phosphorescent, the strength of the light varying for stealth. Sometimes the Dullahan will use his own head as a lantern to see by…
The Dullahan likes blood. He carries with him a basin full of it, throwing it at the inquisitive who look upon him and sometimes on his victims to subdue them.
Probably the most macabre aspect of this Faery is the human spine he uses as a whip. Legend has it that the spine belongs to someone he cared for in a previous life.
Dullahans are created by the Unseelie Court as part of some weird ritual to appease the dead. Dullahans can either be made from humans (they don’t last really long) or from Fae who were chosen for this sacrifice. Always the one chosen to become a Dullahan is beheaded by a gold axe.
They have a strong allegiance to the Unseelie Court.
Dullahans don’t like speaking all that much. Mostly because the head settled on the saddle-brow can be dislodged by too much talking. A myth had arisen that this Faery has a limited power of speech because the disembodied head mostly only calls out the name of the soul he came to collect.
Though there’s no true defence against this herald of Death, the Dullahan seems to have an irrational fear of gold. (Probably due to it being a golden axe that killed him in a previous life.) Only gold weapons have any effect on them. Gold gathered from the ground with magic and then thrown at them works like shrapnel and is quite effective at chasing them off.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this episode of the faeries and folklore podcast and that you’ve learned something new about faeries.
Remember that you can get a transcript of this episode in the description. If you’re new to the podcast, why not go and grab your free copy of Unseen, the second book in the Faery Tales series, on my website ronelthemythmaker.com? Loads of folklore, magic and danger await! Take care!
You can now support my time in producing the podcast (researching, writing and everything else involved) by buying me a coffee. This can be a once-off thing, or you can buy me coffee again in the future at your discretion.
Want a taste of my writing? Sign up to my newsletter and get your free copy of Unseen, Faery Tales #2.
No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.