Samhain: The Fearsome Things 1.2

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Along with the Black Pig, folk might encounter the Dullahan, or sometimes ghosts, not always of the friendly departed. The Black Pig, often associated with the White Lady, served as a diabolic image. Irish families often considered this pig an incarnation of the devil. In one Welsh ritual, when the bonfires went out, those tending it ran away shouting, “The cropped black sow seize the hindmost!”
This tradition suggested running away from evil.

The Dullahan, sometimes described as a malicious imp, more often referred to a headless horseman that appeared on deserted roads at night. This personage appears as a death omen, carrying his own head at his side, and calling out the name of a person destined to die that night.

Another piece of lore involving horsemen as hunters, the Faery Host, bore a strong resemblance to Northern Europe’s Wild Hunt. According to the Celtic lore, on Samhain night, the faery mounds opened and the Wild Host/Hunt (or Faery Host) came forth. Often this involved a hunting party, usually royal, accompanied by baying dogs, usually black, that ran ahead of and alongside the hunters. Some travellers might report seeing mortal adults kidnapped by this hunt —those who witnessed this often reported seeing their neighbours running with or from the Wild Hunt. The only way to avoid the hunt if caught outdoors was for the traveler to throw him or herself on the nearest soil, or better yet, into the nearest fallow field.

The identity of the hunters and their quarry changed according to the folklore of a given region. Sometimes the hunters came from other tales, such as King Arthur or King Herod; on other occasions locals identified the hunter as a man sinful or sacrilegious in life. Those hunted might also be recently departed community sinners, sometimes a lady in white, and sometimes woodland spirits. The Scottish added to this legend’s atmosphere with tales of unbaptized infants wandering the woods at night, moaning.

In Northern Europe, people attributed the hunts to the gods of weather as well as the gods of death (in the case of Woden, these were one and the same.) Also called the Furious Host, locals believed that Odin himself led these hunts, sometimes accompanied by the goddesses Bertha and Holda. In addition to Odin’s hunt, stories of the Goddess Bertha collecting troops of unbaptized children and flying them across the winter sky colored tales of the ghostly storm.