I’ve previously written about cephalophores, and recently watched Disney’s adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and that led me in the direction of the dullahan. A dullahan, also known as Gan Ceann (literally “without a head”) is an Irish headless horseman and an unseelie fairy, riding a black horse and carrying its own disembodied head.
The mouth of this head is permanently stuck in a creepy grin, and its eyes dart around constantly. The dullahan carries a whip made from a human spine, and seeks out people who are to die. Wherever it stops is where a person is going to die.
So how is the function of a dullahan different from that of a banshee?
From what I’ve read, the banshee is there to warn of an impending death, while a dullahan actively calls out the dead. The horseman doesn’t speak aside from saying the name of a dying person, and does not appreciate being watched. Anyone the dullahan sees watching is likely to get a bucket of blood in his or her face, or have their eyes gouged out. While seemingly unstoppable, able to open locked gates and doors simply by approaching them, it is said that dullahans are afraid of gold. The Dullahan appears as a boss monster in Final Fantasy VI, and is apparently in the Golden Sun games as well, although I’ve never played them.
On the Internet, there’s some supposition that the dullahan might have derived from an ancient Irish god called Crom Dubh, to whom humans were sacrificed by means of decapitation.
The god’s Wikipedia entry, however, gives no indication of such sacrifices being practiced, and for some reason the Irish have had more than their reasonable share of accusations of human sacrifice with no actual evidence behind them. That’s not to say that they definitely didn’t practice human sacrifice; we know quite well that some cultures did. I just have to suspect the barbarism of ancient Celtic religion has been exaggerated somewhat.