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The Origins of The Headless Horseman - (Exploring the Stories Behind the Legend)

The Headless Horseman rides tonight through stark and starless skies

Shattering the silence with his otherworldly cries

He races through the darkness of his alabaster steed

the Headless Horseman rides tonight

Wherever the fates would lead

After the video on the Dullahan it seemed like many of you were interested in the origins of theHeadless Horseman

So today we'll take a look at some Headless Horseman stories from a few different countries

the first headless horseman story is one that some of you might be quite familiar with

because it's a story that was popularised by Washington Irving

In American folklore the Headless Horseman was originally known as the headless Hessian of the Hollow

His story begins in New York during the Battle of White Plains

just one of the many battles that took place in America's fight for independence from the British

The horseman was a hessian trooper who took part in the battle

Hessian troopers for those of you who don't know were German soldiers who fought for the British

During the battle this particular hessian trooper was unlucky enough to be decapitated by a cannonball

His body would be carried away by his comrades but his head which had been shattered into pieces was left scattered around the battlefield

His remains were then buried in the old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow

and legend has it that he would rise as a vengeful ghost in search for his lost head

the reason this tale was often associated with Halloween and why the

Horseman's head is sometimes depicted as a pumpkin is because the battle took place on the 28th of October only a few days before the holiday

the idea of the horsemen being decapitated in battle is quite common

and it's one that we see in Scottish Welsh and English folklore

In both English and Welsh folklore we have the 14th century or Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

This story centres around one of the Knights of Arthur's round table who is challenged to a duel by a mysterious Green Knight

but this in itself isn't really a duel as the Green Knight tells Gawain that he will allow

him to strike him once and then he will return the same blow a year and a day later

Gawain accepts this challenge and with one swing of his axe he manages

to decapitate the Green Knights but the knight then simply picks up his head

reminds Gawain that he will return in a year's time and goes on his way

When he eventually finds this mysterious Green Knight Gawain accepts his fate and in an

attempt to keep his honour he leans over expect in the night to return the blow and strike him down

after several fake swings of his axe

and a brief exchange the Green Knight explains to Gawain that he was actually

transformed by Arthur's sister Morgan la Fey

this whole challenge and adventure was merely just a ploy to expose Arthur's knights and to show how chivalrous they really were

this story is quite long and there certainly are some things that I haven't mentioned and that's because I'd like to cover

this in some more detail when I start discussing these stories of King Arthur and arthurian lore itself

In Scotland the Headless Horseman was said to be a man named Ewan who fought for leadership of his clan

During a battle on the Isle of Mul both Ewan and his horse were decapitated and thus ending his hopes of ever being the chieftain

But the legends state that both man and horse still haunt the surrounding area even to this day

for our next legend we travel all the way to northern India and the state of Rajasthan

This variation of the Headless Horseman was seen as a more heroic figure who was said to protect the innocent

these stories usually describe the horsemen as being born from a violent death

the most common story is about a prince who was decapitated while defending his village from the thieves

Even once he was beheaded he continued to defend his people

This version of the horseman was said to fight without a horse so he isn't really a horseman

but there is a story of a guard who died defending his prince in battle

Despite his death the guard continued to defend his prince and he enters the battle mounted on a horse without a head

Our last two stories take us to Germany where the Brothers Grimm wrote several stories about the Headless Horseman

The first story set in the town of Dresden and follows a woman who is gathering acorns in a part of the forest named the lost waters

the woman then hears the sound of a hunting horn and when she turns she sees a man riding a grey horse

which isn't too out of the ordinary so she continues collecting acorns and goes home

when she later returned to the forest she heard a voice from behind her

and when she turned she saw the same man dressed in grey

this time carrying his head under his arm he then tells a woman that his name is Hans

he then tells a woman that his name is Hans Jagenteufel and during his life he never once did he do warnings of his father

to be courteous and merciful to all those below him

he often drank excessively and indulged himself far too much without a care for those around him

and so now in death he was cursed to roam the earth as an evil spirit

the second story is of the wild Huntsman of Brunswick the Huntsman went by the name of Hackelberg

and on his death he begged God to allow him to stay on earth and in exchange he would sacrifice his place in heaven

his request would be granted but he would remain on earth as a headless horseman

Hackelberg was said to blow his horn to warn other hunters that the next day would not be safe for hunting

in some stories he would even seek out and punish those who had wronged to others

accompanied by his pack of black hounds with tongues of fire

these two stories certainly tie into the themes of God and morality that we see all throughout the Grimm stories

Most of these tales despite where they're from seem to share a similar origin

horseman is nearly always driven by revenge often slain in a battlefield of some kind

then of course you have stories where the horseman is more of a protector figure and even a vigilante

I'm sure many of you would have heard similar stories so feel free to share those with me in the comments below

as always I've been your host

Mythology and fiction explained