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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

10 Scary Celtic Characters for Halloween

The banshee of Irish folklore is not the murderous predator American culture says she is but she still is not a Celtic character you want to encounter.
The banshee of Irish folklore is not the murderous predator American culture says she is but she still is not a Celtic character you want to encounter.

Halloween approaches. It’s time for putting out pumpkins, hanging ghosts, and telling spooky stories. While witches, Frankensteins, and alien abductors are all fine, it’s fun to add new terrors to Halloween tales. So, to spice up your candlelight discussions this All Hallows’ Eve, here are 10 scary characters from Celtic folklore.

The Banshee: An Irish folklore character, she is not the predatory monster of American films and video games. She is a faerie. The Irish phrase bean sidhe, from which the word banshee is derived, means “faerie woman.” She devotes herself to a particular family and warns them of the impending death of a relative by keening (wailing and moaning). Banshees do not kill people with their screams. Nevertheless, since the Banshee is a harbinger of death, encountering (or even hearing her) is enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine.

Conomar, the Celtic Bluebeard: Conomar is a serial wife-killer. He kills his newborn children too. Read about him from the point of view of his sixth victim by clicking here.

Cat Sith: This Scottish faerie gives black cats a bad name! It appears as a black cat, back arched, hairs standing up like a Halloween cat. In fact, All Hallow’s Eve—or more accurately, Samhain—is considered this faerie’s special time. On Samhain’s Eve (October 31st), the Cat Sith goes from house to house, seeking milk or cream. If it finds a saucer left outside a house, the faerie will bless all those who live there. Those families who neglect to leave milk out for the Cat Sith will regret it as the faerie will curse the family’s cows to dry up.

Beware the Cat Sith.  It's a soul-stealer!
Beware the Cat Sith. It's a soul-stealer!

But there’s a darker side to this faerie. The Cat Sith doesn’t show up only at Samhain. It often appears when someone in the house has just died. Unless the family is vigilant, the Cat Sith will steal the deceased person’s soul by walking over the corpse.

Cu Sith: This faerie appears as a calf-sized faerie dog with green fur and a curled-up tail. The hair on its tail often is braided. This faerie haunts the lonely places of the Scottish Highlands. It hunts silently then gives three long bays. Anyone who hears the bays must reach safety before the third one or she will die.

Daerg Dhu: An Irish vampire, this beautiful woman fell in love with a peasant. Her father refused to let her marry her beloved. Instead, he forced her to marry another man who treated her cruelly. Finally, she killed herself. But she came back with a vengeance! Rising from her grave, she first went to her husband and sucked his blood until he died. Then she did the same to her father. But she wasn’t finished. Each year, she arose from her grave and, still appearing beautiful, seduced men then drained them of their blood. Her annual attacks ended only after terrified and tired community members piled stones on her grave.

The Dullahan: This scary faerie resembles a headless man riding a black horse. He is dressed in black and wears a cape. He uses a human spine for a whip and carries his grinning head under the crook of his arm. The head glows in the dark and the Dullahan uses it as a lantern. But it does more than light his way. Its dark, darting eyes are said to be able to see far distances no matter how black the night. Folklore warns that anyone caught watching him will go blind in one eye or have a bucket of blood thrown into his or her face. Sometimes, the Dullahan appears riding the coiste bodhar, a black coach pulled by four horses. He is said to be summoned by the cry of the banshee. Wherever the Dullahan stops, someone will die.

Summoned by the cry of the banshee, the Dullahan  arrives in the coiste bodhar, the Death Coach.
Summoned by the cry of the banshee, the Dullahan arrives in the coiste bodhar, the Death Coach.

Fear Daerg: In English, this faerie’s name translates to “Red Man.” The fear daerg dresses all in red, about the size of a leprechaun, and is a practical joker—a vicious one. He likes to torment humans and delights in giving them nightmares. He carries a sack and is reputed to steal babies, replacing them with changelings.

Kelpies: Faerie water horses, Scottish Kelpies tend to hang around lochs, rivers, and streams. There is a way to recognize (or at least suspect) a horse is a Kelpie. Water will drip from the horse’s mane. The Kelpie’s goal is to entice a human into taking a ride on its back. Once the human is astride the faerie horse, a sticky substance oozes out of its skin, gluing the person in place. The Kelpie then races into a nearby loch or river, drowning the victim and eating him. Sometimes, for a change of pace, this faerie will take the form of a handsome young man in order to seduce young women.

The Puca: A shape-shifter, this faerie usually appears in animal form. When he appears in human form, he often will have an animal feature, such as a tail, cat’s whiskers, or bunny ears. Not sounding too scary yet, right? And, actually, the Puca is sometimes helpful to humans, offering them guidance. But he is by nature a mischievous prankster and can be vindictive. At Samhain, he spits on blueberries and bilberries, ruining them. It is said that hens stop laying and cows stop milking at the mere sight of the Puca. A few of his exploits include:

a) showing up at the end of harvest, appearing as an ugly goblin and demanding his share of the crops

b) appearing as a bogeyman, terrorizing people at night and

c) sneaking up from behind on late-night travelers, hurling them into bogs and muddy ditches.

On Halloween night, the Sluagh Sidhe burst out of Hell's Gate and fly across the sky, hunting souls
On Halloween night, the Sluagh Sidhe burst out of Hell's Gate and fly across the sky, hunting souls.

The Sluagh Sidhe: The phrase sluagh sidhe means “faerie host.” The members of this faerie collective are gruesome in appearance, resembling human skeletons with a bit of flesh still clinging to their bones. A few strands of dark hair hang from their skulls. Their mouths are beak-like with sharp, pointed teeth. Their hands are bony claws and the Sluagh Sidhe have large, leathery, bat-like wings.

At midnight on Samhain, according to folklore, the Sluagh Sidhe fly out of Hell Gate, a cave in Co. Roscommon, Ireland. They soar into the sky, looking like a murder of crows. On Halloween night, they ruin crops, kill dogs, cats, and cattle, and they carry off humans who are traveling alone in the dark.

But they don’t just come out on All Hallows’ Eve. The Sluagh Sidhe hunt frequently, flying in through the open windows of any room where someone lies sick or dying. They also seek out those who are heartsick and despairing, and those who dare speak their name out loud. When they find a victim, they suck out that person’s soul.

Healthy, happy people shouldn’t get complacent though. They can be prey too. Their souls are harder to obtain but the Sluagh Sidhe like a challenge. To protect themselves from this sinister faerie horde, people should avoid dark, secluded places such as woods and lonely country roads. Once the Sluagh captures a human soul, it belongs to them forever.

Wishing you a spooky Halloween. Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s post. Please LIKE and SHARE. To SUBSCRIBE for FREE, just click on the “Sign Up” button in the upper right of the page.

Slan go foil!

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