Minor Malevolencies of the Celtic Hills
As the season of Samhain approaches, beware these minor malevolencies. They may not have the reams of lore that other scary beings have, but that doesn’t mean they should be underestimated. You never know just what may be waiting around the next green hillock of Ireland or rocky crag of Scotland. Some are more dangerous than others, but all are to be avoided at all costs. If you can!
The Fear Gorta are harbingers of famine, their own name meaning “man of hunger.” Supposedly harbingers of famine, they even portended an Gorta Mor, the Great Famine itself. Emaciated ghouls forever cursed to be hungry, they are known for their starving visage, matted grey hair, long nails, and rotting flesh that drips off its bones. It roams the countryside, asking passersby for alms, although they are so weak that they can barely hold their alms cup. If charity is given, the Fear Gorta will wish prosperity on the giver. If its pleas are unanswered, though, it will place a curse of hunger and poverty upon those too selfish to give. They begin their undead existence as an unshriven corpse, and the land around the grave from which they arise becomes cursed itself. The turf changes and becomes hungry grass, a patch of vegetation that causes eternal hunger and bad luck for anyone walking over it (although it’s also considered to be due to the hunger pains caused from famine, during which times those starving may eat grass in an effort to ease the pangs).
The Dullahan, the “man without a head,” is Ireland’s headless horseman. After sunset on festival days, the Dullahan can be spotted riding his midnight black horse across the Irish countryside. Although called headless, he does indeed have his head, albeit it just held in his hand. This mouldy visage is held high, so that the rider can see across the pitch black fields and hills of Eire. If you have any warning of his coming, it is best to hide your gaze and even better to run away. If you happen to lay eyes upon him, you may have a bucket of blood thrown on you or being struck blind. The worst case is if he stops and whispers your name, his chill voice causing dread and his naming causing death, with your soul being drawn out of your physical body.
The Dearg-Due, the “red blood sucker,” is a female vampire creature who behaves similarly to the succubus. She entices men with her beauty and, holding them fast in her arms as they dream of sexual congress, she drains them of their blood. Thought to be a singular being, she started as a mortal, in love with a local farmer. Her father, though, promised her to a much older and richer man. Her new husband treated her so cruelly that she took her own life, but then soon arose from her grave and took her revenge on both men. Every ounce of blood was drained from them, and this vile act continues unto this day. Fortunately, she rises only once a year, but her beauty is undiminished and so she has no shortage of victims. She can be stopped by covering her grave with stones, but the moment the rocks are dislodged, she will return.
Similar to the Dearg-Due is the Leanan Sidhe. Rather than an undead vampiric creature, she is a fae being, her name meaning “fairy lover,” and she is one of the Aos Si, the people of the barrows, who are the old deities of the Emerald Isle who went underground to become what we now call fairies. She is a beautiful female fairy and she gives inspiration to poets and musicians, helping them with her beauty and magic, her intelligence and creativity. She was markedly more morbid and sensual than her Grecian counterparts, as she would share her bed with the artist. Eventually she would leave and the artist would become so depressed that they would pass away, at which point the Leanan Sidhe would take them back to her lair. Here, she concocted a potion in her giant red cauldron out of the victim’s blood, which was her secret to preserving her eternal beauty and inspiration (a rather gruesome version of the Norse mead of poetry and unlike most fairies who remain as they are without a blood potion).
Carman was a Greek goddess of evil and of magic who came to Ireland. She would cross the country side with her sons Dub (darkness), Dother (evil), and Dain (violence), killing all mortals they came across and destroying all crops they happened upon. Eventually four of the Tuatha de Danaan (including their future king Lugh) tired of this and challenged the vicious quad, defeating them and banishing them from the island.
The devil’s own mother hails from Ireland. Caorthannach was a blight upon island, causing chaos and death with her ability to spit fire. She and her demonic offspring was driven off the island by none other than Saint Paddy himself, although it was a long and wearing pursuit. She would poison every well she passed, causing Patrick’s thirst to grow. Patrick endured and, after reflective prayer, was able to meet the devilish mater, at which point he banished her with a wave of his hand.
Perhaps less dangerous, but still very irksome, is the prankster fae clurichaun, who is thought to be a cousin of the Leprechaun. These beings inhabit wine cellars, much of which is due to their love of the drink. An 1825 sighting of the clurichaun Naggeneen was drinking everything in sight and playing pranks on the servants of an Irish lord. Being only six inches high, he had the face of a weathered apple and wore a red nightcap, a leather apron, and light blue stockings. The lord was going to move, but Naggeneen simply laughed and said that he would follow. The lord stayed put, as did the clurichaun, and the staff were forced to endure the pranks.
Am Fear Liath Mor is the Big Grey Man who inhabits Scotland’s Cairngorm mountain range, specifically Ben Macdui, the second largest mountain in Scotland. Naturalists and mountain climbers have reported seeing him as far back as 1891, with the most recent being in the late 1950s. He towers above ten feet and is broadly built, with wildly waving arms. Some hikers are fortunate enough to feel his dark energy and are able to run away before spotting him. Some are less fortunate, for they see him in his full form, hairy and scary as can be. Even more unfortunate are those who never return to tell their story, taken away to his cave. Do they become slaves or food or something even worse? Hopefully, you’ll not find out.
The beithir is a snakelike monster that is created when the head of a decapitated snake isn’t disposed of properly. Its name is derived from Scots Gaelic for serpent and lightning, and is also known as beithir-nimh (venomous serpent) and nathair (serpent and adder). Reanimated when the head and body reattach, it becomes supernatural and even more dangerous to humans and cattle than it was as a normal snake. It will sometimes grow legs and/or wings, and can look very much like a dragon. It has an affinity towards lightning and can be spotted near lightning strikes and has been known to spit lightning.
The Awd Goggie is a giant hairy hobgoblin that dwells in orchards. It hides in the trees, awaiting the uncouth children who steal fruit. Once it spots such poor behavior, it will leap down and kidnap the children, taking them away to be his own dinner. Also, found in berry bushes, children are warned away from stealing either fruit or berries with “awd goggie is seer to get ‘em.”
Similar to the clurichaun, the kilmoulis is Scottish Prankster. He has no mouth, but does have a rather large nose through which he eats. He haunts mills and will even help the miller, but is also a prankster whose japes may hinder the hard work being done.
So don’t say I didn’t warn you! Although, I suppose, if you happened upon any of these, it’s too late for you to blame anyone. Take care this spooky season!
Slainte and wassail!
Of course don’t forget about the sluagh, of which I wrote about here: https://hubpages.com/education/Processions-of-the-Dead.
We can't forget about the banshee, of which I wrote about here: https://hubpages.com/education/Banshees-among-the-Celts.
For other tales of the devil in Celtic lands, go here (also includes the story of Stingy Jack): https://hubpages.com/education/The-Devil-comes-to-Celt-land.
And if you want to know more of the Tuatha de, I’ve written about them in the following hubs: https://hubpages.com/education/Seasons-and-Cycles-in-Irish-Mythology and https://hubpages.com/education/The-Creatures-of-Samhain.