I have always been fascinated by the folklore of the headless horseman. I first became aware of this harbinger of death in the famous story by Washington Irving The Legend of Sleepy Hollow set in rural region in the state of New York. But the Irish legend of the Dullahan (“dark man”), the headless horseman is a harbinger of death. In the legend of the Dullahan, he carries a moldy severed head under his arm, taking a blood sacrifice (and the head) of his intended victim. According to folklore of the Dullahan, he only speaks once during his furious ride through village and field, and those words are only for his victim, the sacrifice.
The connection between the headless horseman and sacrifice is related to Celtic mythology and the ancient god, Crom Dubh, a fertility god to whom blood sacrifices were made. In county Cavan, the Killycluggin stone is believed to be an ancient representation of Crom Dubh, and like the Dullahan of legend travelling the roads, the large carved stone was found on a main road close to a nearby Bronze Age stone circle.
I was inspired by the Dullahan, this embodiment of Crom Dubh, and in writing a short story, I’ve incorporated these elements of folklore, legend, archaeology and mythology to weave a new tale of this infamous headless horseman.
One of my recent short stories, a work-in-progress, was a reimagining of a tale recounted in the classic rendition, The Arabian Nights translated by Sir Richard Burton. The volume, also known as One Thousand and One Nights follows the sultana Scheherazade who cunningly begins a tale each night, never finishing it until the next, to prevent jealous and murderous husband from killing her, and ensuring her survival.
In developing an original tale inspired by The Arabian Nights story “The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peri Banu”, I also incorporated inspiration from the fourteenth century Iberian Moorish kingdom, the Nasrid caliphate in Granada, Andalusia. In Persian folklore, the peri were diminutive brilliantly coloured winged-beings, a race that were seperate and as powerful as Jinn and Ifriit, and hunted by both. These rare fairy-like beings are the focus of my reimagined and original tale.
My current work-in-progress novella explores trickster lores and legends in two different cultures, Old Icelandic and Australian First Nations.
I have a keen interest in Tricksters, and in this novella, I have been exploring two Trickster figures from very different cultural backgrounds: Loki from Old Norse legend and Crow, present in many Australian First Nations cultures.
The focus of the novella is on Loki his customary role of physical transformation which is also shared with Crow and, incidentally, many other Trickster figures like Coyote and Raven from North American First Nations among others.
This work-in-progress is not a retelling of any specific legends but is a reimagining inspired by the lore and legends surrounding the Trickster figures of Crow and Loki.
In writing a flash fiction story, I explored in the legendary Thunderbird, a powerful elemental being, found in many First Nations religions across North America.
The Thunderbird is a being found in many First Nations legends stretching from the desert plateaus and lands, the prairies and plains to the redwood forests and the Rocky Mountains. The Thunderbird is a powerful being, the beating of its wings makes the thunderclaps and gales, the silver of its eyes is the lightning. The Thunderbird also has an association with battle to many First Nations cultures, the bringer of storms both literal and metaphorical. I have a post here on the Thunderbird, or ‘Wakinyan’ in the Lakota-Sioux dialect.
As with any reimagining of a legendary being, I was conscious of cultural appropriation. My own reimagining of the Thunderbird, I focused on the connection between the prairie and desert landscapes, the reliance on the life-giving thunderstorms, and as a being invoked to protect land but also warriors and their horses.
In a recent story, I explored one of the worst shipwrecks that occurred off south-eastern Australia, a notorious stretch of coast known as the “shipwreck coast”. I have been fascinated by the history behind a treacherous, narrow bay, the Loch Ard Gorge named after the 1878 shipwreck of the Loch Ard merchant ship, one of the Australia’s deadliest shipwrecks, where only two survived from the 54 on board.
Loch Ard Gorge is located near Cape Otway on the south-eastern Australian coastline where the infamous southern Ocean has eroded the sandstone coastline creating many the natural rock formations including the ‘twelve apostles’ along the Great Australian Bight. This region is prone to storms and pounding surf from the Antarctic, and rich marine ecosystems of great white sharks, seals, whales, dolphins and many species of fish and other marine life. This thriving region is also home to more than two hundred shipwrecks during Australia’s colonial history, a short span of time compared to the sixty thousand years of indigenous occupation.
In writing my own fictionalised account of this historic event, I imagined a third survivor, one who fled England for Melbourne undetected, a damned soul for who must eventually pay their due. I was inspired and fascinated by the gothic folklore of the sea, damned sea voyages encapsulated in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Homer’s The Odyssey among others.
One of the most interesting folklore research I did recently involved the Aztec Empire in Mesoamerica. I have always been fascinated by the Aztec Empire and the many intriguing mythologies and my latest research was into the god of Underworld, Mictlantecuhtli. The death-god is often depicted in constant combat with the opposing force, the god of renewal Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. The two gods are constantly locked in a fight for supremacy, the balance between life and death.
The Aztecs practised human sacrifice on a colossal scale in the late stages of the empire. Recent archaeological excavations in the sacred city of Tenochtitlan at the base of one of the largest pyramid temples, the Tempo Mayor, huge wooden racks of skulls were offerings to the gods of war and rain. The extreme numbers of suggested human sacrifices coincided with Aztec empire expansion, it was probably considered necessary to appease the gods who could provide battle success and the rains to grow crops and support an increasing population.
The Aztec Underworld or Mictlán was ruled by god Mictlantecuhtli. To the Aztecs, every soul no matter the privilege or poverty during life, would descend through the nine layers of Mictlán to face Mictlantecuhtli. Not surprisingly, worship of Mictlantecuhtli was important to all Aztecs and during the Aztec month of Tititl , the temple Tlalxicco conducted a specific ritual human sacrifice. A chosen sacrifice became the embodiment of Mictlantecuhtli and sacrificed at night to honour the god.
In my flash fiction story, I was inspired by the elaborate skeletal depictions of Mictlantecuhtli and the creation myth where Quetzalcoatl is deliberately delayed in the Underworld while searching for the bones of every creature destroyed in the previous world. The Aztecs, like many past civilisations, had a cyclic view of time rather than a linear one. Drawing on inspiration from depictions of Mictlantecuhtli adorned in carved bones or as a skeletal figure, my flash fiction story was set during the Aztec month of Tititl at night at the temple Tlalxicco. Here the ritual sacrifice gruesomely transforms the flesh embodiment of Mictlantecuhtli into a skeletal representation of the death-god before sunrise.
As the celebration of Women in Horror Month comes to an end, I’ve got a vampire themed dark micro-fiction coming soon in Blood Lust (Legends of the Night, #2) by Black Ink Fiction.
For a final hurrah, here’s a sneak peek at one of my most recent dark fiction works, the folklore, history and vampires in “The Hungering” . Enjoy!
Continuing the celebration of all things women in horror, I’ve got a horror/dark fiction short story set in the Australian Alps inspired by the wendigo legend, case of a cannibalistic monster or a monstrous human? Coming soon in Gluttony (Seven Deadly Sins, #6) by Black Hare Press.
Here’s a sneaky peek at my story “The Monster” and the folklore and legend of the wendigo. Enjoy with dark delight!
Continuing the celebration of all things women in horror, I’ve got a microfiction story set in Viking Age Iceland coming soon in April Horrors by Raven and Drake Publishing.
Here’s a sneak peek at the inspiration behind my story “Necropants” and the grisly Icelandic folklore.