Friday, May 22, 2015

Ankou: Collector of Souls

Stories about the Ankou also known as “The Graveyard Watcher” are found all over Europe.

The Ankou is said to guard cemeteries.

This spirit originated from an ancient tradition that whenever a new cemetery was opened, it was the custom to bury a person alive in the first grave. Whoa! This then created the Ankou ghost.

It was believed an Ankou was needed to frighten off unwanted intruders and spirits so that the dead would not be disturbed.

In Great Britain, the Ankou is said to be the origin of the phrase used by people when an involuntary shiver strikes them:

“Someone is walking over my grave.”

By the 19th century, the story about the Ankou had evolved or been whitewashed. According to Anatole Le Braz bestseller, The Legend of Death:

“The last dead of the year, in each parish*, becomes the Ankou of his parish for all the following year.”

*  Each parish in Brittany had its own Ankou.

The belief in this spirit was so strong that in a year where there were more deaths people would state, “War me te, heman zo eun Anko drouk” or “Oh, my faith, this one is a nasty Ankou.”

Ankou is described as a shadow, skeleton or tall man with long white hair. He wears a hat and wields a scythe. He either uses a cart or black coach with four black horses to collect the souls of the deceased. 

In Celtic tradition, he is a death omen. It is said his head revolves so he can see everything everywhere. He stops at the home of someone who is about to die. He either knocks or wails like a Banshee. He has a black coach and two ghostly figures on foot with him.

It is always stated he is an adult male who is selected because he was either the first or last person to die that year. He then has to collect souls for a year before he can go on to the afterlife.

Ankou atop a cart.
One of many tales told about the Ankou involves three drunken friends.

These friends were walking home one night when they came across a man in a rickety cart. Two of the friends started to shout at Ankou.

They then threw stones at Ankou. One stone broke the cart’s axle. When they saw what they had done, they ran off.

The third man felt bad about what his friends had done. He stayed to help. He found a tree branch to replace the broken axle, and he used his shoelaces to tie the branch to the cart.

The next morning his two friends were found dead. He discovered his hair had turned white. After this, he never spoke of how it happened.

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