A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com - In Brittany's fairy folklore, there is a frightening spirit Ankou ("death") who is almost identical to the Grim Reaper, often mentioned in the fairy tales that originate from Cornwall and Wales in Britain and Ireland.
This frightening and omnipotent spirit has the appearance of a man dressed in dark robes or a shroud and wearing an old hat. At times, Ankou can appear as a dark shadow driving a black cart pulled by four black horses.
Ankou is portrayed as a tall, exhausted skeletal figure with flowing white hair.
His head is able to turn at a 360 degree angle, to symbolize its ability to see everything, everywhere. Ancient tales vary on the details of Ankou's identity.
One version of the tale says that Ankou is headless; yet another describes this mysterious figure with two skeleton assistants who help Ankou to collect the souls of the dead.
An Ankou appears when the last person in a calendar year dies in a parish.
Their job, for the next year, is to guide the dead souls away from their bodies.
Ankou, who never miss a day, travels the countryside by using only one particular path and he usually appears at dusk, with a scythe fitted upside down.
The tale about Ankou is very old. The Celtic Britons, who had a strong sense of the nearness of death, they did not fear it, because in their beliefs, death represented the beginning of a better life, a miraculous journey to a place, where no fear, sorrow, pain and loneliness could ever hurt them again.
Left: Ankou, depicted on a carving at the ossuary of the chapel of St Joseph at Ploudiry, Brittany; Right: La Roche-Maurice Parish, Brest in Brittany, in north-western France. Photo credits: Wikipedia
However, they were always afraid of Ankou that means grief and oblivion and is forever doomed to fulfill his task of collecting the souls of the dead and cannot ever leave it.
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The spirit Ankou is particularly active and powerful on November Eve (October 31). Ancient people believd that Ankou was a personification of death and to see him was understood as a clear sign of a person's death.
An old Irish proverb says that "when Ankou comes, he will not go away empty..." In Brittany, each parrish had its own Ankou, "King of the Dead" that used to pay a visit when the last man died each calendar year.
Written by A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com Senior Staff Writer
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Expand for references
T. Cheung, Celtic Angels: True stories of Irish Angel Blessings