The 12th day of our mini marathon, and our second to last deity of death. I happily introduce Ankou a Celtic/Breton spirit. Ankou is considered a henchman to death. He collects lost souls and protects the graveyards and the souls of the dead. The last person to die (or sometimes the first person to die) in a year, becomes the Ankou for the next year. So basically the Ankou is a special yearly position for a spirit to watch over the graveyards. He can only go to the afterlife after he collects souls for a year.
He is described as being a skeleton or shadow with a hat meant to conceal his face and with a cart meant for collecting the dead. His face is only witnessed by those who have died, and his head is said to rotate 360 degrees because he sees all. Sometimes, he is said to ride in a buggy (not own a cart) pulled by black horses and with two ghostly footmen. He usually uses his buggy to make house calls to those about to die. He acts very much like a psychopomp, bringing the dead to the afterlife. He is followed by a cold wind that causes people to shiver.
The Ankou warned people of impending plagues/diseases by leaving a red mark of death on the doors of families who were infected. This often led to others in the village killing the families, avoiding them entirely, or forcing the families to stay locked in their homes (often starving to death).
For some, the Ankou was an evil spirit who always had room for one more in his cart. He could easily and mercilessly take a person’s life. In Ireland, the Ankou was a fairy, not a ghost, and he was said to never leave empty handed.
There are many stories that involve the Ankou:
In one myth, an Ankou attempted to rip the souls of incorruptible men before their time. An angel became so angry that he gashed out the eyes of the Ankou. Afterwards, all Ankou would have empty eye sockets with a dying light showing through.
In another story, Ankou was said to be Cain son of Adam and Eve. He was cursed to collect souls of the dead as punishment for being the first human to kill.
In one legend, the Ankou was thought to be a barbarous landowner who challenged Death to a gambling game.
A fourth story explains that one day three friends were walking home drunk one night, and they stumble upon an old buggy/cart. Being drunk (and apparently rude and stupid), two of the young men began throwing rocks and shouting provocations. After breaking the cart, the two ran away. The third, feeling guilty over his friends idiocy, searched for a branch to replace the axle and gave his shoelace to tie it all together. The next day, the two friends were found dead, and the third only had a full head of white hair.
In a fifth story, there was a Prince that was petty, jealous, and vindictive. He loved to hunt, and on the Sabbath Day, he hunted a magical white deer. The deer led them to a dark and shadowy figure riding a white horse. The stupid prince challenged the cloaked man. The contest was to catch the magical stag, and the winner would decide the faith of the loser. The stranger won, and he did so very quickly too. The Prince became angry and ordered his men to attack the stranger. The ghostly man only laughed and told the prince that he would have to hunt for the souls of the dead. The figure was Death, and the Prince became the Ankou.
To learn more read here: http://www.frenchentree.com/france-brittany-culture-traditions/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=11292