"When Ankou comes, he will not go away empty."
- Irish proverb
Europe: A general term for all ghostly guardians of cemeteries and graveyards.
Ankou probably originated in the region of Brittany, in Northern France. Some say Ankou is a female, a result of the dolmen-builder's prehistoric belief in a 'death goddess.' Most stories depict the creature as male. Statues of Ankou can still be found in some churches in Breton.
Celtic mythology and French folklore have run together in this region long enough that the stories have been told and braided and told again - but Ankou is generally considered to be an ancient version of the Grim Reaper. Preceded by a cold gust of wind, a silent and detached Ankou drives a broken down cart (or hearse) drawn by four black horses, always at night. The cart is attended by two skeletons who walk alongside and toss soul after soul of the recently departed aboard the wagon. Ankou himself is generally depicted as a skeletal figure, draped all in black. In some stories Ankou is described as having a head that spins like a top so he can see in all directions, in other versions he wears a large hat (or cloak) concealing his head altogether.
The Irish version of Ankou is generally described as faery, not skeletal, and the stories told there give the creature a great deal more personality and interest in the affairs of the living.