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ankou


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A spectral figure portending death in Breton folklore, a counterpart of the Greek Thanatos. The ankou is usually the spirit of the last person to die in a community. Sometimes male, but more often female, the ankou is usually a tall, haggard figure in a wide hat with long white hair, or a skeleton with a revolving head who sees everybody everywhere. The ankou characteristically drives a deathly wagon or cart with a creaking axle and piled high with corpses; a stop at a cabin door means sudden death for those inside. Although roughly parallel to the driver of the death coach in Irish folklore, the ankou appears to draw more from the Grim Reaper in medieval Christian folklore. The 19th-century writer Anatole le Braz suggested that the ankou is a survival of the prehistoric dolmen-builders of Brittany. See also ANGAU; DULLAHAN; FAR DOROCHA; YANNIG.

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