Though hideous in appearance, he was benevolent in nature. The Bugul Noz roamed the woodlands of his native Brittany. Sometimes known as ‘Night Shepherd’ because of the care he took of the animals of the forest. On this cold crisp Halloween night of 31 October he felt strangely secure. This was the night; the only night really, that he could show himself in public. The throngs of people that went to fancy dress parties on this night of Halloween (Kalan Goañv); the old Celtic New Year, made it easy for him. Dressed as they were in grotesque costumes, they vied to see who could look the most frightening. Fake blood, fangs, dyed hair, make up, masks, shrouds; the more outlandish, deathlike and appalling the dress, the more admired by everyone. Yes-this was the night that Bugul Noz could feel comfortable with his own appearance. Because the people he met did not know that this ugly looking creature was entirely natural. Bugul Noz did not need a costume and make-up in order to scare people.
Arriving at the edge of the village Bugul Noz breathed in the cold, crisp air. Mist swirled just above the ground creating a grey velvet like carpet. A perfect Brittany night in autumn, full of the magic and mystery that filled the air of his Celtic homeland. ‘Brittany’ he thought and sighed with pleasure. Proud, distinct, unique and despite the efforts of many over the years, independent in mind and spirit. Cursed as he was to roam this land without being able to show his face, Bugul Noz could not survive outside of his beloved Brittany. Although repugnant in appearance to his fellow Bretons, he was nevertheless one of them.
Bugul Noz felt as ancient as the earth on which he walked. Some of the trees in the old woodlands in which he lived he remembered as just saplings many years ago. Was there a time that he did not feel lonely? Maybe, but if there was he could no longer remember it. Sometimes he would meet ‘Ankou’. Tall and wearing a long dark coat, a wide brimmed hat and carrying a scythe over his shoulder, the skeletal Ankou is a collector of the souls of the dead in Brittany. They would greet each other but Ankou was always very busy, even with his two skeleton helpers who assisted in loading the souls of the dead into a rickety cart drawn by black horses.
Bugul Noz was the last of his kind. A fairy spirit destined now to live an independent existence. Aware of how hideous he looked to human kind he did his best to avoid them. Kind and caring Bugul Noz did not want to upset them. Sometimes when walking he would hear laughter or sense a human presence. Although he craved to meet and talk with these people he knew it was not possible. In order to keep his appearance a secret he would make a noise; loud and frightening enough to scare them away. People knew the story of the Bugul Noz but very few had seen him and none wanted to.
Tonight though was different. Emerging from the woods he entered the village. Groups of people dressed in their scary costumes walked by him with hardly even a second glance. Looking directly at them some would respond to him with a laugh congratulating him on creating such a horrible Halloween costume. Overjoyed he would reciprocate and share something with them he never normally did; direct contact with a human being. Oh yes-Halloween was so special. It marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one in Celtic culture. The night when the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest. When humans realised, if they were brave enough, that they shared their world with the creatures, departed souls and spirits not normally seen by them. From its origins in the Celtic nations of northwest Europe, Halloween celebrations now seemed to have become a global phenomenon.
After walking the village streets, open and proud for once, Bugul Noz made his way back towards the woods. On the path skirting the trees he heard the sound of singing. He stopped, instinctively feeling he should run into the forest and hide. Listening carefully he heard a voice so sweet, clear and beautiful it was almost mesmerising. Bugul Noz decided not to hide, after all it was still Halloween and his shocking appearance would be mistaken for a hideous costume. Emerging from the misty night she walked towards him along the path. As she came closer he saw how beautiful she was. Her face as pale as a winter moon and framed by long auburn hair like the colour of the setting sun. Seeming not to notice him Bugul Noz spoke gently trying not to frighten her.
“Hello, you have a really lovely voice”. Despite his best efforts he saw that he had startled her and she gave a small gasp. Her eyes opening wide revealing their colour of deep Celtic blue. “Sorry if I surprised you, I didn’t mean to”.
Recovering and sensing the kindness in his voice she said “Oh, it’s alright I was lost in my own thoughts. You must think I am mad wandering along singing to myself in the middle of the night. I’m just on my way home from a Halloween party; probably had too much to drink”, she laughed.
“Your singing is nice; you shouldn’t keep it only to yourself. Anyway I’m glad I heard it” he said.
“Well kind of you to say” she replied with humour in her voice and making a slight theatrical bow.
“Do you have far to go? I’ll walk with you if you like” asked Bugul Noz.
“Not far but it would be nice to have the company”
They walked side by side along the path. She talked and laughed. Telling him of her love of nature and how much she liked living in her little house on the edge of the woods. Bugul Noz told her that he was also a lover of the countryside and the shady trees of the forests. Although walking for only about twenty minutes, he could not remember when he had ever held any kind of conversation. His short meetings and exchanges with the sombre and busy Ankou did not really count. Finally they had arrived at the gate of her home. Not once had she mentioned his appearance or commented on how hideous his Halloween ‘costume’ was.
“You certainly don’t seem to have any fear of the dark” he said “and I’m glad my appearance didn’t put you off”. It was only then, when she had turned to bid him goodnight that he saw that her eyes did not quite meet his, but rather her attention was completely on the sound of his voice. Then when her hand fumbled slightly, feeling for the handle of the gate, he realised she was blind.
“Well” she said, "darkness is normal for me, day and night and I know my way home very well. As for your appearance” she shrugged her shoulders, “I can’t see you anyway so you could be the Bugul Noz for all I care.”
“Bugul Noz! Well your right, that’s exactly who I am” he said in surprise.
With a short laugh at what she thought was his little farewell joke, she said “then thank you for being kind and walking me home Bugul Noz and Happy Halloween”. With that she waved him goodbye and closed the door of her little house.
Bugul Noz walked into the woods with a skip in his step and a smile on his face. It had indeed been a Happy Halloween.