E’m sure y’erd aboot eh Loch Ness Monster, but di’ye know o’ the Loch Ness Kelpie?
Or is it water kelpie? Whatever, the Scots name given to a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland is kelpie (not to be confused with the Aussie dog). It’s usually described as a horse able to adopt human form.
Some say the kelpies retain their hooves when appearing human, but that’s nonsense. The arrival of Christianity in Scotland resulted in an association of kelpie with the devil.
Robert Burns casts a humorous kelpie net in his 1786 poem Address to the Deil. Disclosure: I love the accent, when I understand it.
When thowes dissolve the snawy hoord
An’ float the jinglin icy boord
Then, water-kelpies haunt the foord
By your direction
An’ nighted trav’llers are allur’d
To their destruction.
O THOU! whatever title suit thee—
Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick, or Clootie,
Wha in yon cavern grim an’ sootie,
Clos’d under hatches,
Spairges about the brunstane cootie,
To scaud poor wretches!
Hear me, auld Hangie, for a wee,
An’ let poor damned bodies be;
I’m sure sma’ pleasure it can gie,
Ev’n to a deil,
To skelp an’ scaud poor dogs like me,
An’ hear us squeel!
–Taken from “Address to the Deil” by Robert Burns (1785) Read full poem here.
Virtually every sizeable body of water in Scotland has an associated kelpie, but the most extensively reported is the Loch Ness kelpie.
Kelpies have been portrayed in various forms in art and literature. Two 98-foot-high steel sculptures in the community of Falkirk, The Kelpies, was completed in October 2013.
Other similar creatures of Scotland include the shoopiltee and nuggle of Shetland, and the tangie of Orkney. The Welsh have ceffyl dŵr and the Manx cabbyl-ushtey (I can’t pronounce it either).
Kelpie are usually described as powerful and beautiful black horses inhabiting the deep pools of rivers and streams of Scotland, preying on humans. If you’re not sure, look at the hooves. Kelpie hooves are reversed from a normal horse, a trait shared by the nykur of Iceland. Another variation has mane of snakes. The resident spirit of the River Spey is white and can entice victims onto its back by singing.
Some folklore says kelpie can be useful, hurtful, or may be seeking human companionship. Others say kelpies take their victims into the water, devour them, and throw the entrails to the water’s edge. It gets creepier.
Another story is the one of several children clambering onto the creature’s back while one remains on the shore. Usually a little boy, he then pets the horse but his hand sticks to its neck. In some variations the lad cuts off his fingers or hand to free himself. He survives but the other children are carried off and drowned, with only some of their entrails being found later. Who makes this shit up? No wonder Scots eat haggis.
Kelpies can transform into humans, but they may betray themselves by the presence of water weeds in their hair. As humans, kelpies are almost invariably male, but in my opinion, the best art has them la femme.
Even near the water look both ways.
Mind the gaps, lest the kelpie get ya.