Tales from Scottish Mythology: What Are Kelpies?

What are kelpies?
Photo by Fredrika Carlsson on Unsplash

When one thinks of Scottish mythology and legendary creatures, the mind naturally drifts toward images of the Loch Ness Monster.

Up there alongside the abominable snowman or fire breathing dragons, Nessie is arguably one of the most famous mythological creatures of all time.

But it’s not the only legendary creature in Scottish history. Indeed, Scotland’s past is littered with strange stories of beings both foul and friendly. Some of these tales have deep roots in Celtic mythology, while others travelled here over the years with migrating Norse settlers.

Regardless, I intend to explore some of these stories – from selkies and kelpies to the Bean Nighe and the Blue Men of the Minch.

What are Kelpies?

If you’re searching for kelpies in 2022, look no further than Falkirk. The two iconic sculptures, erected in 2013, are a sight to behold and well worth the daytrip. But what are kelpies?

According to Scottish folklore, kelpies were shape-shifting spirits which inhabited the nation’s many lochs. Commonly described as a creature which took the form of a horse, kelpies were also able to adopt human form in an attempt to deceive their victims.

What are kelpies?
The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper, 1913.

Kelpies were devious creatures which lured humans to the banks of a loch before dragging them in and devouring them. Almost every major body of water in Scotland has had reports of kelpies over the years, with Loch Ness among the most frequently reported sites of supposed kelpie activity.

Read more Rambling History

The origin of the word kelpie is unclear, but it is believed to have been derived from the Scots Gaelic terms ‘cailpeach’, meaning ‘colt’.

Similarly, the symbolic origins of the kelpie is also difficult to grasp. Historically, there have been suggestions that stories of kelpies served the purpose of keeping children away from bodies of water, while other tales stand as a warning for trusting strangers.

Creatures similar to kelpies have been reported around the world over the centuries. German folklore has an oddly-familiar sounding being known as the ‘nixie’.

Kelpie-like creatures have also found a place in South American and even Australian folklore.

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