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By: Aisling Bronach of House Shadow Drake

In lowlands of Scotland, the river spirit known as the kelpie appeared in a variety of shapes. The most common was in the form of a horse, and it was in this shape that it was called the kelpie. The kelpie haunted the fords of swollen stream and would lure any unwary traveler to their doom. When a traveler came to the river at night he would see only a horse, and if he were so unlucky as to attempt to mount the creature the creature would kill its rider. Deep pools in the river were believed to be inhabited by the kelpie as a guardian spirit. It is said that a kelpie haunts the Loch Ness in Scotland. The faerie appears in the woods as finely decked horse and would rush its victim to Loch-na-Dorb, Loch Spynie, or Loch Ness, and devour them.

Once, the horse of Spey invited a couple from the market to mount him, and once aloft upon his back they could hear the horse say, "And ride weel, Davie, and by this night at ten o`clock ye'll be in Pot Cravie." In 1884, a man in Cairny spoke of a slightly different saying of the kelpie that said, "Sit weel Janety, or ride weel, Davie, for this time in the morn, ye'll be in Pot Cravie."

The kelpie is usually depicted as a black horse with staring eyes, however, sometimes the coat is said to be white. A more fanciful description from Aberdeen describes the kelpie as having a mane formed of small fiery serpents which curl through each other and spit fire and brimstone.

Another name for the kelpie on the Isle of Man is the glashtyn. The glashtyn is described as a goblin which often rises out of the water and is similar in nature to the Manx brownie. Like all kelpies, the glashtyn appears as a horse - specifically, a gray colt. It is often seen on the banks of lakes and appears only at night.

In Ireland, a faerie known as the phooka, or Welsh pwca, is also said to take the shape of a horse and induces children to mount him. He is then said to plunge with them over a precipice killing them. The Scottish kelpie is also attributed with similar feats.

A kelpie is said to possess the ability to assume human form and countenance. In human form, the kelpie is able to have sex with a woman. Sometimes the identity of a kelpie can only be uncovered by a woman by the discovery of a piece of water-weed or rush in the kelpie's hair. The kelpie is not always male, and may also take the form of a human woman. In this instance, the kelpie is often referred to as a water wraith and is most often seen clothed in a green dress with a hostile disposition. In some folklore, the water-horse will even take the form of a great bird.

There is a story about a young servant girl who allowed a man to put his head upon her lap while she went to comb his hair. She found a little bit of liobhagach an loch, which is a slimy green weed found in the water, in his hair. She worked until the man fell asleep in her lap, and then used her apron to gently lay his head upon the earth and then ran away. When she looked back, she could see him chasing after her in the guise of a horse.


McPherson, J. M. Primitive Beliefs in the North-East of Scotland. (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1929.) Pages 61, 62, and 63.

Rhys, John. Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx. (NY: Benjamin Blom, 1972.) Pages 243, 244, 285, and 434.

Henderson, William. Notes on the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Border. (Hendeln, Germany: Kraus Reprint Limited, 1967.) Page 272.

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