Scottish folklore is steeped in history and cultural value. Between the mystical mountain of the Highlands and the gothic architecture peppered across the nation’s cities, it is no wonder that tales of Scottish mythological creatures can be found around every corner. In fact, Scotland’s very own national animal is a unicorn!
In this article, we will walk you through the Scottish mythology of the top ten curious creatures that inhabit the secret depths of this great nation.
Kelpies are one of the most easily recognisable mythical creatures. Kelpies are a shape-shifting water god or spirit that are most commonly represented as a horse. Although, folklore dictates that they can also change form into a human.
Whilst films such as Frozen II depict these spirits as helpful rescuers, the truth behind the myth is that Kelpies lead humans to their death. These water horses allegedly lure humans to the water, before dragging them to the deepest depths and devouring them.
Perhaps the kelpie is more of a water demon than a water spirit…
Next on our list is the Each-Uisage. Often mistake for a kelpie, the main difference between the two is that the Each-Uisge lives in the sea, sea lochs, and even fresh water lochs. The Each-Uisge is a shape-shifter, that diguises itself as a fine horse, pony, or a handsome man. Some tales even see the Each-Uisge embody an enormous bird.
As a horse, the Each-Usige is only safe for a man to mount if the Each-Uisge is ridden in the interior of the land. If the horse can smell or see the water, this would almost certainly bring about the end of the rider. Near water, the Each-Uisge skin becomes adhesive and the creature plunges to the dark depths of the saltwater, drowning the victim and devouring his remains.
In its human form, the shapeshifter is the most handsome man. The only way to tell the Each-Uisge apart from other humans is by the water weeds, or sand and mud found in his hair. For this reason, many Scots are wary of lone strangers found along the water’s edge.
Selkies are infamous in Celtic and Nordic mythology. Also known as “selkie folk”, selkies are mythological creatures capable of therianthropy, changing from a seal to human by shedding their skin as they step on land.
In typical Scottish folk-tales, men may come across a selkie and make her his wife. If a man steals a female selkie’s seal skin, he will find her naked on the seashore and compel her to become his wife. However, his wife will spend this captivity longing for the sea and staring out to the ocean. Whilst they may have a family together, once she discovers her skin she will immediately return to the ocean and abandon her children. In some versions of the story, the selkie wife returns to land once a year to visit her children, whilst others describe how the children would greet a large seal that approaches them at the shore.
Any children born between man and selkie folk are alleged to have webbed hands and feet, making them easily identified as a half-being.
The Baobhan Sith, pronounced (baa-van shee), is a Scottish vampire or blood-sucking faerie. This vampire takes the form of a beautiful woman and can be found roaming the Scottish Highlands. Coming out only in the darkness of night, they apparently rest in buried coffins throughout the day.
Allegedly lured out by the smell of blooded clothes, she appears to men and seduces them to their death. She will begin by asking for a dance, before charming the young man and plunging in for a brutal attack. These vampires differ from Dracula in that they do not have pointed fangs. These beautiful female figures use their long, sharp fingernails to attack before drinking blood from open wounds.
Be sure to travel on a horse through the highlands, as the iron from the horseshoe is one of the only known deterrents for these mythical creatures.
Scotland is known for its breath-taking landscapes, peppered with rocky crags and babbling brooks. Beware stepping into the rocky banks of a mountain stream, however, as the Bean Nighe is poised to meet you.
The Bean Nighe is one of the oldest spirits. Depicted as either an old hag or a beautiful woman, her name is translated simply to “the washerwoman”. She haunts the water’s edge, pounding laundry against the rocks. On deeper inspection, you will see that she is washing the bloodied grave clothes of those that are about to die.
Encounters with the washerwoman are said to vary in intensity. Some say she will tell you the names of those destined to meet their untimely death. Others say that she will grant you a wish if you approach her in a way that she approves of.
The Red Cap Goblin
The red cap goblin is a haunting goblin that has origins in the Borders, legendary for his murderous rage. Described as a short elf-like creature with hideous teeth and blood shot red eyes, this creature wears a red cap, said to be soaked in his victim’s blood.
He is believed to haunt the abandoned castles of Scotland and waits for travellers to visit, and then flings stones at them in an attempt to kill. Legend dictates that the Goblin must kill before the blood staining his cap red dries out and they are always on the lookout for unfortunate souls.
Different regions of Scotland report sightings of the Red Cap Goblin differently. For example, Perth depicts him more ass a little man that lives in Grandtully Castle that grants visitors that manage to catch a glimpse of him good luck. We much prefer the Perth version!
Red Caps have a history of being featured in literature and films, and even bagged a role in Harry Potter!
Perhaps one of the most haunting Scottish methodical creatures of all time, we present the Nuckelavee of the Northern Isles. Half horse, half man, the Nuckelavee charmingly doesn’t have any skin, and you can see his blood coursing through his veins.
It is said he is responsible for the destruction of crops and livestock across Scotland, and breaths a fiery breath of damnation. Historical draughts and famine in the Northern Isles were blamed on the Nuckelavee and Orkney residents wouldn’t even say his name without frantically praying afterwards.
As terrifying as this sounds, it’s comforting to note that the Nuckelavee is unable to cross water, so if you’re ever being chased, look out for a nearby stream!
The boobrie is another mythical shapeshifter that inhabits the lochs on the west coast of Scotland. It commonly appears as a gigantic water bird, although some claim to have seen it take the form of a water horse or a large bloodsucking insect.
While lochs are their natural home, they hide on land amongst overgrown heather. Boobries have a distinctive noise, describe by many as sounding like a roar from a bull.
This creature is malicious, praying on livestock being stransported on ships and other local wildlife. It’s insatiable appetite poses a threat to nearby farmers as it is intent on picking off their animals, bringing famine to those that rely on cattle for food and income.
The Blue Men of the Minch
The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isle of Scotland, are islands separated from the mainland by waters of the Minch and the Little Minch. Here you will find a curious legend of the Blue Men of the Minch.
Tales dictate that the mythical Blue Men have made the Minch their home. They are said to share the appearance of humankind, albeit with glistening blue skin. Swimming through the seas and sleeping in underwater caves, they conjure up ferocious storms at their leisure.
It is said that if a ship comes into contact with the Blue Men, the Chief of their kind will appear aboard the vessel. The Chief will recite the first two lines of an ancient poem. The master of the ship must then complete the poem, otherwise, the Blue Men will capsize the ship and murder all those inside.
Loch Ness Monster
The most famous of all Scottish mythology has got to be the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. With the first sightings dating back as far back as ancient times, the mythical creature has reared its head from the depths of Loch Ness Lake throughout history.
Loch Ness, fondly known as Nessie to the locals, is portrayed in stone carvings by the Pict as a large beast with a long neck and flippers. Knowledge of the monster became widespread in 1934, where a reported sighting and photographic evidence supported the infamous tale.
There are not many reports of attacks from the Loch Ness monster, however, there are numerous hunters desperate to uncover the truth of this mythical folklore. In fact, several sonar explorations have taken place to explore the murky depths in the hopes of finding Nessie.
These tales of creatures and figures in Scottish mythology will certainly send a tingle down your spine!
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