Mythology: Kelpies

Kelpies are perhaps the creature least suited to having a Brownie Six named after it.  A Kelpie is a Scottish water devil who lurks in lakes and rivers.  It can change shape, becoming a horse or a man.  Both of the Kelpie’s forms are beautiful beyond belief, but the Kelpie’s character is anything but beautiful.

In it’s horse-shape, it is friendly towards strangers, and has magical powers which make anyone who sees it want to ride on that smooth sleek back.  But if anyone mounts the horse, they find it impossible to get off, and the Kelpie will run away with them.  If they are really unlucky, the Kelpie will dive into the river and the victim may drown!

In man-shape, the Kelpie is irresistible to young ladies.  He will lure her to a river and drown her.  However, being a water-spirit, the man always has wet hair with water-weed tangled in it, and if she notices this the young lady can be saved.

We're the little Scottish Kelpies,  Smart and quick and ready helpers.
We’re the little Scottish Kelpies,
Smart and quick and ready helpers.

In Normandy they call the Kelpie the Cheval Bayard.  There is a story about how a man outwitted the Cheval Bayard.

Once there was a woman who was seduced by the Cheval Bayard.  Her husband suspected that she had made love to it, and so he disguised himself in some of her clothes and sat at her spinning wheel.  He had a red-hot poker hidden by his side.

When the Cheval Bayard appeared, it asked him, “Who are you, pretty lady?”.

The husband replied “Myself!” and attacked the creature with the poker.

The Cheval Bayard screamed for his friends to help him, but when they asked who had attacked him, he said “It was Myself”, and they all laughed at him!

Kelpies are not all bad, however.  Sometimes they will help millers by keeping the mill-wheel going at night.  They can also be captured and forced to work, though this is very dangerous.

There was a very old Scottish family who were very powerful.  The family has all but died out now, and it is all due to a Kelpie.  The old Laird wanted to build a castle.  He captured a Kelpie by throwing branks over its head, and forced it to work hard carrying loads of stones for the builders.  When the castle was complete he released the creature.  The Kelpie was so annoyed at having been forced to work so hard that he declared

“Sair back and sair bones,
Drivin’ the Laird o’ Morphie’s stanes!
The Laird o’ Morphie’ll never thrive
As lang’s the Kelpie is alive!”


3 thoughts on “Mythology: Kelpies

  1. Interesting. And this also explains why there’s a Scottish beer named this very thing. Naturally, it is made using kelp, but the mythological connection seems far more relevant 🙂

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