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Creepin’ It Real: Kelpies

by Audrey Harper

A kelpie is a shape-shifting water spirit known for inhabiting lochs and other bodies of water in Scotland. It’s usually described as appearing like a horse, but it has the ability to take on the form of a human. There are some accounts that say that while in the shape of a human, a kelpie still has hooves, which has associated them with Satan.

Douglas Harper, a historian and the founder of Online Etymology Dictionary, defines kelpie as “the Lowland name of a demon in the shape of a horse.”

Kelpies are typically described as being powerful and beautiful black horses, though there are some variations that describe them as having reversed hooves, a mane of snakes, or even being white and luring its prey by singing. Disturbingly, most myths are fairly consistent when it comes to the fact that kelpies prey on any human that they encounter.

The way these creatures get their prey is by luring them into the water, where they can be drowned and devoured. Entrails of the victims are often found at the edge of the water.

In its equine form, a kelpie can extend the length of its back to carry more than one person. This is shown in many of the tales that feature several children climbing onto the creature’s back. Typically, these tales often depict one child who remains on land, but upon petting the kelpie, gets stuck to its neck. In some variations, this child cuts off their own fingers or hand in order to survive, while the rest of the children are carried off and drowned.

In its human form, a kelpie can betray itself by having water weeds in its hair. They tend to appear male, ranging from handsome men who attempt to lure young women, to old, ragged looking men who attack any traveler it can.

Now, a lot of people believe that these stories originated as a way to keep children from wandering too close to water, or to keep young girls from trusting random handsome men. But are these stories fabricated just for these reasons? Or are they, perhaps, grounded in some form of truth?


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