Kelpies – Scottish Legends

Well, It’s been a long time since I have posted! But, in short, I had a couple of traumatic things happen and could easily have died twice. No, it wasn’t COVID, but I’m happy to get back to writing more. Here’s a quick post to get me back into the swing of things!

I am going to focus a little more on folklore today.  As a faery witch, I always enjoy learning about different faeries in different cultures. Every culture has them in some form. One of my favorites has always been the Kelpie.  I remember there was a minor character in the “Tithe” series by Holly Black that was one of my favorites growing up, so the fascination most likely started there. I’ve always enjoyed the somewhat creepy imagery of the water horses.

The Kelpie is of Scotish origin, and is thought to be a more malevolent faery…but I like to think that perhaps, they are just misunderstood? Maybe not… There are many stories of travelers and children who reached out to pet or ride the kelpie, while he was disguised as innocent, and became immediately stuck to the creature, who would then drown them…and maybe even eat them.  A Complete Guide to Fairies & Magical being describes the Kelpie as, “Scottish Long Fanged Water Demons who are expert shape shifters, associated with Scottish Loch, especially Loch Ness. They are sometimes described as Water Horses who lure riders and then drag them beneath the waters; and are also known to appear as handsome youths, except for their seaweed hair.

Some legends also say that if one can bridle the Kelpie, the Kelpie will have to do their bidding, and that they have the strength of 10 horses. As tempting as that may have been (or may be), this doesn’t normally turn out well for the humans.  It always makes me sad, really. The thought of humans trying to control faeries.  I wrote about Selkies in a previous post, and they have a similar way of being controlled.  Don’t try and tame something wild and free. Respect it!  Plus, we all know that bending someone’s will is bad karma, right? Supposedly, anyone who did manage to bridle the Kelpie ended up cursed in one way or another. 

Illustration by Martin McKenna for the book and recording Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift

“The Fairy Bible” also says that the Kelpie may be the rider between worlds, guiding Shamans on their journey.  So, this leans towards my thought of them just being a little misunderstood.

As I feel about much of the spiritual world, their ideas of “right” and “wrong” just don’t match up with ours. Spiritual beings, especially The Fae, have their own moral compasses and what may seem wrong to us, isn’t to them.   Respect & honor that, and learn to open your mind and heart…and also make sure not to offend them.  

Allure of the Seal

The world of the fae has always had the most important place in my heart. There are so many wonderful tales and poetry inspired by these magical beings. I’ve spent my life learning about them, and one of my favorite tales is about the Selchie or Selkie. For some reason they have always drawn me in and sent a warm light through my entire body.

There are different versions of the story, but in summary, the Scottish tale tells of a fisherman/hunter that comes across some beautiful women dancing on the shore. He’s mesmerized by their beauty, and then sees the seal skins on rocks near them.  If you steal the seal skin of a Selchie she cannot return to the sea, so he takes it and makes one of the beautiful ladies wed him. Eventually, she learns to love the hunter and bears a child. As the boy grows he sees how sad his mother is when she gazes out to the sea, and she explains why.  Eventually he steals the skin back for his mother and she is able to return to the sea….This is definitely just a summary and I fully recommend reading the whole thing. I’ll leave a link to a version of the full story at the bottom of the page.

Something here just really tugs at my heart. According to The Faery Bible, “The sea represents emotions, but these are not just personal emotions and ordinary human bonds. The sea signifies the longing of humanity – all the memories and feelings of the ages that are too overwhelming, too deep ever to be cast aside by a being as sensitive as the Selkie. She belongs to the collective emotional pool and she must dance the dance of life – she has far more to experience than simply the domestic joys of marriage and motherhood. For us, the Selkie represents the longing of the soul for it’s true home…”

Art by: Selina Fenech

There is such a beautiful sadness to the story, that I think that we can relate to as humans. At some point I think many of us have been forced to give up an important aspect of our personality when we didn’t want to. Growing up, in a sense, feels like our skins being stolen. We adjust to life and responsibility we’d rather not have, but sometimes gaze back longingly at a time when it felt like the world was ours. Our souls are always longing for something more.  Maybe it’s delusion but ever since I can remember consciousness I have always felt that my soul was far away from it’s true home in the sea. Domestication is a sickness that has always terrified me, and I wish nothing more than to be as free as a Selchie swimming in the sea. Able to survive in water and on land. Maybe in the next life, right?

As a general rule one should NEVER try and capture and control the magick of a faery being. Always respect the earth and the gifts it gives us. Work in tandem with it, and all of the magick that it holds.   And if you see a Selchie, watch from a distance and never, ever steal their skins.

Folklore: The Stolen Children

Changelings. Found in folklore throughout Europe (largely Ireland), a changeling was believed to be a fae child left in place of a human child that was then stolen by the fae. As a witch who is learning to work with the fae, these old legends and stories truly fascinate me. How many have a grain of truth to them? I believe many of them do, but not so much the changeling legends. They are entertaining stories, until you really start to think about the history behind them.

During a good part of history, Christianity overtook Ireland as well as many other places in the world.  Due to this, Pagan cultures were demonized and said to be the work of devil. Witches! Witches everywhere! There is so much evidence of old folklore being “christianized” and it makes my heart hurt. Who knows how much has been lost due to this! Who knows what we might be able to understand about the world if we had been able to preserve more of the old cultures…One great example of this is Thomas the Rhymer (which I’ll discuss more another time). There are different versions, and you can most certainly tell which was altered to fit a more Christian worldview…

Anyway, as much as I enjoy reading about changelings, I believe that these were stories created out of fear & to try and find a reason for the bad things that happened to people. If a human child was “replaced” by a fae child, it was easy to blame evil and in turn also blame the parent for a lack of faith.

“There are many variations on the following story, but the Brothers Grimm summed up in concise form the main components of a typical changeling story from mid-19th-century Germany:

A mother had her child taken from the cradle by elves. In its place they laid a changeling with a thick head and staring eyes who would do nothing but eat and drink. In distress she went to a neighbor and asked for advice. The neighbor told her to carry the changeling into the kitchen, set it on the hearth, make a fire, and boil water in two eggshells. That should make the changeling laugh, and if he laughs it will be all over with him. The woman did everything just as her neighbor said. When she placed the eggshells filled with water over the fire, the changeling said:

‘Now I am as old
As the Wester Wood,
But have never seen anyone cooking in shells!’

And he began laughing about it. When he laughed, a band of little elves suddenly appeared. They brought the rightful child, set it on the hearth, and took the changeling away.”

Again, there are variations on this story, but this is a basic summation of what was popularly agreed on.

According to legend, when a child was replaced with a fae child, they were said to have everything from deformities, behavioral issues to strange personality aspects.  Unfortunately, these may have just been disabilities that are treatable today. It was also said that the changelings should never be harmed, only threatened. If the fae had the real child with them, they may retaliate if the humans hurt the changeling.  

To prevent a child from being stolen in the first place, people would leave iron near the baby’s crib. Iron is know to repel fae. Also nearly all traditions agreed that a quick baptism would prevent this from happening. But what happens if a changeling is an adult?

In the late 1890’s a woman named Bridget Cleary was murdered by her husband who claimed she had been replaced by a changeling.  I’ll give you a link to the full story, as I cannot tell the story better than this! It’s crazy to me that someone would use folklore to try and excuse something as deplorable as murder…or do you think he really believed this to be true?

What do you guys think about this? I know this isn’t crazy in depth, but I don’t necessarily want this to turn into a blog that is purely scholarly research. 😉

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems. W.B. Yeats had faery blood in his veins <3