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Thekelpie large.jpg

The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper
Grouping Mythological, Cryptid
Sub grouping Ancient folklore
Similar creatures Each uisge
Mythology Celtic mythology
Country Scotland
Habitat Rivers

The kelpie is a supernatural water horse from Celtic folklore that is believed to haunt the rivers and lochs of Scotland and Ireland; the name may be from Scottish Gaelic cailpeach or colpach "heifer, colt".[1]


In mythology, the kelpie is described as a strong and powerful horse. It is a white and sky blue colour and appeared as a lost pony, but could be identified by its constantly dripping mane. Its mane and tail are a bit curly. Its skin was said to be like that of a seal, smooth but as cold as death when touched. Kelpies were said to transform into beautiful women to lure men into their traps. They created illusions to keep themselves hidden, keeping only their eyes above water to scout the surface.

The fable of the kelpie varies by region. The kelpie's mane is said to be a sky blue colour. The water horse is a common form of the kelpie, said to lure humans into the water to drown them. The water horse would encourage people to ride on its back, and once its victims fell into its trap, the water horse's skin would become adhesive and the horse would bear the victim into the river, dragging them to the bottom of the water and devouring them—except the heart or liver. A common Scottish tale is the story of nine children lured onto a kelpie's back, while a tenth kept his distance. The kelpie chased the tenth child, but he escaped. Another more gruesome variation on this tale is that the tenth child simply stroked the kelpie's nose but, when his hand stuck to it, he took a knife from his pocket and cut his own hand off, cauterizing it with wood from a nearby fire.

Similar creatures[edit]

Boy on White Horse by Theodor Kittelsen

There are many mythological creatures similar to the kelpie, such as the "nuggle" from Orkney, and a "shoopiltee," or "njogel," or "tangi" from Shetland. On the Isle of Man, the kelpie is known as the cabbyl-ushtey (Manx Gaelic for "water horse", compare to Irish capall uisce) or the glashtin. In Wales, a similar creature is the Ceffyl Dŵr. It also appears in Scandinavian folklore, where it is known by the name Bäckahästen, the brook horse. In Norway it is called nøkken, where the horse shape is often used, but is not its true form. In the Faroe Islands it is called Nykur and in Iceland nykur or nennir. Another similar water horse appearing in the mythology of Scotland and Ireland is the each uisge, "a sea-dwelling creature that often takes the form of a handsome man. In Greek mythology, Poseidon is the god of the oceans and of horses, and took the form of a horse to seduce Demeter.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Kelpies are two 30-metre high steel sculptures in Falkirk, on the Forth & Clyde Canal. They borrow the mythical name to refer to the strength and endurance of the horse in general, and are built as monuments to the horse-powered industrial heritage of Scotland.[2]
  • In J.K. Rowling's book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, kelpies are described as shape-shifters native to the British Isles whose favourite form is a horse with bulrushes for a mane. It also mentions that the Loch Ness monster is a gigantic kelpie whose favourite form is a sea serpent.
  • In Tithe by Holly Black, a kelpie is portrayed both as a horse and as a man. In his human form, he uses a type of glamor to drown victims.
  • Jethro Tull's 2004 reissue of the album Stormwatch includes the song "Kelpie", in which "a young man willingly follows a kelpie, who first appears as a fine young lady."
  • Maggie Stiefvater's book "The Scorpio Races" features an island where vicious water horses called capaill uisce come on land in the fall and people race on them. The book is inspired by the author's fascination with the water horses of Scottish, Irish, and Manx Mythology.[3]
  • In the manga Berserk, a kelpie resembles a mixture of a horse and a frog. Kelpies can also control water and one appears during a troll attack on a village.
  • In Andrea Cremer's prequel book, "Rift" (One of the prequels to the best selling "Nightshade" series) depicts the kelpie much like the mythological story; lures two children under the water and drowns them as the third child, Gordon, cuts off two of his fingers to escape the kelpie's hold.[4]
  • In the anime Earl and Fairy, a kelpie is portrayed as a black horse with smooth skin that can change into a man; he can also control water and seems to have superhuman strength.
  • An interpretation of the kelpie, which includes many of the traits mentioned is found in Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., p. 683.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Stiefvater, Maggie. "The Scorpio Races: Synopsis". Maggie Stiefvater Website. 
  4. ^ Cremer, Andrea. "Rift (Review)". 


External links[edit]