Kelpies were mentioned on our Gremlins episode and I thought I’d provide a bit of a deeper background on these strange creatures of lore. The Kelpie hails from Scottish myth and they may just be among the strangest beings you’ve ever heard of.
Kelpies have one of the great powers of folklore, shape-shifting. Although they usually take on the shape of a horse, but can also take on the appearance of a beautiful young woman or man. Kelpies have one goal - to kill you.
As horses, they may appear as darling ponies to little girls or strong, battle-ready horses to men. They are kind, tempting, and personable and, eventually, tempt the unsuspecting victim enough to get them to ride the Kelpie. Once their victim is securely on their back the kelpie’s hide grows sticky and unable to get off of. Then, the Kelpie will ride into the river and drown whoever was unfortunate enough to ride it. In addition to killing one person at a time, they also maintain the power to cause floods.
If a Kelpie lures you in human form, they also try and tempt you. Except, instead of being a beautiful horse they are a beautiful young woman. They appear to men in rivers and lakes and lure them from the water’s edge. Interestingly enough, there is a way to tell if you are being lured by an evil Kelpie or a young woman. How? Well, check for hooves. If possible, try to catch a glimpse of the young lady’s hands or feet above water and if you see a glimpse of hoof...run for the hills. If you are particularly unlucky there is also a hairy, aggressive human that lurks by roads near rivers to crush them to death and drown them.
It is believed that Kelpies are a kind of demon or devil and the horse isn’t it’s true shape. And, like other demons of folklore, it can be overcome by human force. In addition to checking for hooves in the water, it is said if you suspect a Kelpie in horse form to hit it. It will be so surprised, it will ‘glitch’ and drop its horse form. Interestingly enough, Kelpies could also be forced into marriage. If a young woman stole the bridle of a Kelpie the Kelpie, in his handsome human form, he would be forced to be her husband.
One question you might be asking yourself throughout this brief overview is...why a horse? Horses aren’t typically aquatic creatures and have, for most of history, been an aid to humans. In Scottish mythos, horses represent pure and unbridled power that demands respect. Perhaps the kelpie adopted the horse as a way to gain trust and respect from the Scots. Or, perhaps the Scots invented this creature in horse form as a way to highlight its fearsome power.
The above image is from Flickr user Shando. It is licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).