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Mythical Creatures - Kelpie

Updated on August 28, 2014
Disguised kelpie
Disguised kelpie | Source

The Scottish believed that Kelpies were shapeshifters that lived in rivers and streams. Their most common form was a white or black horse, but they could also take the form of a woman or man, depending on who they were trying to kill. Once they had drowned their victims, they devoured them.

Kelpie transforming into its true form.
Kelpie transforming into its true form. | Source


Appearance and Tactics

Kelpies have a taste for human flesh, particularly children, so their most common form is a lost horse standing by a stream. The kelpie lures its victims onto its back, then its skin becomes sticky, trapping the victim as they are helplessly carried into the water. Once they have drowned, the kelpie devours their body, leaving either the liver or the heart. When hunting older prey, the kelpie could also disguise as a beautiful man or woman.


Whether it was human form or in the form of a horse, the kelpie's hair or mane was continuously dripping and had seaweed in it. When it was in its natural form, the kelpie looks similar to a hippocampus—a horse with the tail of a fish—often with two webbed toes per foot (or backwards hooves) and occasionally webbed ears as well. Its skin is described as being smooth (like a seal's) and cold as death.

Kelpie carrying children away.
Kelpie carrying children away. | Source


One legend about the kelpie retells the tale of 10 children who were targeted by a kelpie. The story says that 10 children were exploring by a river when they found a beautiful white horse. One by one, the children mounted the horse, and as they did, the horse's back grew longer and longer to fit them all. The tenth child merely touched the horse's nose, and when his hand became stuck, he had to use a knife to cut off his hand. He managed to escape, but was unable to save his friends from the monster. The 9 other children were carried into the river and drowned when they, too, became stuck to the kelpie's back.

Note: Some versions of this legend say that the 10th child never touched the horse, and managed to escape when the other children became trapped.

Demonic kelpie
Demonic kelpie | Source


Yes, it was possible to defeat and tame these fearsome beasts. Their shapeshifting power was said to lie in their bridle, and if you could obtain possession of the bridle you could bind the kelpie to your will. These kelpies were highly prized, as they had the strength and stamina of 10 horses. One Scottish clan claimed to have a kelpie bridle, which had been passed down through the generations.

Kelpies are often associated with the devil and demonic power through the Christian church, so there were multiple methods devised to protect yourself from it. Speaking the name of Christ while on its back to force it to buck you off was one such way, while drawing a circle around yourself with the corner of a bible was another.

So the next time you see an innocent-looking pony 'giving out rides' near some water, run. Run and don't look back. Good luck.

Kelpie in a marsh
Kelpie in a marsh | Source

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