Island Lore

Scotland and her islands are brimming full of enchantment, legend and myth. Stories forged from darkness, inclement weather and a turbulent, bloody history, yes Mary Queen of Scots we’re looking right at you babe. 

Just a cursory glance at the landscape reveals ancient and imposing stone circles, primeval rock formations and tempestuous seas. Before the advent of electric light and Netflix, Scotland would have been straight up eerie. It’s no wonder the Gaels were highly suspicious and attributing their misfortunes to nefarious sea folk and errant horses …

If you’re not fully versed on the legends of our wonderful archipelago then you’re in the right hands. With the help of a couple of our favourite illustrators we shall guide you through the murky realms of our favourite Island myths.

‘Stones’ by Phoebe Roze - available in ÒR

‘Stones’ by Phoebe Roze - available in ÒR

Kelpies

The basic bitches of the enchanted horse world - not as on trend as the unicorn and nowhere near as nasty as the each-uisge. There is discourse amongst folklorists as to what distinguishes a kelpie from an each-uisge. Both are shape shifters, whilst the kelpie moonlights as a handsome man the each-uisge has a bit more range and can become a large bird as well as a human. 

The each-uisge is found in salt and fresh water lochs and you’ll be pleased to know haunts the Highland and Islands predominantly. He is incredibly seductive and has an adhesive skin so once you mount that pony you’re never getting off - well not until he draws you in to the nearest loch drowns you then devours you that is. 

Legend has it that an each-uisge seduced and killed a blacksmiths daughter on Raasay, the blacksmith and his son vowed revenge and on a misty morning captured the enchanted horse as it rose from the caliginous depths. They had a long and arduous battle with the beast, eventually slaying him with burning hooks forged in the blacksmith’s fire. Upon revisiting the site of the struggle all that was left of the fallen creature was a jellied mulch. 

Unlike the each-uisge the kelpie plays it a touch more subtle by stalking various Scottish rivers and estuaries, shapeshifting, leaping at people and sometimes drowning them. Not as scary as the each-uisge but God loves a trier. 


Brian McHendry ‘Kelpie’ postcard, commissioned exclusively for ÒR

Brian McHendry ‘Kelpie’ postcard, commissioned exclusively for ÒR


Blue Men of the Minch - Na fir Ghorma 

These salty know it alls are said to inhabit the waters at the north point of Skye between the Shiant Isles and the Isle of Lewis. They sleep peacefully beneath the waves but upon waking create vicious storms, wreaking havoc upon sailors and ships that disturb them. They are human like in appearance but have the tails of fish and an unearthly blue hue to their skin.

Upon coming across a ship the chief of the blue clan will shout two lines of verse at the skipper, if the captain can’t complete the poem the mermen will attempt to capsize the ship, however if the captain throws a sassy enough riposte then, Shantay you stay. 

The blue men weren’t all vinegar and bad vibes - a Samhain tradition (Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter) sought the help of the mythical creatures. On the night of the 31st of October, locals would light candles by the sea in the hope that the mercurial blue men would bring them seaweed. They would then use the seaweed offerings as fertiliser for their crops. Cute. 

The myth has no similar counterparts in Scotland or in-fact the rest of the world. It is thought the the myth was borne out of the sighting of Moorish slaves brought by the Vikings to the area in the 6th century. 

Brian McHendry ‘Blue Men ‘ postcard, commissioned exclusively for ÒR

Brian McHendry ‘Blue Men ‘ postcard, commissioned exclusively for ÒR


Selkies

Shapeshifters, heart breakers, sealskin coat wearers. Selkies like nothing more than to dance in the moonlight, fall in love with unsuitable land dwellers and look gorgeous doing it all. Kind natured and by all accounts a bit absent minded with their valuables, selkies can be male or female. Upon discarding their seal skins they rise from the sea and take form as beautiful dark haired humans. 

The male selkie although sensitive, can be a bit of a cad and has a penchant for island girls. One Orkney tale tells of a woman who would shed 7 tears in to the sea to summon her wandering selkie Lover. As with most folk lore it’s often the girls that get a rough time of it. It’s not uncommon for a man to steal the unattended skin of a female selkie thus rendering her land bound, in bondage to a human husband and miserable with a capital M for the rest of her puff. Luckily in most of these tales she will eventually find her skin and return to the sea never to be heard of again, girlllll bye.


Brian McHendry ‘Selkie’ postcard, commissioned exclusively for ÒR

Brian McHendry ‘Selkie’ postcard, commissioned exclusively for ÒR

Jen Carter Pearson