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Kelpies Part 1 Transcript


First Story

"Once, there was a small lake village called Abernathy, where moss lay in brush strokes across buildings of brick and wood. Grayed stones and a fractured kaleidoscope of dense forest, woodland meadows, and a lake with soft pebbled banks lay spread across the land. It still exists today, though long ago it is said that seven little girls and a little boy went for a walk on a Sunday afternoon. 

They took a circuitous route through the forest this one brisk summer morning, brushing aside spiraled ferns in search of the lake. The group emerged upon the banks of the great lake in Abernathy, only to come upon a speckled gray pony, similar in appearance to a stone, with ragged gray locks for a mane and tail that looked matted and wet. 

A wispy, translucent fog rested upon the surface of the water, a sheet of silver still but for the undulating disruptions of ripples from the horse’s soft drinking. The pebbles crunched under the children’s footsteps as they crossed onto the shore. The pony glanced up in surprise, revealing eyes black as onyx, absent of any white.

One of the little girls crept quietly up to the wild horse, soon arriving next to its head. The pony played with her hair, lifting soft strands of it with its muzzle and snorting. She laughed and mounted him. All the while the pony maintained a mild and domestic temperament. Then another girl mirrored her actions and another and another until all seven were seated on his back. 

The little boy was more canny, though, and he noticed that the pony grew longer to accommodate each new rider. Indeed, the animal had expanded its flank so much that it had become disproportionate, having adapted to the addition of the seven astonished and giggling girls. So, instead of joining the girls in their adventure, he took refuge among the high, rough rocks at the end of the lake. Suddenly, the pony turned its head and took notice of him, boring its soulless black eyes into him as his shivering form clutched white-knuckled at the rocks. 

“Come on little scabby-head,” it cried, “Get on my back!” But the boy stayed in his shelter, cowering beneath the large structures of the rocks Around which the water had begun to foam at the edges with the crashing of small waves. For the boy  had decided that the talking horse was a merciless, occult being, and clearly not a normal wild pony, so therefore, he should not get on its back. The girls had gone silent. 

With a shriek of anger, the pony rushed towards him. The little girls screamed, but were unable to pull their hands from its back. Its beautiful speckled coat had dissolved from velvet and morphed into a strong adherent, like a gray paste, in which the girls’ hands were stuck.

To and fro the Kelpie and the boy dodged among the rocks and their ebony crevices, but the pony could not reach the boy, and at length it tired of trying, and plunged into the lake with its sevenfold prey on its back, the girls wailing and screaming for help all the while. As they slipped beneath the silvery surface of the lake, their cries of despair became muffled, then silent. After a few moments, the boy watched as a shard of light formed between two rocks, the last bubbles of air popping silently on the surface of the water. The boy was found in a catatonic state, staring motionless out onto the lake. The next morning the livers of the seven children were washed up on the shore." 


"Welcome listeners, subscribers, and wanderers, whoever you may be, this is Our Veil of Smoke and Gold Podcast and I’m your host Annelise. In both episodes 5 and 6 of our water fae unit, we will be exploring the subject of kelpies, and, in a broad sense, water horses, including the aughiska, the each uisge, the cabyll-ushtey, and noggles. Kelpies are recurring motifs in a multitude of stories ranging from recent fantastical novels to old folktales. In essence, the Kelpie is a freshwater spirit that appears often as a gray horse, which may seem friendly initially, but this is simply their tactic used to entice weary travelers or children onto its back and it will accommodate them by growing in order to maximize its prey. Once astride their unfortunate victims become magically stuck, like the seven girls in the story, and the Kelpie gallops into the water, submerging the riders until they drown. Um, by the way, that is one aspect of this story that I found to be completely sexist, like is not entirely more realistic that the young boy would be the reckless, less vigilant member of this group, and the first to get on the horse? Instead, these girls are portrayed as the thoughtless, audacious ones to just run up to this wild animal... um, no. No girl I know would do something like that. Honestly, it would not surprise me though if any boy my age attempted to tame a wild horse they happened upon. But anyway, even though the aughiska, each uisge, cabyll ushtey, etc. may not be as recognizable and will not be the focus of the next two episodes, I will also be describing them alongside the Kelpie, though there is substantially less material on them and they are similar to Kelpies. So, now let’s look more into Kelpie legend, characteristics, history, and meaning and what they represent to us as people." 

Origins, First Writings, and Role In History

"A Kelpie is a shape-changing aquatic spirit of Scottish legend. Its name may derive from the Scottish Gaelic words ‘cailpeach’ or ‘colpach’, meaning heifer (a young female cow) or colt. Since the story of this creature originated in Scotland, the Kelpie itself is therefore a part of Celtic mythology. However, the Cabyll-Ushtey are strictly from the region of Manx, an island now a Dependency of Britain that is referred to as the Isle of Man. The etymology of their name is likely directly related to a variation of Gaelic spoken on Manx, in which “cabyll-ushtey” probably translates to water horse. The concept of the Each-Uisge also comes from  Scotland, with the name literally meaning “water horse” when translated from Scottish Gaelic. The Aughiska is simply a more Irish version of the Each-Uisge. Noggle is a name confined to the Shetland Islands in Scotland, of which I cannot find the specific meaning, but I’m sure the name relates in some way to the Scottish Kelpie. Whatever the term utilized, the nature of horses and water has been intertwined for nearly as long as humans have kept physical forms of record. The very first of these representations may have been sculpted by the Picts (a clan of Gaelic speaking people that inhabited Scotland in and before the early medieval times) during what is estimated to be the 6th century, with the kelpie taking the form of a symbol on a carved stone called the Pictish Beast, though this is the subject of rigorous debate. There are, of course, many subsequent literary references to the Kelpie; J. F. CAMPBELL has a long passage devoted to the Each Uisge in Popular Tales of the West Highlands, the tale of the killing of a water-horse is told in John Gunn McKay's More West Highland Tales (vol. 11),  a similar story to McKay’s is told by Walter Gill of the Cabyll Ushtey, Grant Stewart in his book Popular Superstitions tells how a bold MacGregor, nicknamed Wellox, took a bridle off the Kelpie, anecdotes and descriptions of the Noggle were brought together from various sources by A. C. Black in County FolkLore, and so on and so forth. The kelpie is even mentioned in Robert Burns’ poem, ‘Address to the Deil’: 

“…When thaws dissolve the snowy hoard 

An’ float the jinglin’ icy board 

Then, water-kelpies haunt the fiord 

By your direction 

And ‘nighted travellers are allured 

To their destruction.

An' oft your moss-traversing spankies 

Decoy the wight that late and drunk is, 

The bleedin', curst, mischievous monkeys,

Delude his eyes. Till in some miry slough he sunk is,

Ne'er mair to rise."

And the Gervase of Tilbury, the 13th-century author of Otia Imperialia, who was, if you recall, mentioned profusely in our Dracs episodes, includes a section of his work dedicated to a creature known as the Grant whose most natural shape was that of a horse that constantly appeared near water sources often as a sort of warning. Gervase explicitly places the Grant as a creature of England, stating, “There is in England a certain kind of demon whom in their language they call Grant, like a yearling foal, erect on its hind legs, with sparkling eyes. This kind of demon often appears in the streets in the heat of the day, or about sunset. If there is any danger impending on the following day or night, it runs about the streets provoking the dogs to bark, and, by feigning flight, draws the dogs after it, in the vain hope of catching it, to water. This illusion warns the inhabitants to beware of fire”. Additionally, there stand two 300-ton steel sculptures almost a hundred feet tall each, dubbed the Kelpies, that were designed and built in 2013 by sculptor Andy Scott in the Helix, a parkland extension to the Forth and Clyde canal in Scotland. These white structural marvels were meant to commemorate the advancement of Scottish irrigation technology and horsepower, as well as their drive to continue advancing their waterways system. The potential inspiration for the idea of the Kelpie could have been related to drownings, which continue to be a universal cause of death and are non discriminate in their victims, like the Kelpie. In this way, the story of a malevolent water spirit luring people to their death, acted as a rationalization for the Scottish people as to why even the strongest could succumb to the whims of the elements, being swept away and killed by a cruel tide. Another theory is that the Kelpie is the Scots’ interpretation of a divine being taking the form of a horse, which was a common belief in early, pagan Europe. To quote Dr. David Anthony’s article “Let Them Eat Horses”, “... horses were closely linked with specific gods, and the sacrifice of a white horse or a champion racer was associated with events such as the consecration of a new king.”   

Nature (Personality) Physical Characteristics/Abilities

"Incontestably, the Kelpies are far from benevolent, though the specific degree of  their aggression or appetite varies between the different stories and interpretations of the water horse itself. The Each Uisge is the fiercest and most dangerous of all water horses, with a voracious appetite for human and animal flesh (particularly that of cattle and sheep), though it tends to reject certain organs, including the liver, lungs and/or heart, which consequently rise to the surface of the body of water and float ashore.  In addition to its murderous nature, the Each Uisge appears to transform more readily and take on more physical manifestations of its spirit than any other water horse. The most well known of these forms is a sleek, handsome horse that is typically gray or silvery hue, with razor-sharp teeth and constantly wet hair speckled with sand and seaweed. But they can also be seen as roguish young men (also with sand or seaweed in their hair) or as gigantic birds. The Cabyll Ushtey are very similar, also pale-greyish in colour, definitely as dangerous and greedy as the Highland each uisge, though there are not so many tales told about them. In the Encyclopedia of Fairies, Katharine Briggs makes a note that, “Walter Gill in A Manx Scrapbook has a story of a cabyll-ushtey who for a short time visited Kerroo Clough on the Dark River. He told of a farmer's wife who found one of her calves missing with no trace except some tufts of hair; the next day the farmer saw a monstrous thing rise out of the river, seize one of the calves and tear it to pieces. They drove the cattle far from the river after that, but they had a worse loss to endure, for a few days later their daughter and only child disappeared and was never heard of again. The Cabyll-Ushtey never troubled them after that”. The Kelpie can assume human form, in which they appear like a rough, shaggy man, or a beautiful raven-haired maiden bathing in a stream, though their most usual shape was that of a young horse, sleek and midnight black with dark eyes, having no whites, and knife-like teeth. Before storms, the Kelpie could be heard howling and wailing, whether this is a sign of agitation (my sister and cat always cowered at thunder), joy, or warning is unspecified. This specific Scottish beast was not inclined to eat humans in most stories, and rather, would drown them, discarding their bodies at the bottom of the lake, or would leap up behind a victim, gripping and crushing them, and frightening them almost to death, but their prey was limited to humans. Noggles, however, have a very unique disposition, also appearing like a beautiful little grey horse, though they have a tail that curls upward and above their heads, being about the size of a pony, bridled and saddled. They are less malicious than the Kelpie and much less dangerous than the Each Uisge, choosing not to slaughter humans, but still relishing in causing mischief, especially around water mills, which attract them. The Noggle will vanish in a blue flame on the water if it manages to lure a rider onto its back, but otherwise takes no other form. There is a version of the Noggle, called the Tangie, so named because of the seaweed which covers it. In its horse form it is not sleek, but covered with rough hair and seaweed. In its human form it is an old man."  

Magical Characteristics/Abilities

"As was described earlier, Kelpies and other water horses can occasionally take on other forms. This process is known as therianthropy, transmogrification, metamorphosis, transformation, shape-shifting, and referred to by many other names, but the capacity to change shape or form in a fay is unique in every creature or being. For Kelpies, Aughiska, Each Uisge, Cabyll-Ushtey, and Noggles, their transformation is limited to only a few forms, usually between a horse and a man, though sometimes they are capable of shape-shifting into a giant bird or woman or even a blue flame. Their shape-shifting is not a sort of hypnotism of the beholder of the Kelpie because in their different forms the water horses are able to interact physically with their victim, inflicting true pain and harm upon them. Their change is also not costly to their magic, because all water horses are sustained solely by the health and purity of their home in a body of water. Only the Each Uisge, the Kelpie, the Aughiska, and the Cabyll Ushtey have the ability to turn their skin adhesive, so that they can trap their riders on their backs with no hope of escape. In most stories that involve more than one person, they don’t realize the skin is adhesive until the water horse is satisfied with its prey. It is said the riders are so interminably stuck to the back of their mount that the only way to escape their fate is to cut off the body parts attached to the horse, and this is not possible in most cases. The Kelpie, and this is the only water horse described as having this, may also sometimes be equipped with a magic saddle or bridle, that if wrested off the creature, can be used to perform feats of magic. There is one such example of this in Grant Stewart’s Popular Superstitions of how a bold member of the Scottish MacGregor family, nicknamed Wellox, took such a bridle off of a Kelpie. The Kelpie begged him to restore it, but he kept it and used it to work magic." 

Habitat, Homes, and Relationship With Other Faerie Folk

"Kelpies emanate a baleful energy, an invisible aura that is so morose and depressing that it deters other fairies and magical creatures, who are able to sense that this creature is a terrible omen. The same is true of all the other water horses, so there are very few mentions of a Kelpie interacting with another fay. From various descriptions, it is easy to ascertain that water horses are different from other fairies in that they do not maintain any human characteristics whatsoever. Instead, the Kelpie shares an intrinsic and deeply set bond with its element, so much so that it has been isolated from other magical beings, but this fact does not bother them because they are not the same as us, due to their profound dependency and connection to water. The relationship between Kelpies and their element is a nice segue into habitat because they are sometimes viewed as a spirit of the body of water they inhabit. What this spiritual connection to a force of nature often entails is that the creature’s life force and strength at a given time fluctuates based on the health and vitality of their nature home. So it is with Kelpies and their river abodes, as well as with dryads and their trees. The duty of the magical being is to protect their natural lifeforce, because if the river is polluted or the tree cut down, the creature deteriorates with it, experiencing the same sickness and same pain. Kelpies and Cabyll Ushtey, specifically, live in running freshwater, such as rivers and streams, but the Each Uisge only inhabits lakes and the ocean and the Aughiska can only be sustained by saltwater, many times seen galloping with the waves of the sea. Different still is the Noggle, who seems to have a particular affinity to water mills. Messing with these mills is one of the Noggle’s favored pastimes, and if the mill were running at night it would seize the wheel and stop it. Its other trick was to loiter along the mill-stream and allure pedestrians to mount it. It would then dash away into the sea and give its rider a severe and even dangerous dunking; but it did not tear its victim to pieces, it merely rose through the water and vanished in a blue flame."    

Relationship With Humans and How To Find/Interact With/Lure/Trap/Repel Them

"It has been made highly obvious throughout this episode, that Kelpies are not a friendly fay. They represent the darkest and cruelest aspects of water, and it would make sense, if water horses had a spiritual relation to their habitat, that they would target that natural landform’s most foreboding and detrimental predator: man. So, Each Uisge, Aughiska, and Cabyll Ushtey feast on the flesh of humans, rejecting only specific organs, like the liver, lungs, and heart, or hunt their herds, depleting the locals’ income and source of food and therefore harming them in an alternate way. It is why the Kelpies drown any soul foolish or careless enough to mount it, sometimes allowing the bodies of their prey to sink to the bottom of the river, or otherwise ripping them to shreds. The Noggle is the only water horse that is truly benign to human life, as long as you don’t mind a day’s work lost or being the victim of a couple tricks. But, despite these beings' ravenous appetite for people, there are various methods of reducing their danger to yourself, including by domesticating them, scaring them off, or banishing them entirely. It was mentioned earlier that Kelpies are occasionally in the possession of magic bridles and that these bridles had the potential to be stolen and used for magic, however, it is additionally possible to tame a water horse, capturing it and forcing it into servitude using an ordinary bridle or saddle.  There are stories, telling that the man who put a human bridle on the Kelpie could subdue him to his will. Author Robert W. Chambers writes of a man named Graham of Morphie who once managed to bridle a kelpie and used him to drag stones to build his new castle. When the castle was built he took off the bridle, and the poor, emaciated kelpie dashed into the river. But, as he did so, he turned back only once with a sneer, saying: 

“Sair back and sair banes 

Drivin' the Laird o' Morphie's stanes. 

The Laird o' Morphie'll never thrive 

Sae lang as the Kelpie is alive!” From then misfortune dogged the Grahams of Morphie until their lives ended.

 November, especially, is the best time to locate the Aughiska, who were once extremely common and used to gallop along the sands or over the fields, and if people could get them away from their water source and saddle or bridle them, they would make the finest horses. But they must be ridden inland, for if they got so much as a glimpse of salt water they would gallop headlong into the sea, carrying their riders with them, and bearing them deep into the sea, where they would then be devoured. A major deterrent for all water horses, that contradicts their most primitive natures, is iron heated to such a degree that it turns red like an angry flame. If you bear a red-hot iron rod, every Kelpie will cower in its presence, yet they are untouchable by any other weapon. If exposed directly to this material for long enough, it is possible for the Kelpie to be banished or eliminated entirely, reduced to a puddle of iridescent liquid. But, and maybe I’m the only one who thinks this, who would want to destroy a piece of pure magic, a representation of the heart of nature, so completely? Many stories confirm the Kelpies’ abhorrence of heated metal, including the tale of the killing of a water-horse, one of the Each Uisge, as told in author John McKay's More West Highland Tales by a smith in Raasay, a small island of Scotland. He raised a family through the then lucrative business of herding cattle. One night his daughter did not return from the pastures, and, later, in the morning they found her heart and lungs on the lake side in the nearby forest known to be haunted by the Each Uisge. The smith was heartbroken, and filled with a dogged determination to destroy the monster. He set up a makeshift forge by the lake and he and his young son forged great iron hooks and made them red-hot in the fire. They roasted a sheep on the fire as bait for the creature and the scent of it went out over the water. A steaming mist arose soon after, and the water-horse, looking like an ugly, shaggy yearling, rose out of the lake. It seized the spitted sheep and the man and his son grappled it with the hooks, looping them around the neck of the creature, and killed it there. But in the morning there were no bones nor hide, only a heap of an iridescent liquid, what appeared as a jelly-like substance found on the shore, probably the remnants of stranded jellyfish, but supposed by the Highlanders to be all that is left of a fallen star, called star-shine. And that was the end of the Water-Horse of Raasay. For particularly bothersome Noggles hanging around water mills, it is recommended by Katharine Briggs that, “It could be driven off by thrusting a burning brand or a long steel knife through the vent-hole of the mill”. And, unfortunately, it is also possible to kill Kelpies by way of pollution, for their inherent connection to their water source will not allow them to live in a poisoned river or ocean. But, I beseech you, this is not the way to handle things and we must stop deploying toxic waste into nearby water sources, if not for the Kelpies, than for ourselves and the other indigenous plants and animals that depend on them."


"There you have it, Part 2 of our Kelpies episode has finally come to a close. Of course, we also talked about the Each Uisge, Cabyll Ushtey, Aughiska, and Noggles, but the Kelpie was the creature of focus. I really hope you were able to take something from this episode, even though it was a bit longer than the typical episode, apologies for that if you didn't enjoy it. Please leave a rating and review on whatever podcasting source you're listening to this from, preferably a high one, but whatever you feel is necessary. And you can contact me at ourveilofsmokeandgold@gmail.com regarding anty concerns, feedback, suggestions on faeries, or anything else you want me to know. I you notice any corrections, I am happy to welcome them and acknowledge them on the podcast, so talk to me about that if you feel the need. You can also follow us at our Instagram handle @ourveilofsmokeandgoldpodcast or at our Twitter handle @Ourveil. Once again, thank you so much listeners for listening to me for this whole nearly an hour episode. I'm Annelise, the host of Our Veil of Smoke and Gold Podcast, thanks again for listening and I'll see you in our Part 2."   


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