Scottish myths and legends

We’ve all heard of the Loch Ness monster, but there are many more frightening myths and legends from Scottish history. With the nights getting longer, colder and darker, snuggle up and learn about the creatures that haunt and taunt the Scottish lands.

Selkies

Photo courtesy of Clan Rollo Online

The mythical tale of Selkies originated on the Orcadian shores in the 18th century, with people claiming that shapeshifting seal-folk were crawling out of the sea. Unlike mermaids, who are half-fish and half-human, selkies can transform from seals into supernaturally beautiful people with seductive powers over mortal humans. After the transformation, selkies would leave their sealskin on the shore – if lost or stolen, they would have to remain in human form for eternity. According to one Scottish tale, a man found an ethereal selkie sunbathing on the beach, and stole her sealskin – hence, the selkie was forced to be his wife and bear his children. Many years later, she found her sealskin and escaped back to the sea, leaving her children and husband behind. While sirens are renowned for luring in sailors for malicious purposes, the tales of selkies are generally more romantic. Yet, selkies tell a tragic story of constantly longing for what they do not have: when they are seals in the water, they long to be humans on land, but when they are humans, they want to swim in the sea. Selkies may fall in deep, deep love with humans, but their longing for the sea will always prevail.

 

 

Ghillie Dhu

Photo courtesy of Morrigan Aoife

Sorry, Edinburgh folks, I’m not talking about the legendary bar – let me tell you the story of a solitary Scottish male fairy. Ghillie Dhu lived alone in the forest, and disguised himself in trees with his 7 inch stature, light green skin and long, branchy arms. Although very friendly to children, the tiny creature would prey on adults lost in the woods at night and kill or enslave them. Ghillie Dhu has also been said to collect the teeth of children to perform protective magic on them – it has been speculated that this tale gave rise to the myth of the tooth fairy.

 

Though solitary they would like to stay

They may help those who lose their way

But don’t misjudge these dark-haired fae

Or you’ll be the one that they betray!

Hiding their green skin and hazel eyes

Moss and leaves are their disguise

Entering their forest would be unwise

Offend them and get a big surprise!

Poem by Morrigan Aoife

 

 

Baobhan Sith

Photo courtesy of Scot Clans (2016)

The Baobhan Sith (pronounced ba-van see) were known as ‘The White Women of The Scottish Highlands’, renowned for alluring young, naïve travellers of the Highlands and drinking their blood. It is said that some have hooves instead of feet, hidden under long dresses, and that they shapeshift into wolves. These vampire fairies rise from their graves once a year, and seduce unsuspecting victims by inviting them to dance. Generally working in groups, the Baobhan Sith will dance seductively with the men before ripping them to pieces with their fingernails. Their only weakness? They are terrified of iron, as one survivor told the tale of hiding between his horses (and their iron horseshoes), forcing the vampires to run away.

 

Black Donald

Photo courtesy of Francisco Goya

In the Highlands, the devil is known as Black Donald, a shapeshifting goat causing terror across the north of Scotland. He was known for his cloven feet, the only giveaway for whatever disguise he used. To summon the devil, the Highlanders would perform a taghairm  a form of spiritual calling of the dead usually involving animal sacrifice – in which they spit-roasted cats alive until Black Donald appeared and granted any wish they asked for. Nowadays, of course, people tend to just use ouija boards or perform the Black Donald dance to attract his attention.

 

The Shetland Wulver

 

Unlike most of the aforementioned creatures, the Shetland Wulver is, in fact, not a shapeshifter (as far as we know). According to Celtic beliefs, the Wulver is the stage between evolving from wolf to man, where they have a human body but the head and hair of a wolf. The Wulver is not malicious and violent like his werewolf brethren, but is famous for being kindhearted, and spending their days sitting on rocks and fishing. The Celtics believe the Wulver is immortal, however one has not been sighted for over 100 years.

The Gorbals Vampire

Photo courtesy of Mysterious Scotland (2015)

A more modern legend is the tale of the Gorbals Vampire, which shook Glasgow as recently as 1954. Two young schoolboys were brutally kidnapped and killed by a mysterious villain described as a 7 foot tall “vampire with iron teeth”. On September 23rd, 1954, hundreds of school children from the age of 4 to 14 gathered in the Southern Necropolis graveyard armed with knives, sticks and a crucifix to hunt for the vampire. The police quickly stopped the spectacle, and would later deny that any children were missing at the time, claiming it was simply an urban myth. Still, the incident caused mass hysteria, with the press blaming the American comic book titled The Vampire With Iron Teeth. Later theorists have argued that a passage from the bible, Daniel 7:7, which reads ‘behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth‘ may also have played a role in the event. Whether or not the Gorbals Vampire is real or not, the spectacle was dramatic enough that the government introduced the Children and Young Persons Act of 1955 which specifically banned the sale of comics portraying repulsive or horrible incidents to minors.