Folk Beliefs
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Kelpie (Scottish cryptid)

The Kelpie is a mythical water-beast from Scotland which is supposed to take the appearance of a gray or white horse, notable because, unlike a real horse which would likely not be found near water or at least swimming in it, the Kelpie’s mane and tail are always dripping wet. The Kelpie was said to drag people underwater, drown them and eat them. Some versions of the story have it that the skin of the Kelpie is an adhesive and anyone who touches it will be stuck to it, hence being dragged underwater; therefore, the only way to escape a Kelpie is to cut off one’s own limb that is attached to it and then–if one makes it back to shore– to quickly find a surgeon before blood loss leads to death.

THE INFORMANT: The informant is a woman who grew up in Ireland hearing both Irish and Scottish legends, although she said this one is mainly from Scotland.

ANALYSIS: The kelpie is a well-known cryptid (animal whose existence has been suggested but never proven by scientific methods). A commonly accepted explanation for the kelpie myth is that, historically, many people in Scotland lived by the coast or by a lake, of which Scotland has many, but were unable to swim, hence causing a cultural fear of water and drowning. Ironically, even fishermen were unlikely to learn how to swim,  because they believed that knowing how to swim was tempting fate and that they would be caught in an accident where they would need to swim for their lives. The kelpie could simply be a manifestation of that fear, told to children as a warning so that they would not stray too close to coastlines without being able to save themselves in the event that they fell into the water. Scottish folklore is a very robust part of the country’s industry, showing up perhaps most notably in the case of the Loch Ness Monster, who has even been suggested to be a relative of the kelpie.

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