Among the multitude of myths and legends of Scotland, fairy’s, elves, giants and kelpies; my favorite out of them all has to be that of the Storm Kelpies; cavalier and rash, savage and cruel, and yet possessing the souls of bards.
The Blue men o’ the Minch, also known as storm kelpies (Scottish Gaelic: na fir ghorma, fear gorm, or sruth nam fear gorm), are mythological creatures who were said to have inhabited the waters between the northern Hebrides and mainland Scotland, and who sailors described as being ever vigilant, and always looking for crews to drown and boats to sink. However, unlike the other water-based mythological creatures that reside in Scotland, and who appear all over, these entities seem to be localized only to the Minch and the surrounding area, and from a mythological stand point, are entirely unknown in other parts of Scotland, and certainly without counterparts in the rest of the world.
Now, apart from their blue skin color, these Storm Kelpies were said to have actually looked much the same as the humans they preyed upon, and were about the same size as well; although generally of a powerful build as a rule. They were also said to have had the power to create storms with which to aid them in capsizing vessels, but when the weather was fine, would often be spied floating asleep on its surface, or, rather ominously, just below it. They were also reported as being able to speak, and when a group would approach a ship, the chieftain (Shony) would then sidle up to the vessel and shout two lines of poetry to the captain, wherein the captain would be challenged to complete the verse appropriately. However, if the skipper were to fail, the Blue men would attempt to overturn his ship and sink it.
The following exchange is said to have taken place between a Storm kelpie chieftain (Shony) and an unknown skipper.
Blue Chief: “Man of the black cap what do you say
As your proud ship cleaves the brine?”
Skipper: “My speedy ship takes the shortest way
And I’ll follow you line by line”
Blue Chief: “My men are eager, my men are ready
To drag you below the waves”
Skipper: “My ship is speedy, my ship is steady
If it sank, it would wreck your caves.”
Another incident, collected by Gregorson Campbell, tells of the capture, this time, of one of these Blue men. Wherein a group of sailors had first seized him from the sea, and then bound him up on their ship at the mast after having found him “sleeping on the waters”. Subsequently, two of his fellow Blue men quickly surfaced to give chase, and were reported as having been calling out to their captured kinsman the whole time as they swam, at great speed, in pursuit of the offending ship. Below is the exchange.
“Duncan will be one, Donald will be two. Will you need another ere you reach the shore?” The lead Storm Kelpie cried. And upon hearing his Kinsman’s voice, the captured Shony suddenly broke his bonds, his vigor renewed, before leaping overboard; rejoicing aloud that “Duncan’s voice I hear, Donald too is near. But no need of helpers has strong Ian Mor!” And thus, sailors believed that all of the Storm Kelpies had names by which they would address one another, and with that, and the creatures disquieting similarity to man, also believed that they should then be twice feared as a result, for if they were anything like man, then their capacity for cruelness would only be furthered by their intelligence in knowing how to apply it.
And so, I think what I like about these particular creatures is in fact their almost human-like nature and countenance. They seem fun, unashamedly boisterous and boastful; akin to sea-bound pirates who spend their whole life gallivanting across the waves without a care in the world. And, they are one of the few creatures of Scottish mythology who, despite their reputation, I wouldn’t consider as being inherently evil, or malicious; but rather, recklessly capricious and spirited. And whereas the Kelpie (Water-horse) in any guise, seeks only to kill its pray outright, the Blue men o’ the Minch at least appear to provide their quarry a sporting chance to escape, before sending them on to a watery grave.
P.S The exchange above basically translates to: “Donald and I are here for you, though do you require more reinforcements?” To which Ian Mor (Big John) replies “Cheers lads, but I got this”