Frightening Fairies and Mermaids
Our Ancestors' Beliefs Were Different...And Sometimes Terrifying!
Back in the day, people were scared to leave their homes at night. Not for the reasons you might think today...for very different reasons. They had worse things to worry about...like fairies that kidnap and kill humans. Or mermaids that drag them into the depths of the sea. How we see fairies and mermaids in modern times (pretty, sparkly, friendly beings) is in opposition to how fairies and mermaids were thought of in our ancestors' times. Often stories of malevolent and violent mythical creatures were told to keep children from wandering around at night or near dangerous places like ponds or peaks.
From the British Isles and Ireland come tales of the most frightening beings from Jennie Greenteeth to the Banshee. We will explore beasts from the water and from the bogs that will chill you to your core. These fairies and mermaids shouldn't be lumped into the same category as pixies and gnomes, yet they are. Except these kinds of fairies don't help your garden grow...they eat you for dinner.
The Kelpie: Horse of Nightmares
Some say the Kelpie was a good creature from Fairyland, others say the Kelpie was the quintessential night-mare. But all agree, the Kelpie is an otherworldly being, often related to fairies, that most often appears in the form of a white horse. A figure like that of a horse emerges from lochs and pools in Scotland, and permeates Scottish folklore dating back hundreds of years. Sources say nearly every famous loch in Scotland has a story of a kelpie attached to it.
The Kelpie is said to be able to change shapes and when it wants to it can take the shape of an attractive young woman or man. In some tales, the Kelpie would trick a human into marrying it while in human form. These were the lucky people...the unlucky ones were dragged into the depths of the lochs and drowned by the Kelpie. At worst, the Kelpie was said to tear people to shreds or eat them. Either way, the Kelpie doesn't seem like too nice of a horse to me.
On the opposite side of this horrifying story, there are tales of Kelpies being helpful to people when they are pure of heart and in true need or if they had the right tools in which to control the supernatural horse. Some say silver can kill it, and tack with a cross will allow a person to ride it.
There is some overlap between the Kelpie and Jenny Greenteeth (who we will discuss in this article), as it is said the Kelpie can shift into a green creature with seaweed for hair. This is also a trait of Jenny Greenteeth. Are they one in the same kind of fairy-being? Tales of green ladies and horses drowning people to death are speculated to have been told to children to keep them away from the water's edge. I don't plan on going too close to the lochs when I visit Scotland next. Do you?
Jenny Greenteeth: The Murderous River Hag
Mentioned briefly as seemingly related to the Kelpie is the green, pond-lurking woman by the name of Jenny Greenteeth. She is a bone-chilling, fairy-type being in English folklore that is said to drag children and older folks into the depths of the water and drown them. She can actually be seen in folklore worldwide by various names, and the name of pond plants such as duckweed are nicknamed after her. We can speculate, again, that this was just a story told to frighten children from potential drowning when their parents weren't around. However...
There are stories of people in modern times who have actually seen a green woman lurking below the surface or emerging from the depths for a brief moment. Jenny Greenteeth is said to be a green figure that slowly emerges from a pond, her hair like seaweed covering her green, algae-covered face. Some have seen long, sharp green teeth in her mouth. If you get too close to the pond's edge, she will pull you in. Is she possibly just trying to scare off intruders? Maybe she's just hungry for a killing...
Banshee: Fear Her Scream
Have you ever heard the phrase, "screamed like a banshee"? This is not some random quote but has a deep history in Irish folklore. The Banshee, originally spelled bean-sidhe, was a ghost or fairy-being known to haunt the oldest families of Ireland. Legends tell of men coming home from elsewhere only to see an old haggard woman washing shrouds. She was usually hunched over, wearing black or green robes, and sometimes is said to have long, sharp nails. When she was seen, this was known as an omen. It was said to foretell the person's own impending death or a death in the family. Because of this legend, the Banshee is also called the Washer-woman or the Washer at the Fords. In Scotland she is known as the Cointeach (woman who keens).
The Banshee's scream or sorrowful (mourning) wail was heard nearby the house or sometimes right outside the window of the person who was about to die. It was supposedly the most frightening and shrill sound one could ever hear in a lifetime. The Banshee's scream was feared almost as much as seeing her in person, because it always meant death.
The author theorizes the Banshee might have once been a goddess in ancient times, during the times of the Celtic tribes, and is still a guardian of sorts of the most ancient family bloodlines in Ireland. Perhaps she is a psychopomp and guides the dead to the other realms once they pass. Or maybe she's a ghost whose sole purpose is to terrify those who hear or see her.
Just because you've been told fairies are dainty, small things doesn't mean there aren't human-eating fairies of gigantic stature.— Nicole Canfield
Finfolk: Kidnapping Mer-folk
Mermaids and mermen are always at the forefront of every little girl's imagination. But what if those merpeople aren't as nice as Disney says they are? In the highlands of Scotland, on the Orkney Islands, there are tales of mermen called finfolk who travel from somewhere far off in the sea to the islands on a hunt for human brides. Sounds romantic, doesn't it? It's not. The finfolk are not nice or friendly to humans or the humans they choose as mates. They are aggressive and drag the human under the water and off to their city in the sea. Following, there is no Honeymoon...only slavery and servitude to the fin-spouse for the rest of the human spouse's days.
Finmen disguise themselves as aquatic animals, floating clothing, or as boats. Once the intended victim gets close enough, he captures her and drags her under. With finmaids, they often take the form of an attractive mermaid and lure the human man to his demise with a haunting song.
In addition to the terrifying tales of Finfolk, there are other tales of mermen and mermaids luring ships to crash on rocks, then dragging the sailors under to their deaths. As if this wasn't bad enough, they are also said to keep the sailors' souls in cages at the bottom of the ocean in a sort of purgatory. The souls can never be freed unless another human being finds them and frees them.
If we can learn one lesson from the Kelpie, Jenny Greenteeth, and Finfolk...learn how to swim really well and don't trust seaweed or sweet-singing women on the beaches of Scotland.
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Which of the mentioned fairies or mermaids are the most frightening?
© 2017 Nicole Canfield