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The Myths, Folklore, and Legends of Scotland

Updated on May 8, 2017
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When thinking of myths and legends, the usual thoughts that spring to our minds often involve Bloody Mary, The Bogey Man, vampires, or werewolves. Or any other usual suspects of lazily written horror movies. That's not to say the details of these legends are uninteresting—far from it. It's just that we have heard the tales time and time again, and I think that other stories often get missed.

Growing up in Scotland, a country steeped in fascinating history and culture, it was common for me to hear paranormal and supernatural stories. Below are some of my favourites. Whether you believe them or not is down to you, but they are intriguing nonetheless.

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The Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness Monster, known also as ''Nessie,'' has become one of Scotland's most famous legends and over the years she has featured in movies, television shows, literature, and even music. Nessie is an aquatic creature and is described as similar to sea monsters from other popular stories.

The earliest report of the Loch Ness Monster was written in the sixth century A.D. by Adomnán, who claimed to have witnessed locals burying a man by the River Ness. When questioned, they explained to Adomnán that the man was swimming in the river before being attacked by a ''water beast''. It is said that the beast mauled and dragged its victim under the water and although locals attempted to rescue him using a boat, he died.

Above is one of the most famous pictures of the rare, dinosaur-like beast and (although we now know that this photograph was a fake), we are still left wondering if Nessie really is lurking around the bottom of that loch. We also have to wonder: is it possible that there is more than one?

Selkies

The Selkies are said to live as seals whilst in the sea however upon returning to land they have the ability to shed their skin and become human. Like mermaids or sirens, Selkies are beautiful and they yield great seductive abilities over human women in particular.

As legend tells it, many Selkie Maidens have been forced to marry human men as they have stolen and hidden the Selkies' skin meaning their wives will no longer be able to return to their true home in the sea. In many stories when the Selkie finally finds her skin she will flee back to the sea only returning in some cases to see any children she has bared.

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The Kelpies

The Kelpie is a shape-shifting water creature that inhabits any body of Scottish water. I'm sure you are already beginning to see a theme here, am I right?

The Kelpie, much like the Selkie has the ability to adopt a handsome human form when on land however their intentions are always malevolent. They are usually male and described as being a beautiful and powerful black horses who will in some cases devour their human victims leaving their remains at the waters edge.

In its equine form the Kelpie is said to have the ability to extend the length of its back allowing the creature to carry many riders at once to their death at the bottom of the lochs.

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The Wulver

For those of you who are fans of the lycanthrope A.K.A. werewolf, the story of the Wulver is sure to interest you.

Unlike the Werewolf, the Wulver is not a shapeshifter and never has been a human being, nor is he aggressive.

The Wulver has the body of a man covered in short, brown, fur with the head of a wolf. He lived in a cave dug out of the side of a mountain and would spend his days fishing and as the story goes he would often leave fresh fish on the window-sills of the poor families.

It has now been speculated that The Wulver was just a man after all who may have suffered from a rare disease known as Hunter Syndrome.

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The Bean Nighe

The Bean Nighe which is Scottish Gaelic for ''Washer Woman'', is a fairy and not the kind that will play innocent mischievous tricks. No, she is seen as an omen of death. As she wanders around deserted streams and rivers she can be seen washing the clothes of those who are about to die.

The Mnathan Nighe (plural of Bean Nighe) are said to come from the spirits of the women who died during childbirth. In some stories the Bean Nighe is describes as having webbed feet, one nostril, webbed feet and she is to be all dressed in green. If you approach her cautiously you may be able to ask three questions of the creature, only after you answer three of hers first. If you are brave enough to suck the breast of the Bean Nighe then you will be able to ask one wish of her.

The Phantom Piper of the Fairy Caves

In Scotland we are well known for our beloved bagpipes, the haunting sound that was used to unsettle enemies before battle but in this story the sound coming from those pipes is even more unsettling.

The scene is set at the caves extending from Grennan to the cliffs of Clanyard Bay, near Stranraer. Locals had believed the dark caves were home to fairies and so no one dared go inside for fear of disturbing them. That was until one day when a piper entered the caves with his loyal canine companion.

For hours the sound of the Bagpipes could be heard coming from the caves, the sound slowly fading the deeper the piper got until they couldn't be heard at all. Suddenly, the dog sprints from the caves howling and looking very frightened. In some versions the dog is also missing a leg or all of its fur but every version agrees that the piper is never seen again.

Some say that on silent summer nights where even the whisper of the wind is muted, the distant sound of pipes can be heard coming from the cave.

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The Legend of Sawney Bean

Perhaps you have already seen or at least heard of the film Sawney: Flesh of Man A.K.A. Lord of Darkness but you may not have realised that Sawney Bean is a very popular and gruesome Scottish legend.

Alexander ''Sawney'' Bean is thought to have been a clan leader in charge of 48 members between the 13th and 16th centuries. Over his life he and his wife produced 14 children and 32 grandchildren which were predominantly the result of incest.

The couple lived undiscovered for around 25 years in caves and only appeared at night to ambush unsuspecting individuals or small groups. Their victims would be brought back to the family cave where they would be murdered, dismembered and eaten.

Of course the increasing number of missing civilians did not go unnoticed and locals launched searches to find those responsible for the disappearances. Many were innocents were executed after being falsely accused of the crime it was only later when the Beans hideout was revealed.

The clan was captured and transported to Edinburgh's Tolbooth Jail before being transported to elsewhere for their executions. It is thought that they were responsible for the mass murder of over 1,000 people.

As always feel free to leave a comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts on the above legends and if your believe there's any truth behind them or not.

What is Your Favourite Scottish Legend/Myth/Folklore?

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