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|Written by Kelsa Staffa|
|Friday, 27 August 2010 00:00|
Based solely on the two trailers I saw for it, the movie The Water Horse very clearly had nothing to do with a horse (the water part appeared to be accurate). A little Internet digging, however, turned up a surprising amount of legends of water horses, and much to my chagrin, I am forced to admit that The Water Horse appears to have stayed true to several interpretations of the fabled water horse.
The kelpie is a supernatural water horse from Celtic folklore, believed to haunt the rivers and lochs of Scotland and Ireland. Its hide was black or white, depending on the story, and appears as a lost pony with a constantly dripping mane and smooth, death-cold, seal-like skin. Regional differences of the fable of the kelpie include describing the kelpie as green with a black mane and tail. Kelpies are also known to transform into human form, sometimes described as dripping wet or with water weeds in their hair. The kelpie also creates illusions to keep itself hidden, keeping only its eye above water to scout the surface, much like the illusion of a fish's pupil. As the legend of the kelpie includes taking the form of a water horse and luring children onto its back and into the water to eat them or luring beautiful men or women into their traps in their human form, the kelpie is not considered a benevolent creature.
The nuggle is malicious creature from the Orkney Islands, able to disguise itself in any form but usually taking the form of a placid, magnificent horse. While in this form, the nuggle frequented areas of the countryside around lochs, pools, and streams and would wait patiently by the side of the water. When humans who spied the riderless horse decided to climb on its back, the beast would charge into the water, carrying the doomed rider to a death by drowning. In Orkney only faint references to areas where the creature was thought to haunt remain. Recorded accounts are more common in Shetland, where the creature was also referred to as "shoopiltee." One particular piece of Shetland lore refers to a group of local men who managed to capture a nuggle. The men chained the frantic creature to a standing stone between two lochs but, after a great struggle, the nuggle escaped. The evidence of its struggle remained -- marks where the binding chain scored the stone.
A variant of Orkney's nuggle is also found in Iceland, where it is known as nykur. At one time, most lakes in Iceland were thought to house a nykur and, as such, considerably more lore surrounding this water horse has survived there. It appeared as a grey coloured horse, but its ears and hooves were turned backwards. It was also said to have a bladder under its left haunch. Although its favoured form was a horse, the nykur also had the power to shapeshift and could change itself into all forms, living or dead, with the exception of lamb's wool or peeled barley. The creature's favourite haunts were near rivers or lakes that were difficult to cross. Like the Orcadian nuggle and the Scottish kelpie, the nykur initially acted docile, tempting people to mount and ride across; however, as soon as the rider climbed upon the beast's back, the nykur galloped into the water, where it lay down, dragging the rider with him. The Icelandic nykur could also breed with horses, giving birth like a normal mare, albeit in the water. The offspring of these unions were indistinguishable from those of a normal horse, except that the offspring of a nykur had a tendency to lie down when splashed with water or when led through belly-deep water. One of the only defences against the attentions of the nykur was the fact that they could not stand the sound of their name or any other word that sounded like it. Where this happened, the nykurs gallop to the safety of the water. When ice cracks form on frozen lakes in Iceland, the noise produced is said to be the sound of the nykur neighing.
Scandinavian folklore with parallels to the Scottish kelpie. It was often described as a majestic white horse that would appear near rivers, particularly during foggy weather. Anyone who climbed onto its back would not be able to get off again, and the horse would then jump into the river, drowning the rider. The brook horse could also be harnessed and made to plough, either because it was trying to trick a person or because the person had tricked the horse into it.Bäckahästen or bækhesten (translation: the brook horse) is a mythological horse in
Several sightings of creatures categorized as water horses have been reported throughout history, some as early as the 7th century. Some of the earliest sightings include:
Versions of the water horse appear in many European cultures. On the Isle of Man it is known as the cabbyl-ushtey (Manx Gaelic for "water horse") or the glashtin, a shapeshifter that can appear as a man, a hybrid or an animal (cow or horse), looking for someone to ride him; a journey which always leads back to the still waters he calls home, where riders discover they cannot jump from his back and consequently are pulled to their deaths. In Wales, a similar creature is known as the Ceffyl Dŵr, who may be seen above a pool or waterfall or occasionally grazing on the bank. He sometimes allows himself to be caught and mounted, but he is full of pranks and delights in tossing his rider to the ground. In Norway it is called nøkken, where the horse shape is often used but is not its true form. Another similar Scottish water horse is the each uisge, which also appears in Ireland.
Wherever the water horse exists, and no matter what the local variations, one thread remains common: this is not your average horse, and it's far more likely to want to eat a warm human than the finest timothy hay.