Myths and legends from Scotland
Updated: Feb 23
Scotland has a broad legacy of myths and legends that stem from Celtic culture and date back to around 2000 years ago.
Superstition was widespread and natural and supernatural events were explained with stories that gave rise to a vast fairy-tale literature. Fairy tales were in fact, not only used to provide a key to understanding natural phenomena, but also used as a warning for young people: the stories of demons and evil characters served to keep children away from deep waters or dangerous animals and to warn daughters against engaging with strangers.
Scotland stories and legends included several magic and mystical characters, the inhabitants of the supernatural world which in the Anglo-Saxon culture are indicated by the term fairies: elves, goblins, fairies, water horses, goblins, brownies and many more. Lets explore them in details.
–The Little People
Also called “good neighbours”, are made up of all creatures that are friendly and kind in nature, but that can become very spiteful and dangerous if they are treated badly by men, as opposed to evil creatures such as numerous aquatic beings, marine monsters and demons living in the deep waters of rivers and Lochs, of which the Each-Uisge is the perfect example.
– The Each-Uisge
It is a supernatural water horse that haunts the Highlands. The name means in fact water horse in Scottish Gaelic.
It has a reputation of being the most dangerous water monster in Britain, nothing like our beloved Nessie.
The each-uisge lives mainly in the sea and lochs and has the ability to change its shape. It can appear as a magnificent horse, a giant bird, or as a man. Anyone who rides it when it has changed into a horse can only be safe while riding in land. If the each-uisge smells water, the rider becomes stuck to its back and get carried underwater where he is drowned.
When the each-uisge shifts its shape to human form it becomes a very good looking man and the only way to tell he is inhuman is by the water weeds in its hair. For this reason Highlanders were always on their guard when a lone horse or stranger was seen by the edge of water.
Some people think the each-usige is a water spirit that guards the watery path to the afterlife where our ancestors live on. Its task is to test the person’s worth. If it does not kill you then you are a judged worthy and carried to the underworld to join our forefathers
The baobhan sith is also known as the vampire of the Highlands. It appears as a beautiful young woman in a long green dress – but with deer hooves instead of feet. The creature is drawn to the scent of blood and preys on male hunter, she dances with them until they are exhausted, then drains their blood.
This is a creature of Scottish and Irish mythology with nothing short of monstrous appearance: in fact it has only one leg and one arm, with a mane of black feathers, a dark tuft on the head and, usually, a huge mouth.
The Fachen is such a frightening being that he induces heart attacks on people who see him and that he has such strength in his one arm that he can destroy an entire orchard in one night, armed only with a chain.
This mystical creature is one the most universally believed world-wide, and nowhere more than in Scotland. It is even the country`s national animal and appears on the Royal Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom. In Celtic mythology unicorns are synonymous of purity and unrivalled strength.
According to Scottish legends, brownies (ùraisg in Scottish Gaelic) are small goblins, no more than 60 cm tall, with dark skin and scruffy brown clothes, from which their name derives.
These creatures live near the houses of men and during the night they carry out all sorts of domestic works so that, at dawn, the landlord finds everything in place and in order. They also watch over the animals, thresh and reap the fields, run errands, take care of the gardens and distil whiskey or beer. They are also able to make unproductive and arid lands fertile.
In exchange for their services, it is advisable to leave small gifts, generally in the form of food and in particular a bowl of cream and a sweet muffin. In many traditional Scottish homes, a brownie was reserved a chair by the fireplace and sometimes even an entire room.
These creatures are mainly known as tiny humans but they are able to change their shape and size. While most of us think of fairies as being joyful creatures, they can be rather devious and enjoy playing tricks on humans. The female of the species is known to be particularly malevolent. Highlanders would often refer to fairies as “good people”, even if they are usually up to no good.
Fairies prefer to avoid humans and hide in remote places such as hills, mountains and near water pools. When humans enter their territory, they should always treat their domain with respect and avoid wearing green – the colour of the fairies. When talking about fairies, remember to choose words carefully – even if you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean that they can’t see you.
If you fancy spotting one in the wild, you might want to take a trip to the Isle of Skye, which is rumoured to be a popular haunt of the “little people”. The Fairy Pools, are the perfect starting point. The Fairy Glen, on the west side of Trotterish, is another celebrated fairy hangout.
You might believe in fairy tales or you might be a sceptical one, but many of these stories contributed, and still contributes, to describe the lifestyle of the past, giving us the opportunity to “go back in time” and keep alive customs and traditions.