Scotland is an ancient land with a wealth of captivating myths and legends that have been passed down through generations, inspiring both great wonder and deep fear.
Scottish mythology tells of many supernatural creatures that were thought to roam the land. For millennia, tales of these entities have been preserved via storytelling, passing the legacy by word onto successive generations across the centuries.
However, in modern times these myths have been cemented in writing, offering a more concrete view of the stories our ancestors shared. “Celtic” may be thought of as describing a ‘spectrum’ of cultures that share similar languages, beliefs and traditions, so you may find variants of these myths from multiple sources.
Long ago, Halloween was not merely a festival for fun but a serious event as it was thought the veil between our world and the spirits’ would weaken at this time – seeing the entry of ghosts and demons that could harm us.
Now that it’s Halloween in Scotland, here are 13 mythical creatures to look out for tonight based on Scottish Folklore that has been passed down for generations.
1. The Kelpies (Gaelic: Each-Uisge)
If you’ve ever wandered by the Falkirk Canal then chances are you’ve encountered the Kelpies as a sculpture of two giant horse heads. These are shape-shifting water spirits that often appear as horses yet can change into many different forms. The spirits trick weary travellers into riding them as they appear in horse-form, yet once the rider is on their back they are disturbed to find they cannot dismount. Ultimately, the Kelpies lure travellers into the dark waters to drown and devour them.
Photo: Careless, John. (1905) via Wikimedia Commons / indianabones (via Canva)
2. Cait Sith (Cat Fairies)
Cait Sith, known as “cat fairies”, are described as cats that are slender yet large like dogs, with a trademark white patch on their chests. It was thought that they would steal the souls of the unburied dead and so they would prey on locations where bodies were prepared prior to funerals. Curiously, it walked on all fours nearby humans, yet stood on its hind legs when it was not being watched. This connects to the theory that Cait Sith are witches that can transform between cat and human form. This transformation could only happen nine times before the cat form became permanent, perhaps a reference to cats’ nine lives.
Photo: John. D Batten (1894) (via Wikimedia Commons)
3. The Wulver
The Wulver is a humanoid wolf creature connected to the folklore of Shetland. Unlike the typical ferocity associated with werewolves, the Wulver was a benevolent creature, known to help the downtrodden. Often seen fishing, the Wulver would place free fish on the windowsills of poor families to save them from starvation. Unlike werewolves, the Wulver was never human to begin with, according to the ancient Celts. They believed he evolved from wolves, and represented an in-between stage of evolution between wolf and man.
Photo: Mont Sudbury (1941) (via Wikimedia Commons)
4. Banshee (Gaelic: bean-nighe i.e., “washerwoman”)
The ‘Bean Nighe’ is thought of as a form of banshee, often referred to as the “washerwoman.” It can be seen at the edge of isolated streams washing blood from the clothing of people who are close to death. The creature can appear both as a ‘hag’ or as a beautiful woman, but is always known to wear green and have webbed feet. Some said that if a living person approached the Bean Nighe then they could be granted wishes or told the names of people who will die soon.
Photo: W.H. Brooke (1825) (via Wikimedia Commons)