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The nuckelavee, or nuckalavee, is a demon frae Orcadian meethologie that is like horses. Thay hae equine an human elements. Comin frae Norse meethologie an the maist tairible demon o the Scots isles, its name micht be a forbeir o the ane that the Deil is whiles kent by, Auld Nick. The nuckelavee's braith can wilt craps an mak fairm beasts seek, an the craitur wis hauden responsible for drauchts an epidemics on laund, e'en tho it maistly bides in the sea.

A graphic first-haund description o the nuckelavee as it appears on laund wis gien by an island bodie that claimt tae hae haed a confrontation wi it, but accoonts describin the partieculars o the craitur's appearance isna consistent. Like a wheen ither sea monsters it canna thole caller watter, tharefore thaim that it is chasin juist haes tae gang ower a river or a burn tae win awa frae it. The nuckelavee is keppit in the simmer months bi the Mither o' the Sea, a auncient Orcadian sprit an the ae ane that can guvern it.

Orcadian fowklair haed a strang Scandinavie influence, an it micht be that the nuckelavee is a composite o a watter horse frae Celtic meethologie an a craitur importit bi the Norsemen. As wi siemilar ill-gien entities siclike as the kelpie, it offert an explanation for incidents that semple island fowk itherwise coudna unnerstaund.

Etymologie[eedit | eedit soorce]

The hinder-end o the 19t century saw interest in transcribin fowklair gang up, but the recorders uised inconsistent spellin an aften Englifee'd wirds, sicweys the same entity coud be gien different names.[1] The term nuckelavee is a corruption o the Orcadian knoggelvi,[2] but the same demon is cryed a mukkelevi in Shetland, whaur it wis thocht tae be a nesty sea trow or sea deil.[3] Derivatives micht hae been the forbeirs o the name Auld Nick gien tae the Deil.[4] By Walter Traill Dennison's (a fowklairist bidin in Orkney) wey o it, nuckelavee means "Deil o the Sea".[5]

Fowk beliefs[eedit | eedit soorce]

Rough seas
The tempestuous seas o Orkney are hame tae the nuckelavee.

Description an common attributes[eedit | eedit soorce]

Stories o meethical Orcadian demons is recordit in the 16t-century Laitin manuscripts o Jo Ben,[a] an thay micht hae been referrin tae the nuckelavee in his description o the Orkney island o Stronsay.[9] Dennison transcribit a lot o the information available aboot tradietional tales telt on Orkney, but tae a extent romanticised an seestematically chynged certain elements o the stories in the process o turnin thaim intae prose.[10][b]

The nuckelavee is a meethical sea craitur leukin like a demon that leuks like a horse whan it gangs ontae laund.[12] Writer an fowklairist Ernest Marwick considered it vera siemilar tae the Norse nøkk, the nuggle o Shetland an the kelpie. A unique an solitar craitur wi extensive evil pouers, its ill-gien behaviour can influence events ootthrou the isles.[3] Island fowk wis feart at the craitur an wad no speak its name athoot sayin a prayer richt awa.[13] It wis aften fund in the vicinity o a beach, but wad niver come ashore if it wis rainin.[14]

Nae tales describes whit form the nuckelavee taks whan in the sea,[5] but its appearance on laund haes been recoontit in graphic detail.[15] A island bodie, Tammas, survived a confrontation wi the beast an, efter bein cajoled by Dennison, gae his description o the monster e'en tho he wis sweir tae dui thon, the ae first-haund accoont that's kent o.[c] By Tammas's wey o it, the nuckelavee haes a man's torso attached tae a horse's back like it wis a rider.[5] The male torso haes nae legs, but its airms can reach the grund frae its posietion on tap o the equine bouk, the legs that haes appendages like fins.[13] The torso haes a lairge heid – possibly as big as 3 feet (0.91 m) in diameter – that rowes back an forrit.[14] The monster described bi Tammas haes twa heids;[17] the equine heid haes a muckle gapin mooth that gies aff a bowfin toxic vapour, an a single muckle ee like a burnin reid flame. A awfu gruesome detail is that the nuckelavee haes nae skin;[18] black bluid courses throu yellae veins, an the pale sinews an pouerfu muscles can be seen as a pulsatin mass.[13] Ither reports says that the craitur leuks like a centaur;[19] narratives isna consiestent in the finer details o the demon's description housomeivver.[2] Traill Dennison juist describes a man's heid wi a "mooth projectit like that o a pig".[13] Marwick juist mentions ae heid wi a single reid ee an aw, an he borraes some o Tammas's characterisation bi recordin the craitur's mooth as "like a whaul's mooth".[14]

The nuckelavee's braith can wilt craps an mak fairm beasts seek, an it wis thocht tae be responsible for epidemics an draucht.[13] Seaweed burnin tae mak whit wis kent in the time as kelp begoud on Stronsay in 1722. The product – soda ash – wis a alkali maistly uised tae treat acidic soil,[3][13] awtho as time gaed on its commercial importance in saip an gless-makkin gaed up. The pungent smoke emittit durin the process can gar the nuckelavee gang wuid,[3] resultin in a wild rampage o plague, the daiths o cattle an o craps gettin destroyed.[20][21] The nuckelavee infectit horse on Stronsay wi the deidly disease kent as mortasheen,[d] tae shaw its fury an sautit the island fowk's brose for burnin seaweed; the infection syne spreidit tae aw the ither islands that wis fankelt in the industry.[3][23] The craitur can impose lang periods whaur thare isna sae muckle rainfaw as thare wad be for ordinar, leadin tae a want o watter an puir hairsts.[3]

Confinement[eedit | eedit soorce]

The nuckelavee is the maist ill-gien demon in an aboot the Scots isles, athoot ony redeemin characteristics.[24] The ae entity that can guvern it is the Mither o' the Sea, an auncient spirt in Orcadian meethologie that keps the nuckelavee in the simmer months.[25] Like ither meethical sea monsters, wi the possible exception o kelpies an the nuggle o Shetland, it canna gae throu caller flowin watter,[18] tharefore the anes it is chasin can win ower a burn for tae win awa frae it.[26] Tammas managed tae escape frae the nuckelavee efter he inadvertently splashed it wi watter frae the loch he wis alangside; this distractit the monster for a wee, allouin Tammas tae rin ower tae a channel o caller watter that wis near an lowp tae safety on the bank fornent it.[17]

Oreegins[eedit | eedit soorce]

Ill-gien craiturs served tae provide explanations for incidents that semple island fowk itherwise coudna accoont for; a wheen auncient meeths wis based upon the naitural elements o the turbulent an iver chygin sea aboot Orkney.[27] Estaiblished Orcadian tales haed strang influence frae Scandinavie meethologie, wi a blendin o tradietional Celtic stories,[28] sae the nuckelavee micht hae its ruits in a meethical craitur importit bi the Norsemen, pitten thegither wi a tradietional Celtic watter horse.[2]

References[eedit | eedit soorce]


  1. It is uncertain why Jo Ben compilt the manuscript Descriptions of Orkney, which provides a sequential accoont o the Orkney Islands recordin details o tradeetions an development. Various suggestions hae been made as tae his identity: Scran states he wis John Ballender an haed been sent tae carry oot a survey o the islands;[6] historical geographer Charles W. J. Withers suggests he wis John Benston or Beinston, an Orkney bishop's clerk;[7] an local historian Sigurd Towrie indicates he mey hae been John Bellenden or Ballendon, attributin the manuscript tae be "the auldest survivin accoont o the Orkney Islands, efter they transferred tae Scotland in 1468".[8]
  2. Specific dates are no gien for exactly when Traill Dennison gathered the tales but his various transcripts wur published atween 1880 an 1894.[11]
  3. As alludit tae bi Walter Traill Dennison, tae whom the story wis tauld, Tammas's accoont bears a certain resemblance tae the events in Robert Burns's poem Tam o' Shanter (1790).[16]
  4. This is nou commonly kent as glanders.[22]


  1. Monaghan (2009), pp. ix, xi, xv
  2. a b c "The Nuckelavee – Devil o' the Sea", Orkneyjar.com, archived frae the original on 27 Juin 2014, retrieved 14 Juin 2014 Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  3. a b c d e f Marwick (2000), p. 23
  4. Hibbert (1891), p. 233
  5. a b c Traill Dennison (1891), p. 131
  6. "Jo Benn's 1529 Description of North Ronaldsay", Scran, archived frae the original on 2 Juin 2015, retrieved 2 Juin 2015 Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  7. Withers (2001), p. 48
  8. "Jo Ben's "Descriptions of Orkney"", Orkneyjar.com, archived frae the original on 2 Juin 2015, retrieved 2 Juin 2015 Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  9. "Jo Ben's 1529 "Descriptions of Orkney"", Orkneyjar.com, archived frae the original on 22 Juin 2014, retrieved 22 Juin 2014 Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  10. Jennings, Andrew, "The Finnfolk", University of the Highlands and Islands, archived frae the original on 21 Juin 2014, retrieved 21 Juin 2014 Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  11. Marwick (2000), p. 205
  12. Westwood & Kingshill (2012), p. 387
  13. a b c d e f Traill Dennison (1891), p. 132
  14. a b c Marwick (2000), p. 22
  15. Briggs (2002), p. 67
  16. Douglas (2010), p. 125
  17. a b Traill Dennison (1891), p. 133
  18. a b Westwood & Kingshill (2012), p. 388
  19. Mack & Mack (2010), p. 57
  20. "The kelp industry", Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme, archived frae the original on 24 Juin 2014, retrieved 24 Juin 2014 Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  21. "Whale oil uses", Scran, archived frae the original on 24 Juin 2014, retrieved 24 Juin 2014 Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  22. "mortercheyn", Dictionary of the Scots Language, Scottish Language Dictionaries, 2004, retrieved 24 Juin 2014
  23. Fenton (1997), p. 61
  24. Briggs (2002), p. 68
  25. Bane (2013), p. 252
  26. Briggs (2002), p. 53
  27. "The Sea in Orkney Folklore", Orkneyjar.com, archived frae the original on 26 Juin 2014, retrieved 26 Juin 2014 Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  28. Muir (2014), p. 10