Episode 47: Water Fae: Nuckelavee
The folklore of the Nuckelavee in a nutshell, how I reimagined it for my writing, and this faery translated into Afrikaans.
Written and narrated by Ronel Janse van Vuuren.
Copyright 2022 Ronel Janse van Vuuren — All rights reserved.
Learn more about the Nuckelavee here.
Get the transcript here.
Music: Secrets by David Fesliyan (FesliyanStudios.com) and Dramatic Heartbeat by FesliyanStudios.com
You’re listening to the Faeries and Folklore podcast by Ronel.
I’m dark fantasy author Ronel Janse van Vuuren. With nearly a decade of digging around in dusty folklore books, researching creatures of imagination that ignited my curiosity, I’m here to share the folklore in a nutshell and how I reimagined it for my writing in an origin of the fae.
This is the Faeries and Folklore podcast.
Hi, I’m your host Ronel Janse van Vuuren. You can just call me Ronel. In today’s episode, we’re continuing our exploration of the fae realm.
This episode is brought to you by my book Once… Tales, Myths and Legends of Faerie available in eBook, audiobook and paperback. Learn more at ronelthemythmaker.com/my-books.
We’re continuing our exploration of Water Fae.
Today’s Faery: Nuckelavee
Folklore in a nutshell by Ronel
From Orcadian mythology, the nuckelavee is a sea monster intent on mayhem and destruction. Said to bring droughts, epidemics and more by its mere presence and wilting crops and sicken livestock by simply breathing, this creature born from Norse and Celtic influences only has one weakness: fresh water. Said to be the nastiest of creatures from Scotland’s Northern Isles, this part horse, part human monster with a huge head roamed the shoreline of the Orkney Islands, ready to pounce on unsuspecting humans.
Folklorist Ernest Marwick likened it to the Norwegian nøkk, the Shetland nuggle, and the Scottish kelpie. Said to be a horse-like demon, the nuckelavee is a solitary creature thought to possess extensive evil powers. It will not, though, come ashore when it rains. It supposedly has power over the weather, creating droughts, so perhaps staying underwater when it rains was just its way to give the islanders a break from its catalogue of misery…
Though there are no accounts of what appearance the nuckelavee takes when underwater, it is said to take on the form of a horse with a human torso attached to its back – though with no distinction between the bodies – with the equine head being a gaping maw exuding pungent, toxic vapour, and one fiery eye; the body being skinless showing black blood coursing through yellow veins, his sinewy muscles writhing with every movement, and the human arms extending to the ground, when on land.
Burning seaweed to create soda ash, an alkali to treat acidic soil, began in the early 1700s, and the pungent smell of the smoke was said to enrage the nuckelavee who retaliated with plague, deadly diseases among livestock, and destruction of crops of all areas involved with the burning of seaweed.
Islanders refused to say this scary monster’s name, in fear of invoking it and running afoul of it.
And now for my interpretation of the fae in an origin of the fae: nuckelavee
The Nuckelavee is a terrifying sight. An equine-human hybrid akin to centaurs, but with the horse head firmly in the centre with toxic fumes coming from its huge open mouth and a single fiery eye staring ahead, skinless, raw red flesh and flexing muscles clearly seen as black blood flows through yellow veins, long arms dragging on the ground, and a huge head looming over it all.
Even when underwater, they keep this appearance, but with fins in the place of hands and hooves. They subsist on a diet of predatory sea creatures (e.g. sharks).
And though some do go around spreading disease and mayhem, since the Industrial Age, most are out to protect natural bodies of water and avenge against polluters. The Nuckelavee has power over the weather, just as folklore indicates. But though some had fun with droughts and floods, after the Industrial Age began, most use it to cleanse the land and waters.
They have power over disease (plagues, blights, common cold, etc.) and can use it to harm and to set the balance (e.g. too many people to be sustained by the local ecosystem will kill the natural order, so the nuckelavee takes out the excess population).
Though solitary in nature and Solitary Fae, they do prefer the Dark Court and will align themselves with the Dark King in times of turmoil.
As a little bonus, let’s look at the translation of nuckelavee into Afrikaans: plaagperd (this is of my own making)
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this episode of the faeries and folklore podcast and that you’ve learned something new about faeries.
Remember that you can get a transcript of this episode in the description. If you’re new to the podcast, why not go and grab your free copy of Unseen, the second book in the Faery Tales series, on my website ronelthemythmaker.com? Loads of folklore, magic and danger await! Take care!
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