The Nuckelavee #folklore

I’m enjoying looking at various water fae and finding a lot of monsters lurking in the water…


Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales, by George Douglas, [1901]


NUCKELAVEE, was a monster of unmixed malignity, never willingly resting from doing evil to mankind. He was a spirit in flesh. His home was the sea; and whatever his means of transit were in that element, when he moved on land he rode a horse as terrible in aspect as himself. Some thought that rider and horse were really one, and that this was the shape of the monster. Nuckelavee’s head was like a man’s, only ten times larger, and his mouth projected like that of a pig, and was enormously wide. There was not a hair on the monster’s body, for the very good reason that he had no skin.

If crops were blighted by sea-gust or mildew, if live stock fell over high rocks that skirt the shores, or if an epidemic raged among men, or among the lower animals, Nuckelayee was the cause of all. His breath was venom, falling like blight on vegetable, and with deadly disease on animal life. He was also blamed for long-continued droughts; for some unknown reason he had serious objections to fresh water, and was never known to visit the land during rain.

I knew an old man who was credited with having once encountered Nuckelavee, and with having made a narrow escape from the monster’s clutches. This man was very reticent on the subject. However, after much higgling and persuasion, the following narrative was extracted:–

Tammas, like his namesake Tam o’ Shanter, was out late one night. It was, though moonless, a fine starlit night. Tammas’s road lay close by the seashore, and as he entered a part of the road that was hemmed in on one side by the sea, and on the other by a deep fresh-water loch, he saw some huge object in front of, and moving towards him. What was he to do? He was sure it was no earthly thing that was steadily coming towards him. He could not go to either side, and to turn his back to an evil thing he had heard was the most dangerous position of all; so Tammie said to himself, “The Lord be aboot me, any tak’ care o’ me, as I am oot on no evil intent this night!” Tammie was always regarded as rough and foolhardy. Anyway, he determined, as the best of two evils, to face the foe, and so walked resolutely yet slowly forward. He soon discovered to his horror that the gruesome creature approaching him was no other than the dreaded Nuckelavee. The lower part of this terrible monster, as seen by Tammie, was like a great horse with flappers like fins about his legs, with a mouth as wide as a whale’s, from whence came breath like steam from a brewing-kettle. He had but one eye, and that as red as fire. On him sat, or rather seemed to grow from his back, a huge man with no legs, and arms that reached nearly to the ground. His head was as big as a clue of simmons (a clue of straw ropes, generally about three feet in diameter), and this huge head kept rolling from one shoulder to the other as if it meant to tumble off. But what to Tammie appeared most horrible of all, was that the monster was skinless; this utter want of skin adding much to the terrific appearance of the creature’s naked body,–the whole surface of it showing only red raw flesh, in which Tammie saw blood, black as tar, running through yellow veins, and great white sinews, thick as horse tethers, twisting, stretching, and contracting as the monster moved. Tammie went slowly on in mortal terror, his hair on end, a cold sensation like a film of ice between his scalp and his skull, and a cold sweat bursting from every pore. But he knew it was useless to flee, and he said, if he had to die, he would rather see who killed him than die with his back to the foe. In all his terror Tammie remembered what he had heard of Nuckelavee’s dislike to fresh water, and, therefore, took that side of the road nearest to the loch. The awful moment came when the lower part of the head of the monster got abreast of Tammie. The mouth of the monster yawned like a bottomless pit. Tammie found its hot breath like fire on his face: the long arms were stretched out to seize the unhappy man. To avoid, if possible, the monster’s clutch, Tammie swerved as near as he could to the loch; in doing so one of his feet went into the loch, splashing up some water on the foreleg of the monster, whereat the horse gave a snort like thunder and shied over to the other side of the road, and Tammie felt the wind of Nuckelavee’s clutches as he narrowly escaped the monster’s grip. Tammie saw his opportunity, and ran with all his might; and sore need had he to run, for Nuckelavee had turned and was galloping after him, and bellowing with a sound like the roaring of the sea. In front of Tammie lay a rivulet, through which the surplus water of the loch found its way to the sea, and Tammie knew, if he could only cross the running water, he was safe; so he strained every nerve. As he reached the near bank another clutch was made at him by the long arms. Tammie made a desperate spring and reached the other side, leaving his bonnet in the monster’s clutches. Nuckelavee gave a wild unearthly yell of disappointed rage as Tammie fell senseless on the safe side of the water.

Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper

The Nuckelavee

An ugly, skinless sea monster in the folklore of the Orkney Islands, depicted as half-horse, half-man, the rider being fused to the horse, whose sinews and veins are clearly visible. A harbinger of death and disease, the nuckelavee is a much-feared being. Despite living in the sea, he is averse to fresh water and the only way to escape him is to cross a stream. He is blamed for many of the disasters that occur on the islands, from failed crops to famines.

*Read more in the book.

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane

Nuckelavee (knoggelvi, mukkelvi, nuckalavee, nuchlavis)

In Scotland, on the Orkney Islands, there was a vampiric fay known as Nuckelavee. Described as looking like a skinless centaur, it had a piglike nose that snorts steam, an overly wide mouth, and one bloodshot eye in the middle of its forehead, which was about three feet wide. Its body was covered in thick yellow veins pumping its black blood; its overly long arms almost reached the ground as it walked.

Nuckelavee was the bane to all animals, humans, and plants; it even caused its own particular disease, mortasheen. Should it breathe upon a person, they would begin to wither up and die. Nuckelavee caused droughts, epidemics, and had been known to drive herds of animals off cliffs and into the sea, where it was said to live. In fact, any area of unexplained ruin or destruction was said to be its handiwork.

Nuckelavee was repelled by the smell of burning seaweed; oftentimes it was gathered and burnt as a precaution. Like all fay, it was repelled by iron, but Nuckelavee was also deterred by fresh water and falling rain, and it could not cross running water.

*Read more in the book.

A Wizard’s Bestiary by Oberon Zell Ravenheart and Ash “LeopardDancer” DeKirk


An Irish parody of the Centuar, it has a rotten stench, and its breath can wilt crops and sicken lifestock. It is an ugly amphibious sea-monster with a large, hideous head, a great, gaping mouth, and a single, burning red eye. It has froglike webbed feet rather than hooves. Its hairless skin is thin, moist, and transparent, giving it a flayed appearance. Black blood courses through yellow veins, and the pale sinews and powerful muscles are visible as a pulsating mass. These vicious creatures despoil their surroundings and kill for pleasure. But a human who is pursued by a Nuckalavee can escape by crossing fresh water, which the beast cannot abide.

*Read more in the book.

The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures by John and Caitlin Matthews


The Nuckalevee is a sea monster of Irish legend. It lives around the coastal areas and is predatory. It has the appearance of a centaur but has no skin. Its ghastly appearance makes people shudder, which is to say nothing of its poisonous, stinking breath with which it overpowers its victims. The only way to escape the Nuckalevee is to cross fresh water, which it cannot abide.

*Read more in the book.

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan


Scottish folkloric figure. On Orkney, the islands northeast of Scotland, people occasionally reported being set upon by this monstrous centaur, whose one-eyed human head was mounted on a red-fleshed horse’s body that had flippers instead of legs. It lived in the sea and from there leapt out to kill humans or cattle as its whim took it. The only escape was to dash across fresh water, which this sea-being could not tolerate.

*Read more in the book.

Further Reading:

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.

Nuckelavee in Modern Culture

They are in the Grimm TV series.

Nuckelavee (noo-keh-LAA-vee; Sc.Gael. Nuckelavee) is a horse-like Wesen that first appeared in “Quill“.

Their appearance resembles that of a skinless horse’s head with black blood pulsing through transparent veins, their muscles and sinews also being visible. When woged, they have a long mane of hair, horse-like teeth, grayed skin, and hooves. Of the species, the female has the more severe woge, as males have a shorter nose and keep their hair, while females lose their hair, have their heads change shape more severely, and gain more horse-like muscle.

Nuckelavees are a physically strong species and able to hold their own against a Grimm. Nuckelavees are also a quick and stealthy species. When attacking in their Wesen forms, Nuckelavees use their hoof-like hands (all the fingers with the exception of the thumbs) as blunt weapons, which combined with their impressive strength, are at least capable of leaving large dents in the outer hull of car trailers.

Learn more about the Nuckelavee on the Grimm Fandom Wiki.

They are in Pathfinder, a RPG.

Image credit.

Nuckelavees, nicknamed the devils of the sea, are fey creatures that are the living embodiment of nature’s rage against all who have despoiled her pristine beauty.[1]

At its most basic, a nuckelavee appears as a horse with a humanoid torso sprouting from its back and fins or webbed hooves for feet. These monstrosities lack skin, thus baring to the air yellow veins pulsing with black blood, slimy white sinew, and twitching, alien organs. Some nuckelavees have more peculiar features, such as oversized heads that loll limply on their necks, arms so long their oversized claws drag on the ground, or strings of tendons and veins that stretch from their equine head to their torso like grotesque reins. The more severe the pollution that gives rise to a nuckelavee, the more horrific its visage is.[2][3]

Like many fey, nuckelavees have a connection to the natural world. However, much like how their grotesque forms stand in stark contrast to the elegant beauty of many other fey, they play a much different role: they are not protectors of the natural world but its avengers. When natural waterways are polluted, a nuckelavee charges forth in a campaign of murder and destruction to cut a swath across the land.[3]

All about the Nuckelavee in this game can be read here.

Short and Shivery: Book 1 features the story “Nuckelavee” (identified as a folktale from the Orkney Islands, off the northeastern coast of Scotland), the title character of which is a particularly monstrous fae that is described as some sort of hulking, skinless monstrosity resembling a man conjoined with a horse. It has one major weakness: it Cannot Cross Running Water (specifically fresh water), to the point where it gets repelled when it’s splashed by water from a freshwater lake and refuses to come out when it’s raining. Aside from describing the creature, the story tells of a man named Thomas who narrowly escapes from the creature one night by taking advantage of these weaknesses, running into the shallows of a lake to get out of its range and then crossing a nearby freshwater stream to escape it for good.

According to TV Tropes

Nuckelavee in My Writing

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.

Nuckelavee translated to Afrikaans: Plaagperd.

Where did you hear about the nuckelavee for the first time? What do you think of this fae? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the nuckelavee.

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