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1823 (pub): The Kelpie of Loch Ness

In 1823, William Grant Stewart published a collection of Scottish legends and superstitions that he had gathered from talking to friends in that country... and his book happens to hold the only known tale of the well-known Scottish water monster called an 'Ech Uisque' [Water-Horse], 'Kelpie,' or 'Kelpy' said to have inhabited the now-infamous Loch Ness. Stewart collected the story from a man named Wellox. Mr. Wellox claimed that this tale had happened to one of his own ancestors, and that his family still had proof of the matter in hand.

        In the time of Mr. Willox's ancestor James Macgrigor, the area of Loch Ness was being terrorized by the predations of a water-horse that would wander the roads near the Loch in the guise of a riding horse, fully equipped. When a foolish person chose to mount this animal, the kelpie would fly into the air and sink into either Loch Nadorb, Loch Spynie, or Loch Ness, to eat the victim at the monster's leisure. Macgrigor, having heard of many of the attacks of this particular kelpie, came to desire a chance to meet the monster and end its predations. As it worked out, he got that chance.

        One day as Macgrigor was traveling through the Slochd Muichd, a solitary pass on the road between Strathspey and Inverness, the Scotsman ran across a riding horse, fully decked out, quietly eating grass on the roadside. Macgrigor knew instantly that this must be the very beast he had heard so much about; and so he approached the horse as if to mount it... then drew his sword and struck the creature across the nose, almost dropping the animal right there and then. The stroke had cut through the creature's bridal, and one of the bits from it fell at Macgrigor's feet. The Scotsman, out of curiosity, picked up the bit as the kelpie gathered its wits, and he placed the bit in his pocket as he prepared to renew his battle with the monster.

        But the creature did not attack back. Instead, it chastised the Scotsman and his behavior, pointing out that Macgrigor had no right or reason in attacking the kelpie as the kelpie had not attacked him. It stated that the Scotsman's actions were both cruel and illegal, and that it would be justified in returning the attack two-fold; but the beast disliked such quarrels and therefore was willing to overlook the whole matter if Macgrigor peacefully returned the bit to it. Macgrigor replied with a very frank opinion of both the nature of the monster and of its occupation. Strangely, the kelpie took the abuse and then stated that it had no choice in its occupation as it was the only way a kelpie could make an 'honest living'; and then it requested the bit from the bridle back again. It was now obvious that the kelpie's non-violent behavior was based around one simple objective... it wanted the bridle bit back, very badly.

        Macgrigor decided to see if he could find out why. The Scotsman told the kelpie that he would be inclined to return the bit to the beast, if the beast could satisfy his curiousity by giving him some account of the bit's use and qualities. Eagerly the kelpy explained that the bit in the bridle was essentially a present from the Devil himself, and that the small object held all the miraculous qualities that allowed the kelpie to change shape, overpower foes, and to fool people in the way that its detestable occupation required. As a further fact, the kelpie would not survive twenty-four hours without the bit in its power, but it was avoiding conflict with Macgrigor for he could now utilize the very powers himself in a battle with the kelpie. In addition to all of that, looking through the hole in the bit would also allow a user 'second sight'... the ability to see invisible beings and spirits in the world around.

        Macgrigor had heard enough: he wasn't going to return such a powerful object to such a monster. Naturally, the kelpie objected; but Macgrigor simply turned and started to walk home. All the long way the kelpie followed the Scotsman, telling him tales of the horrors it had unleashed on other humans that had dared such an affront against it, all quickly followed by insincere promises that it would in no way show such a disrespect to Macgrigor if he chose to return the bit to it instantly. Occasionally the kelpie forgot the Scotsman's advantage... but a quick florish of Macgrigor's sword and the kelpie immediately quieted down and began anew its attempts to convince the Scotsman to surrender the bit civilly.

        When they came in sight of Macgrigor's house, the kelpie's state of mind became desperate; it's need for that bridle bit in order to survive led it to run ahead of the Scotsman and to firmly position itself in front of the door to his house. The kelpie announced very simply that Macgrigor would never pass through his door while in possession of the bit, and the creature then prepared itself for the battle to come.

        The kelpie, however, was too focused on its stative goal and stayed right in place blocking the door as Macgrigor walked to the back of his house. At a back window Macgrigor called his wife over to him, and then he tossed the magical bit of the kelpie's bridle through the window to her. Having done this, the Scotsman walked back to the front of the house where the desperate monster awaited his attempt to get past it, and announced that the bit was now, in fact, within the structure.

        The kelpie could not enter the house; a rowan wood cross was above the door, a sure block to all devilish creatures. Finding itself with no hope of changing its fate the broken beast walked away, spewing its most horrid opinions of the Scotsman James Macgrigor... and, as stated already, Macgrigor's family retained ownership of the kelpie's bit at least until the time this tale was told to William Grant Stewart and then included in his book of Scottish folklore in 1823.

The Loch Ness Monster and the Magical Bit

        Many modern believers in the possibility of a large unknown animal living in Loch Ness, a.k.a "The Loch Ness Monster" or, more familiarly, "Nessie," have claimed that stories of water-horses and kelpies told about the Loch are just older, misinterpreted, sightings of the creature now reported.

        So let me be very clear: the story above is the only existing tale of a kelpie related to Loch Ness... and most of the believers have never heard it. While the vague claim of many tales is asserted, no one ever presents them; and I think it's rather clear that the tale above is not a misinterpreted sighting of a large animal in or near the lake: it's very obviously a distinct tale about a distinct monster, called a kelpie, with no resemblance to any creature currently believed to occupy the Scottish lake.

        What's perhaps a little more intriguing in the case of this story are the claims about the kelpie's bridle that had been said to be retained by Macgrigor's family. In Stewart's first telling of the tale in 1823, his source for the story was only identified as a "Mr. Wellox;" but in another study of the beliefs and practices of the residents of Scotland that Stewart released in 1860, he tells a great deal more about the person who claimed his ancestor had bested the kelpie of Loch Ness.

        'Mr. Wellox' is, in fact, Gregor Wellox MacGregor, "Arch-Warlock of the North," who had a family home in Gaulrigg, Moray County, Scotland, at the time of Stewart's writing. MacGregor's family had a history as serving as warlocks for great families of Scotland, for whom they were said to use magic to help in battles and such. Given this, it should not be a large surprise that Wellox claimed his family possessed not just a magical bridle bit from a kelpie, but also a mermaid's stone... which means I'll be reviewing this tale when it comes time to write about mermaids!

        Stewart tells us in no uncertain terms that he himself handled the legendary kelpie's bridle shown to him by Wellox, as well as the very sword (according to Wellox) that James Macgrigor used in his assault upon the kelpie. What is less certain, however, are the mavelous qualities that Wellox attributed to the object, as Stewart was unable to test these out himself. When Stewart retold the tale of James Macgrigor in 1860 (now renamed to "MacGregor" in the telling), Wellox had been dead for several years, and the mermaid's stone and the kelpie's bridle had theoretically been passed on to his children, a son and a daughter... but it was believed that their magic had largely passed with Wellox.

One More Legend...

       In 1881, the Reverend Walter Gregor (possibly related to 'MacGregor'?), sent a letter to the Folk-Lore Society which was then published in their journal on Scottish folklore. He wished to pass on a legend regarding some magical objects that he knew of popularly called the "Willox Ball and Bridle."

       According to the Reverend, the 'Ball' was half of a glass globe which had been retrieved from the center of a rock by a fairy and given to the family currently in possession "generations ago". The 'Bridle' was actually more of a hook shaped object (possibly a ring that had broken?) that was "said to have been cut from a kelpie's bridle." Couple this detail with the "Willox" name and the further statement that the kelpie took its victims to Loch Ness, and it's undoubtably another account of Gregor Wellox MacGregor's magical kelpie bridle. So it seems that his descendants continued to tell the tale of the kelpie's bridle... but that the 'mermaid's stone' had been traded off for a 'fairy's ball!'