all the supernatural beings once believed to roam Orkney, none was as feared as
the creature known as the Nuckelavee.
Nuckelavee was a creature of abject terror, and spoken of with bated breath until
comparatively recent times.
folklore creatures had a dualistic nature, the Nuckelavee was a creature of sheer
evil. His sole purpose was to plague the islanders - a task from which he rarelyt
According to the old Orcadians, who
lived in constant fear of the Nuckelavee, only the power of the Mither
o' the Sea kept the beast in check. Were it not for the fact that she restrained
him in the summer, and that his terror of fresh rainwater kept him hiding in the
winter, they were sure that the Nuckelavee would have driven mankind from the
Northern Isles long ago.
Despite the fact
that his home was considered to be the sea, the Nuckelavee was known to wander
freely on land. It was during these landward excursions that he was most often
encountered by mortals - usually seen riding a steed as monstrous as himself.
surviving accounts vary, with some storytellers merging the two monsters so that
rider and horse become one - a vile hybrid of man and beast that, they swore,
was Nuckelavee's true shape.
From the few
recorded descriptions of the Nuckelavee, we learn that his head was similar to
that of a man only "ten times larger". He had an incredibly wide mouth
that jutted out like a pig's snout and a single red eye that burned with a red
Hairless, his body was also skinless,
its entire surface appearing like raw and living flesh. It was said that his thick,
black blood could be seen coursing through his veins, as his sinewy muscles writhed
with every movement he made. His long ape-like arms hung down to the ground and
from his gaping mouth spewed a foul, black reek.
in all, not a pleasant sight to encounter on some lonely stretch of coastline.
The Nuckelavee was often blamed for
numerous disasters that were known to afflict the hardworking folk of Orkney:
"If crops were blighted by sea-gust or
mildew, if livestock fell over high rocks that skirt the shores, or if an epidemic
raged among men, or among the lower animals, Nuckelavee was the cause of all.
His breath was venom, falling like blight on vegetable, and with deadly disease
on animal life."
Were this catalogue
of misery not enough, the Nuckelavee was also blamed for any droughts that could
seriously ruin a harvest.
From this, we are
left in no doubt that the old Orcadians regarded the Nuckelavee an incredibly
powerful and dangerous creature - perhaps more powerful than the surviving accounts
would indicate. How else could an earthbound entity affect the weather to such
Mortasheen - Nuckelavee's legacy
old practice of burning gathered seaweed
to make kelp was said to cause terrible offence to Nuckelavee.
creature could not stand the smell of the pungent smoke and it drove him into
an extreme and diabolical rage. In this state he would vent his wrath by smitting
all the horses on the island of Stronsay - the island where kelp was first burned
in Orkney - with a deadly disease known as "Mortasheen".
propagated, Mortasheen would soon spread throughout the islands where kelp was
burned. Nuckelavee's revenge was terrible and complete.
Orkney folklorist Walter Traill Dennison, who lived in Sanday in the nineteenth
century, claimed to know of a man who had actually encountered Nuckelavee and
lived to tell the tale.
According to Dennison,
the man was very reticent to talk on the subject and only after much "higgling
and persuasion" was a narrative forthcoming.
read of this encounter click here.