Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Water Horse

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From The Fear of a Farmer (copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

Let us turn now to Celtic mythology (more specifically, Scottish legend) for another mythological creature: the Water Horse. Sometimes considered synonymous with a Kelpie,  sometmes considered distinct from it, this entity appears to be part creature and part aquatic spirit.

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The Kelpie (1895) by Thomas Millie Dow.

It is a changeling (shape shifter) that appears in various versions as a woman, a man, a horse, or combinations of these. Whichever version you run across, it is usually a very deceptive and dangerous thing to encounter. In at least one Scottish legend, it lures people into mounting it for a ride, whereupon they become fastened to its back and unable to get off. It then plunges into the water and drowns them. In other accounts, it kills by devouring or crushing its victims. Regardless of the method used, it sometimes does this when it is in human form. This last possibility renders the following painting by Herbert James Draper particularly chilling.

The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper

The artistic portrayals I have seen are in three main categories. It can be human (usually female) as seen above. Secondly, it may simply be shown as a horse or a horse in the water. The following picture apparently combines the first two approaches.

The Water Horses of Loch Ness (2011) by R. Watson.

Finally, it is sometimes depicted as a hybrid between a horse and a fish or eel of some kind. This is more typical of modern fantasy art. The rather gruesome example below is oddly accentuated by the presence of the heron.

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I like the bold, clean lines of this next one. The style is more graphic.

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I also like the following blend of Celtic and Greek mythology.

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Horses of Neptune by Walter Crane.

In the picture with which I began this post, I chose the hybrid approach. If you look closely, you can see that I adapted it from Ming Dynasty sculptures of horses. I substituted simple fins for the hair of the mane, chin, and tail. I also extended and pointed the ears. I will end with a profile of the head which I drew to enhance the visual character of this creature for my story.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

But wait! There will be another mythical creature next week…



11 thoughts on “Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Water Horse”

    1. I just found out about this movie yesterday from a colleague (a psychologist) at the women’s college where I teach. The trailer looks controversial, which doesn’t surprise me since the subject matter is, too. Since I’ve posted so much on this topic, I’ll try to see the movie when it comes out. I have a feeling it’s going to make me uncomfortable, so I’ll have to wait until I’ve seen it to decide on whether to review it. I don’t shy away from discomfort as long as something worthwhile and socially responsible can come out of doing such a review. Thanks so much for the link.


  1. That’s because Tolkien was deep into Beowulf, Monsieur (forgive me if I mistook you as a man, your writing style suggests so, it’s devoid of unnecessary emotions). And I am deep into Lord of the Rings, so deep that I listen to the audiobook almost everyday, and marvel at the beauty of Tolkien’s choice of words to describe a scene. Have you read this extraordinary book?


    1. Yes, twice. The first time was while I was in grad school at Indiana University. My wife and I were both reading it, so one of us had to check it out from the school library while the other had to go to the Monroe County Library. On more than one night, I fell asleep with that book on my chest.


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