Tag Archives: kelpie

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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By Saltygottschalk.com.

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

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From camstockphoto.com.

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…


Mythology on Canvas (Part 16)

The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper
The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper

This painting really grabbed me. The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper might be my favorite from this artist. It is far more than a depiction of a nude woman on a rock in a stream. That in itself makes for an interesting composition, but it is only upon realizing what a kelpie is that the viewer feels the full impact. This particular work abounds with subtlety and implication.

Kelpies were said to be shape-shifting creatures which sometimes appeared as women and which drowned unsuspecting men who were drawn too close to the water. Now the power of this painting becomes evident when we realize that this gracefully proportioned woman in languid repose is extremely dangerous. Her relaxed, pensive posture is in contrast to the motion of the rapids and the damage of which she is capable. The realism of the rocks, water, and trees provide vividness to the scene.


Finally, there is the expression on the woman’s face (shown also in the above study sketch for the final painting). She looks calm, enigmatic, and threatening. The angles of her eyebrows, the slant of her glance, and the set of her mouth betray a grim determination. One can almost see the treacherous thoughts forming behind her forehead.

This series will conclude next week before we go on to other topics.