Welcome to the definitive list of Scottish Mythical Monsters, the most intriguing legendary myths and folklore stories revealing Scotland’s mysterious past.
Which Scottish big cat may still roam the countryside?
Where could you capture a Scottish mermaid?
How can you tell if your child has become a changeling?
If you are wondering which mythical creatures live in Scotland then you are in the right place to discover the kelpies, selkies and other famous Scottish folklore creatures that make up the history and legends of this beautiful country.
This list of Scottish mythical creatures comes from my bestselling book Scottish Legends: 55 Mythical Monsters and gives snippets and a peek inside the book, revealing the hidden past and origins of these amazing folktales.
Growing up in Wick, in the Scottish Highlands, I was aware of local legends, like the selkie’s grave in Castletown, from a very young age. As kids, we were surrounded by forests, mountains and the sea, which to our young imaginations contained all manner of beasts. I have even sailed down Loch Ness in search of the most famous Scottish mythical creature of them all!
Scottish mythical monsters have always been a fascinating part of the rich history and folklore of the land. Ancient Scots were curious about the world around them and their fantastical explanations of natural phenomena often involved the creation of mythical creatures with amazing powers.
Nowadays, we might understand that a loud rumble from the sky is thunder and not some ancient angry beast. Yet more recent sightings of these legendary Scottish monsters indicate that not everything can be explained away by modern science. There’s still plenty of myth and magic throughout the land, waiting for brave adventurers or careless trespassers to stumble across their secrets.
From kelpies to selkies, Scottish monster myths can give insights into the local customs and folklore of their time. However, they also mimic the stories brought to the shores from other cultures, in particular, monsters from Norse legends.
Early Scots not only fought against the human warriors of the Viking invaders but also against their cultural legendary tales. Norse beasts battled against Scots legends, fighting to become the dominant fable or folklore tale. Inevitably, a little of the Viking heritage intertwined with Scottish history to produce the monster myths and legends we know today.
In this list of Scottish mythical creatures (and my book), you can meet many mythical creatures from Scottish folklore. Climb mountains to meet giants, hide in the dark from wailing apparitions and voyage beneath the waves to meet monsters that haunt the depths of the sea. Learn which beasts may still run wild through the Scottish countryside and why handsome strangers are rarely what they seem.
Like the tales told in my book Scottish Urban Legends: 50 Myths and True Stories, the real power of these Scottish stories lies in their ability to not only entertain us as monster tales in the present, but also to forge a living link to our past. New generations can enjoy the legends and feel connected to the land and its people.
Gruesome goblins have terrorised farms and castles across Scotland since legends began.
Some of these tricksters would play foul pranks upon lazy servants, while others indulged in deadlier pursuits. From creatures who bestowed kind blessings on weary travellers, to fiends who crept down chimneys at night to steal away small children.
A bauchan is a type of Scottish hobgoblin with conflicting personality traits. At times, the bauchan can be kind and helpful, but at others it’s reputed to have been a roguish and sometimes harmful creature.
A bodach is a hobgoblin-like creature, which gets its name from a Scottish Gaelic term for ‘old man’ and is often associated with being unlucky or evil.
A brownie is similar to a bodach, but said to be more reclusive in nature, preferring to emerge at night to do chores around the home. In return, the owners should leave out a food offering for the brownie by the fireplace, usually a small bowl of milk or cream.
Smaller than a brownie, a dunnie is said to have the same brown-coloured skin and ugly, hobgoblin-like appearance. Unlike its house-dwelling cousins though, dunnies are far more likely to live in the mountainous areas along the Scottish borders.
Maggy Moulach is perhaps the most famous (or infamous) of all the brownie-like mythical creatures from the Scottish Highlands. Being a typical brownie, she was brown-skinned, short (around 2 foot tall) and rather hairy, leading to her unfortunate nickname of Hairy Meg.
A redcap is an evil goblin-like creature who makes its home amidst the ruined castles along the border between Scotland and England.
A wirry-cow is not a specific mythical creature, but instead an omen or symbol of bad luck, or evil, that brought great fear and distress to those who ‘worried’ about them.
Colossal criminals stalk the Scottish mountain paths, striking fear into the hearts of all they meet.
These huge monsters have terrorised travellers for many centuries. Some seek revenge; others yearn for gold, or the simple pleasure of killing. Most were cut down to size, but a few disappeared without a trace.
AM FEAR LIATH MÒR
Am Fear Liath Mòr is the Gaelic name for The Big Grey Man, a terrifying presence said to stalk Ben Macdui, the highest mountain in the Cairngorms National Park.
BERTRAM DE SHOTTS
Bertram de Shotts (sometimes Bartram) is a mythical giant who attacked and robbed people travelling on the road between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The Biasd Bheulach was a shapeshifter who roamed the Odal Pass on the Isle of Skye, from Kylerhea (Caol Reatha) to the Sound of Skye.
The fachan is a giant with a single eye in the middle of its face, similar to the mythical Cyclops from Greek legends. Instead of legs, the fachan is said to have a single leg, which merges with the rest of its body. Instead of arms, it has a single hand protruding from the centre of its chest.
Banshees and bogles haunt the hills and glens of the Scottish countryside. Terrifying shrieks ring out across lonely moors and gunshots pierce the darkness as moss-covered creatures are hunted by angry landowners.
Blood-thirsty vampires stalk the forests at night, luring men to their deaths, while vengeful poltergeists cause chaos in Scottish homes.
The baobhan sith is a female vampire who seduces her victims by appearing as a beautiful woman, only to turn into a violent creature of the night.
The caoineag (pronounced khoo-nyak) is a Highland banshee who would foretell the death of Scottish clan members by crying during the night, normally at a nearby natural feature, such as a loch or waterfall.
A bogle is a broad term for a number of similar creatures, all of whom take great pleasure in setting cunning puzzles, rather than working for (or killing) the humans they meet.
The glaistig is a Scottish ghost who (like both the baobhan sith and the caointeach) often appears as a beautiful woman in a green dress with a grey visage and long yellow hair. However, her attire is simply a disguise for the lower half of her body, which resembles that of a goat.
Silkies are female spirits who wore rustling silk gowns and inhabited the border between Scotland and England. They were quiet, solitary ghosts who made no sound, other than the swishing of their silk dress as they worked.
The Ghillie Dhu is a male fairy with dark hair who lives alone in the birch forests of Gairloch in Wester Ross, a village in the North-West Highlands.
Werewolves and wild beasts roam the Scottish hills and forests. Their terrifying howls keep locals awake at night and the remains of their victims are found when daylight returns.
Some beasts attain such legendary status that they are discussed in the House of Commons, while others are potentially proven to be an accidental hoax.
BEAST OF BUCHAN
The Beast of Buchan is a big cat that has been sighted mainly in the Buchan area of Aberdeenshire since the 1930s. Given the number of sightings over a long period of time, some say that the beast is actually a phantom cat.
The beithir is a huge serpent which appears at night when lightning strikes. The name beithir is a Scottish Gaelic word that various sources attribute with different meanings, including serpent, lightning and thunderbolt.
The black dog motif is recognised as an aspect of folklore that is present in many different forms and origins. The black dog is frequently a demon, ghost or shapeshifter that comes out at night and is possibly the Devil in disguise or one of its minions.
The cat-sìth is a large, spectral black cat with a white spot on its chest that haunts the Scottish Highlands. Some legends say the cat is a fairy-like creature, while others suggest that it’s actually a witch who has the ability to transform into a cat nine times.
The Cù-sith (which means fairy dog) are legendary spectral hounds that roam the rocky hillsides of the Scottish Highlands. Often described as being the size of a small cow, the cù-sith can be recognised by their distinctive shaggy, dark green coats.
The Galloway Puma is believed to be a phantom cat that stalks the forests of Dumfries and Galloway.
The Pictish Beast is one of the most mysterious of legendary creatures. The name refers to an artistic drawing of an unidentified animal that regularly appears on Pictish symbol stones.
The Gigelorum is the smallest and, arguably, the strangest of legendary creatures. It’s said to be so tiny that it is able to inhabit the ear of a mite.
The wulver is a kind, part-human and part-wolf creature that lives on the Shetland Islands. The wulver is said to have been a friendly and generous creature that looked like a person covered in short, brown fur, with the head of a wolf.
“This is the fourth book I have read from the same author. Again another interesting read. I always enjoy reading short stories, tales, legends about Scotland.”Review ★★★★★
Dark fairies and their lighter cousins hold court over these pages. Tales of the flying host of the unforgiven dead are brought into the light.
We will hear about the origins of the mother of witches whose influence still permeates modern traditions and the true-life tales of murders committed by those believing they were killing fairy changelings.
Legends say a changeling is a fairy child that is left behind after the fairies steal away a human child. Fairies would sometimes even leave a very elderly fairy in place of the human child so that they could be cared for in their old age. The changeling initially has the exact physical appearance of the human child it replaced, but over time, as the child ages, there are said to be ways to identify a changeling.
In Scottish folklore, Nicnevin is a Queen of The Fairies. Her name is believed to originate from the Scottish Gaelic surname Neachneohain, which means daughter of the divine (or daughter of Scathach), or NicNaoimhein, meaning daughter of the little saint.
According to popular rhymes and fairytales, the Pech was a short and strong gnome-like race of creatures who were fond of brewing heather ale and battling against the Scots.
Scottish folklore has been influential in classifying types of fairies, giving rise to the popular distinction of the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court. These names are thought to originate from the Scots word seilie (meaning happy, lucky or blessed) and unseely (meaning unhappy, misfortunate or unholy).
According to Scottish Gaelic folklore, the Sluagh or Sluagh na marbh (host of the dead) was the name given to the flying masses of unforgiven dead.
The trow is a race of dark fairies (elves or spirits) who appear in the folklore tales of the Orkney and Shetland Islands. They are described as being short, ugly and shy, but are also very dangerous and mischievous.
Discover which underwater creatures taught children the dangers of the sea, or acted as a warning to young maidens against meeting with handsome strangers.
Water horses run free across the surface of lochs and evil creatures attempt to kidnap humans and drag them down to the dark depths of their lair.
The bean-nighe is a female banshee known as the washerwoman due to her regularly being spotted by isolated streams and pools, washing away blood from the linen and clothing of those near to death. As a banshee, she acts as both a portent of death and, occasionally, a messenger from the Otherworld.
THE BLUE MEN OF MINCH
The Blue Men of Minch are mysterious and elusive creatures with blue skin that live in the water between the Isle of Lewis and mainland Scotland.
The boobrie is a malevolent shapeshifter that lives in the lochs of the west coast of Scotland. The creature normally adopts the form of a huge water bird but is also said to take the shape of other mythical monsters.
The ceasg is a Scottish mermaid who has the upper body of a beautiful woman and the lower body of a young salmon (grilse).
The cirein-cròin is a gigantic sea monster who was capable of eating seven whales at a time, but could also disguise itself as a small, silver fish.
The each-uisge is a Scottish water horse which resembled a kelpie but was a much more malevolent creature. Katharine Briggs describes the each-uisge as one of the most dangerous of all the water horses.
The Finfolk is a race of mysterious shapeshifters who terrorise the shores of the Orkney Islands. Practitioners of dark magic, the Finfolk would regularly swim from their underwater haven of Finfolkaheem (Finfolk’s Home) to the waters around Orkney, in search of human captives.
The fuathan is a category of (mainly) water spirits who haunt the Scottish Highlands. Folklorist Donald Mackenzie classifies the Fuath as malevolent creatures who chiefly inhabit Scotland’s seas, rivers and lochs.
The kelpie is a shape-shifting water spirit that, given the sheer number of legends, appears to live in just about every body of water in the whole of Scotland (and beyond). The kelpie is arguably the second most widely-known mythical monster in Scotland, just behind the Loch Ness Monster. So revered are these mythical water horses that located between Falkirk and Grangemouth you will find gigantic 30-metre (100ft) tall horse-head sculptures dedicated to The Kelpies.
The lavellan is a type of water rodent that lives in deep pools and rivers. The Scottish Gaelic name làbh-allan is used for water shrew and water vole, as well as being applied to the mythical creature.
THE LOCH NESS MONSTER
The Loch Ness Monster is one of the most famous mythical monsters in the world and, even to this day, remains one of Scotland’s most enduring mysteries. Nessie, as the legendary creature is commonly known, is reported to reside in Loch Ness, which is 23 miles (37 kilometres) southwest of Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands.
Morag is a terrifying monster that reportedly haunts Loch Morar, in Lochaber. In Alien Animals, Janet and Colin Bord describe accounts of the creature, which is said to closely resemble the Loch Ness Monster.
The Muc-sheilch is another loch monster that is thought to be a distant cousin of the Loch Ness Monster, but with its own distinctive look. The Muc-sheilch lived in Loch Maree, in Wester Ross, but was said to travel to other nearby lochs.
The nuckelavee is a grotesque half-horse demon that inhabits the water around the Orkney Islands. It’s known to be one of the most evil of all the water-dwelling creatures, with folklorist Katharine Briggs calling it ‘the nastiest’ demon in the north of Scotland.
In my collection of Scottish short stories, Mysteries and Misadventures: Tales from the Highlands, I wrote a story containing a nuckelavee.
In the tale, entitled Call of the Nuckelavee, a lone woman walks the sandy dunes of an Orkney beach, following the voice of her drowned father. With her mind full of questions, she spies a dog ahead that appears to be beckoning her to follow. She realises it’s her father’s dog, missing since the day of his death. Launching herself into the sea after the dog, she comes face to face with the legendary creature that has haunted her nightmares. And she must decide quickly how far she is willing to go to get answers…
A nuggle is another of the legendary water horses from Scottish folklore. The creature generally walks the shores and frequents the lochs, streams and rivers of the Shetland Islands. Nuggles are always male and only emerge at night to play pranks on the island’s residents and those travelling through its territory.
The Oilliphéist is actually an Irish legend but is included in this collection because stories of this creature were believed to have inspired the origins of the Loch Ness Monster. The Oilliphéist name comes from the Irish oll (meaning great) and péist (meaning worm, fabulous beast, monster or reptile). This provides a great description of the mythical monster, which is said to be a huge sea-serpent that inhabits the rivers and lakes of Ireland.
The Sea Mither is a powerful Orcadian summer spirit that fights an eternal struggle for control of the seas against her arch-nemesis, Teran, an equally powerful winter spirit.
Selkies are one of the most popular creatures from Celtic and Norse legends, with their myths and folktales particularly prevalent in the north of Scotland. Selkies are capable of therianthropy, which is the ability to shape-shift into the form of an animal, in this case a seal, by shedding their skin.
Scottish writer Martin Martin states that Seonaidh is a water spirit who inhabits the Isle of Lewis, the largest island in the Outer Hebrides, who residents would try to appease the with a cup of ale.
The shellycoat is a mythical bogeyman who lives in the rivers and streams of Scotland and the north of England. The creature gets its name from the coat of shells it is said to wear. You can tell when a shellycoat is near because you can hear its coat rattling when it walks.
The Stoor Worm is an enormous sea serpent from the Orkney Islands, with putrid breath that would contaminate crops, kill animals and harm humans. The legend of the Stoor Worm (also known as Mester Stoor Worm) is believed to have originated from Norse Mythology, where Jörmungandr (meaning ‘huge monster’) is the Midgard (World) Serpent.
A tangie is another shape-shifting water spirit from the Orkney and Shetland Islands, which regularly takes the form of either a horse or a man.
The water bull is a mythical monster similar to the legendary Scottish water horses, but which prefers the form of a bull. The shape-shifting beast is said to haunt many moorland lochs and occasionally takes human form.
Grab a copy of the book and hear for yourself the stories of brave adventurers who have come face to face with these fearsome Scottish mythical creatures… and lived to tell their tale.
Let these timeless tales remind us of simpler times when the tides were the breath of a great sea dragon and thunder was the angry roar of a living god. Mythical beasts that still live on in our hearts and minds, with every re-telling of their legendary deeds.
Stay creative and curious,
p.s. If you can think of any amazing Scottish mythical creatures or mythical monsters that aren’t on this list, then drop their name and history in the comments!
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Aaron Mullins (@DrAaronMullins) is an award winning, internationally published psychologist and bestselling author. Aaron has over 15 years experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors. He owns Paperjoy Press, a publisher specialising in books that support mental health. He previously owned Birdtree Books Publishing where he worked as Editor-in-Chief, partnered with World Reader Charity and taught Academic Writing at Coventry University. Aaron’s book How to Write Fiction: A Creative Writing Guide for Authors has become a staple reference book for writers interested in a publishing career.