Beast of the Charred Forests

Variations: The Beast, Dhu Guisch (“Of the Black Firs”)

Tradition holds that the dense, impenetrable forests of Scotland once covered most of the Highlands and Outer Hebrides, but fell to the Norsemen. The Scandinavians burned down the forests to dominate the trade in timber, and to prevent potential ambushes from forested areas.

In Sutherland the destruction of the forests is attributed to a dragon, the Beast of the Charred Forests. This terrifying, powerful monster was born from a fire that burned for seven years and lived in fire. It once stalked over northern Scotland, breathing fire and incinerating trees. There was no escaping its wrath, and people would abandon their villages to the dragon whenever they heard it was near. Only a man who saw it before it saw him could slay it.

But the Beast itself met its match in Saint Gilbert. When it came upon St. Gilbert’s Church in Dornoch, it roared “Pity on you, Dornoch!” Saint Gilbert, who had previously dug a hole and hid in it to see the dragon before it appeared, emerged from his church armed with a bow and arrows, and repeated the Beast’s boastful statement to its face. “Pity on you, Dornoch!” The beast prepared to breathe fire on Dornoch, but the Saint’s first arrow pierced and killed it immediately. It was buried on the moor between Dornoch and Skibo, and a stone – the Beast’s Stone – was placed over it.

The presence of charred pine stumps in the peat moss of Ross, Sutherland, and the Reay is evidence of the Beast’s ravages.

References

Dempster, M. (1888) The Folk-lore of Sutherlandshire. Folk-Lore Journal v. VI p. 3, pp. 149-189.

MacGregor, A. A. (1937) The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands. The Moray Press, Edinburgh.

Loch Oich Monster

Somewhat less famous than its neighbor in Loch Ness, the Loch Oich Monster is known from the Great Glen of Scotland and Inverness-shire.

It was notably spotted on August 13, 1936 by Alderman Richards and his companions while out boating on Loch Oich near Laggan. They described the monster as a strange creature with two humps, like a snake’s coils, each three feet in height, three feet long, and three feet apart. The head was shaggy and like that of a dog. The entire body was black in color.

References

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

MacGregor, A. A. (1937) The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands. The Moray Press, Edinburgh.

Beast of Barrisdale

Variations: Wild Beast of Barrisdale, Loch Hourn Monster

The Beast of Barrisdale lives near Loch Hourn in Scotland. Unlike other lake monsters, it has three legs, two in front and one in back, which leave distinctive tracks in Barrisdale Bay. It also has huge wings which allow it to fly. It makes its lair in the Knoydart Hills, near the dark cliffs of Ladhar Bheinn.

At the end of the 19th century, a crofter from Barrisdale said he frequently saw it soaring high over the Knoydart hills. Once it chased him with malicious intent, but he made it home safely – slamming the door in its face, no less, as he used to relate. An old man by the name of Ranald MacMaster also claimed to have found the tracks of the monster in the hills and along the sandy beaches around Barrisdale Bay. The monster’s frightful roar is said to be heard by night.

References

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

MacGregor, A. A. (1937) The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands. The Moray Press, Edinburgh.

Mitchell, W. R. (1990) It’s a Long Way to Muckle Flugga: Journeys in Northern Scotland. Souvenir Press, London.

Cu Sith

Variations: Fairy Dog

Cu Sith

The Cu Sith (pronounced coo-shee), “fairy dog”, is a great beast associated with the fairies of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Fairy dogs are almost always malevolent and implacable with no love for humans. There are some stories of fairy dogs treating humans with kindness, but these are best regarded with suspicion.

A fairy dog is hideous in appearance. It appears as an enormous dog the size of a two-year-old stirk, with paw-prints as broad as a man’s outspread hand. The fur is dark green, lightening downwards to the paws. The ears are a deeper green in color. The tail may be flat and plaited, or long and coiled over the dog’s back.

During the day the fairies keep their dogs tied up to keep watch, and even untethered fairy dogs will hide in caves by day. Night-time is when they roam free and are at their most dangerous. They run in straight lines, silently; sometimes they make a sound like a galloping horse. They are deadly to humans and beasts, although at least one tale has them driven off by ordinary, mortal dogs.

Most dreaded of all is the cu sith’s bark. A fairy dog will bark three times, with an interval between each bark. The first and second barks are warnings; after the third bark the dogs appear and tear their victims to pieces. On the island of Tiree, those who hear the first baying of a cu sith know to immediately go indoors to safety.

Finding a cu sith tooth, on the other hand, is a sign of very good luck. The tooth itself can be placed in drinking water to cure the illnesses of cows, or in milk to cleanse it of a witch’s influence. The teeth tend to be found in odd places and are abandoned after the animal feeds. MacGregor tells of a farmer in Lewis whose potatoes were being stolen on a nightly basis. Yet stakeouts accomplished nothing – he could never catch the thief in the act. Then one day he found a fairy dog’s tooth sticking out of one of the potatoes. The tooth was passed down in the family for generations.

Cu sith can be avoided. A man traveling near Kennavara Hill, Tiree, saw a large dog (Campbell describes it as black in color) resting on a sand-dune. He gave it a wide berth and made for home. The next day he revisited the dune and found prints as large as his spread palm. These prints made a trackway leading to and disappearing on the plain. The dog had ignored him.

A shepherd from Lorn, Argyll, came upon two cu sith puppies curled up in their lair behind some rocks. They had green backs and sides and – most worryingly – were larger than his own hulking sheepdogs. The shepherd and his dogs wisely left before the parents showed up.

References

Briggs, K. M. (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books, New York.

Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

MacGregor, A. A. (1937) The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands. The Moray Press, Edinburgh.

Wulver

Wulver

The Wulver lives alone in a cave halfway up a steep knowe on the Isle of Unst in Shetland. He stands upright like a man, but has a wolf’s head and a body covered in short brown hair.

A peaceful loner, the Wulver never harms people as long as he isn’t harmed. He likes to fish, and for hours will sit upon a rock, the “Wulver’s Stane”, and catch yearling coalfish. Frequently he will leave a gift of a few fish on the windowsill of the poor and old of Shetland.

References

Angus, J. S. (1914) A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect. Alexander Gardner, Paisley.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Saxby, J. M. E. (1932) Shetland Traditional Lore. Grant and Murray Limited, Edinburgh.

Bregdi

Bregdi

A malicious sea monster from Shetland waters, the Bregdi is feared for its habit of chasing boats. Once it has caught up with a boat, it wraps its long fins around it, putting them up over the gunwales, and dives with the boat in its deadly embrace.

Fortunately a bregdi’s attentions can be deterred in two ways. Like many other supernatural creatures, the bregdi hates the touch of cold steel. A simple skuni (knife) is more than enough to combat it. Slashing the fins as soon as they appear over the gunwales will make it let go and flee. It is also terrified of amber beads, and a single amber bead thrown at a bregdi is enough to scare it off.

References

Angus, J. S. (1914) A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect. Alexander Gardner, Paisley.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Beisht Kione Dhoo

Variations: [Yn] Beisht [y] Kione Dhoo ([The] Beast of [the] Black Head); [Yn] Beisht Kione ([The] Beast of Head) (erroneously)

Beisht Kione Dhoo

Fishermen on the Isle of Man have traditionally observed a number of customs. Whistling on board “bothers the wind” and is discouraged. Sticking a knife in the mast on the appropriate side causes the wind to blow from that direction. Losing items on board is bad luck; borrowing items from “lucky” boats brings good luck. Four-footed land animals should not be mentioned by name, but instead by a circuitous sea-name – rats, for instance, are “long-tailed fellows”. Cold iron is a remedy to most acts of bad luck.

Then there is a number of sea creatures that can wreak havoc on fishing vessels. Of the the Beisht Kione Dhoo, the Beast of Black Head, is the most terrifying. It makes its home in the sea-caves on Black Head, near Spanish Head at the southern tip of the Isle of Man. The few who have seen it say it has a head like that of a large horse, and it can be heard roaring by fishermen off Spanish Head. Some say it is the soul of a man killed by pirates in order to protect their treasure hidden in the headland’s caves. Nobody has attempted to claim that treasure.

To placate the Beisht and bring on good luck, rum is left in the cave at Spanish Head. Fishermen heading out to sea would throw a glassful of rum overboard in hopes that the Beisht will grant them a bountiful catch.

References

Broderick, G. (1984) A Handbook of Late Spoken Manx: Grammar and Texts. Max Niemeyer, Tübingen.

Killip, M. (1976) The Folklore of the Isle of Man. Rowman and Littlefield, New Jersey.

Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

Onchú

Variations: Enfield; Alphyn; Water-dog, Sea-dog

Onchu

The Onchú, “Water-dog”, is a peculiar Irish creature with a long history of phonetic transformation. It is better known as the Enfield or Alphyn.

Of the three variants it is the enfield that has the most defined morphotype. It has the head of a fox, the chest of a greyhound, the talons of an eagle, the body of a lion, and the hindlegs and tail of a wolf. A more simple description gives it the head of a fox, the breast and forelegs of an eagle, and the hindquarters of a wolf, combining the cunning of the first, the honor of the second, and the ferocity of the third. There may be a mane and a lion’s tail. Enfields are rarely used in heraldry, most notably appearing in green as the crest of the O’Kelly family of Ireland. This is traditionally attributed to an incident when Tadhg Mór Ua Ceallaigh, the ancestor of the O’Kellys of Hy-Many, fell in battle against the Danes at Clontarf. An enfield or dog-like creature emerged from the sea and protected Tadhg Mor’s body until it was recovered.

As for the alphyn, it vaguely resembles a tiger, sometimes with the same clawed forelimbs as the enfield. It shares its name with the term alphyn or alfin for the chess bishop, itself derived from al-fil, “the elephant”, but this is coincidental. Elephants were well-known in bestiaries long before the decidedly unproboscidean alphyn, which appears at the end of the fifteenth century.

The word onchú is more ancient than enfield or alphyn, and is probably derived from , “hound”, and on, “water” (as in onfais, “plunging”, and onfaisech, “diver”). It is synonymous with doburchú, the otter (literally “water dog”). Therefore the onchú can be inferred to be a dog or dog-like animal that lives at least partly in water. Onchú also is used to mean “banner”, or “standard”, suggesting that the use of the onchú on battle-standards was common enough that the name was transferred to the item – and that its use preceded the battle of Clontarf.

The confusion only increases with the pluralization of onchú to give onchoin or onchainn. Onchainn in turn became onfainn following the trend of ch conversion (e.g. Dunphy from Donnchaidh). Williams traces phonetic vagaries and lists a sequence of alterations: onfainn to anchainn to anfainn to anfaill to anfild to enfild. Anfaill also gave rise to the less-successful alternative name of alphyn. Further assimilation with the heraldic sea-dog gave the onchú/enfield/alphyn a mane and clawed, bird-like forelegs.

Since then onchú has been used as a term for a large water beast. It is wild, fearsome, valorous, heroic, with reptilian and venomous qualities (probably the origin of its green color). The onchú that lived between Loch Con and Loch Cuilinn killed nine men. Muiredach pursued it into the water and slew it, earning the title of Cú Choingelt, “Hound of the Pasturage”.

Williams proposes the adoption of onchú as the official Gaelic term for the animal. Enfield remains an acceptable English version.

References

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

Cooke, T. L. (1859) Proceedings, November Meeting. The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, v. 2. McGlashan and Gill, Dublin.

Vinycomb, J. (1906) Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, with Special Reference to their Use in British Heraldry. Chapman and Hall, London.

Williams, N. J. A. (1989) Of Beasts and Banners: The Origin of the Heraldic Enfield. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, v. 119, pp. 62-78.

Beathach Mòr Loch Odha

Variations: Big Beast of Loch Awe, Big Beast of Lochawe

big-beast

Like so many other lake monsters, the true nature and appearance of the Beathach Mòr Loch Odha, the “Big Beast of Loch Awe”, is shrouded in mystery. Some say it resembles a giant horse, while others describe a colossal eel. What is known for certain is that the Big Beast is a large and powerful creature with twelve legs. It can be heard in the dead of winter, breaking the ice on the frozen loch.

It has been a long time since the Big Beast was last seen. Its existence is all but forgotten on the shores of Loch Awe, and a resident of Ford interviewed by Fleming in 2001 had nothing to say on its subject.

References

Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Biasd Na Srogaig

Variations: Biasd Na Sgrogag, Biasd Na Grogaig (typo), Béist Na Sgrogaig, The Beast of the Lowering Horn

biasd-na-srogaig

The Biasd Na Srogaig, the “Beast of the Lowering Horn”, is a unicorn or lake monster native to the lochs in the Scottish Isle of Skye. Other than a single large horn on its forehead, it had little in common with the true unicorn, being tall and clumsy, with long gangly legs and an awkward gait. Originally a nursery bogey, the biasd na srogaig eventually developed a life of its own as children brought their fears into adulthood.

Campbell derives the biasd na srogaig’s name from scrogag, a term applied to snuff horns. It is more correctly written as sgrogag, “crumpled horn”. To further muddle the etymological mixture, béist na sgrogaig has been used as synonymous with the heraldic unicorn.

References

Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.

Campbell, J. G.; Black, R. (ed.) (2005) The Gaelic Otherworld. Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.