As with many ancient cultures, Scotland has a vast and colorful history. One of their most enduring legacies is their magically lyrical oral traditions meant to entertain and educate. Scottish folklore began with the Celtic period, around 1000 B.C.E., and thrived through the Roman era’s end. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Scottish folktales began to be collected and then published for consumption by those outside of their culture.
Some of the most famous mythological creatures and fantasy genre staples originate from Scottish folklore.
Faeries in “The Ballad of Tam Lin”
Fairies are prevalent in many European cultures, each with a unique identifier. This is partially why there is no general consensus on the spelling of the word fairie in the fantasy genre. Honestly, it’s one of the greatest acceptances of chaotic writing that makes my heart happy. Scotland spells their version as described above, but others utilize Fae, Fairy, Faries, and Farefolk. The Scottish word for faerie is sìth (pronounced ‘shee’), translated as seelie. Scotland’s faerie realm is split into two courts, the Seelie and the Unseelie. Daniel Allison’s Scottish Myths and Legends bring the poetic tales of fairies to life, as well as many other Scottish mythological stories.
“The Ballad of Tam Lin” tells the story of a young man kidnapped by the Queen of the Fairies. He is rescued by his true love, who helps him to escape from the fairy realm.
The Mer-folk, Kelpies, and Selkie
Adapted and idolized by many girls who wish to be a mermaid, the first tales of these mythical sea creatures didn’t shine as great a light on them as Disney may have. They were malevolent and vicious, intent on ensnaring human sailors. Scottish Folk & Fairy Tales: Ancient Wisdom, Fables & Folkore by J.K. Jackson beautifully translates many traditional folktales, including education on the culture and origins.
One of the folktales included is about a seal woman who marries a human man. She is forced to return to the sea when her husband breaks his promise not to harm her seal skin.
This creature, called the Brùnaidh or Brownie, is said to be a helpful spirit that performs household chores for families during the night. They are free spirits who frolic and play silly pranks. They’re very kindhearted creatures who love a bit of mischief. You can discover more about them in Palmar Cox’s The Brownies: Their Book.
The Loch Ness Monster
This legendary creature, affectionately known as Nessie, is said to live in Loch Ness, a large lake in the Scottish Highlands. It was first recorded as being sighted in 565 C.E. by Saint Columba, who claimed to have banished a water beast that terrorized a local village. Much like Big Foot, there are hundreds of “sightings” with little proof or fuzzy unfocused photographs that make for unconvincing evidence. The Lore of Scotland: A Guide to Scottish Legends dives deep into the culture and folklore that is Scotland.
Scottish folktales are a fascinating and important part of the country’s culture. They offer a unique glimpse into the Scottish people’s history, beliefs, and values.
Want more folklore? Read our Arab Folklore article here.