We’re very lucky to have our headquarters on the beautiful Isle of Lewis. On a sunny day, the island looks stunning, but it’s often turbulent, and changing weather patterns give it a mystical quality too.
Lewis is part of the Outer Hebrides, a series of islands located off the west coast of Scotland. The islands used to be much more isolated and relied on the ocean to sustain small communities. They’re also steeped in unique myths and legends and we thought you might like to hear about some of them.
Kelpies are said to exist in several lochs. A kelpie is a shape-shifting water spirit, described as a black, horse-like creature that can adopt a human form. Some people believe that the legend began to keep young children away from dangerous stretches of water, or perhaps it was to put young women on their guard with handsome strangers?
The Blue Men of the Minch
Otherwise known as ‘storm kelpies’, the ‘blue men’ occupy the stretch of water known as ‘The Minch’ between Lewis and Harris. They’re said to look like humans (apart from being blue) and have the power to create storms or to sink ships. They’ll talk with sailors and give them a chance to save themselves with a tricky rhyme and a riddle.
The blue men swim with their torsos raised out of the sea, twisting and turning like a porpoise, so taking into account their blue colour, did the legend begin with some early dolphin-spotting?
A Seonaidh is an ocean water spirit, and may have been a god worshipped by islanders in pre-Christian days. They would hold a ceremony after each family supplied malt to brew ale, which was then taken into the sea as an offering to the Seonaidh. The seaweed would be enriched, and then it was used to fertilise the fields.
Mermaids need no explanation, and are part of traditional folklore. We even have our own real-life Hebridean mermaid here on Lewis. Old folklore claims that there’s a mermaid’s grave on Benbecula, but nobody knows the exact location. This mermaid was killed in the early 1800’s by a stone thrown by a local boy and it’s said that the upper part of the creature was a child, but the bottom half was like a salmon!
The Loch Ness monster isn’t the only monster in Scottish folkore. ‘Searrach Uisage’ was a monster said to live in Loch Suianbhal. Looking like a capsized boat, the creature has been reported swimming in the loch for over 150 years. Locals say that lambs were once offered to it. Other such loch monsters have been reported too – including in Loch Urubhal.
At Loch Duvat on Eriskay, while looking for a horse in the mist, a local farmer saw what he thought was his missing beast in the loch. However, as he approached it he realised that it was something else entirely, and ran home terrified.
Several sea monsters have been reported off the Isle of Lewis over the years, including a sighting in 1882 by a German ship off the Butt of Lewis. The crew of the ship reported a sea serpent about 40 metres in length, with several bumps along its back. Other sightings have been reported off the southern side of the island too.
A family of werewolves were said to occupy an island on Loch Langavat. They are all long dead, but legend tells that if their graves are disturbed they will return.
Will o’ the wisp
Will o’ the wisps appear in folklore all over the world. They’re said to be mysterious, ghostly lights that confuse travellers near bogs, swamps, marshes or other bodies of water.
There may well be a scientific explanation, but there have been many reports on Hebridean islands. The floating lights are said to announce an approaching death, but some say that one such light belongs to the ghost of an Irish merchant who was robbed and murdered on an island.
In Hebridean folkore, the fairies were a supernatural race of small humanoid creatures inhabiting ‘knolls’, or underground places, all across the islands. The ‘Sitche’ are interwoven with the local landscape, stories, music and traditional healing. Some people believe that they’re simply a distorted folk memory of the Iron Age Pictish people who once inhabited the Hebrides.
At Luskentyre on Harris, a ghostly hound has been known to leave very large paw prints that disappear on the wet sand. In South Uist, a woman walking with two friends in the dark watched as a self-illuminating dog, the size of a collie but with a small head and no eyes, ran towards her.
One of the heirlooms of the Clan McLeod (and so one of our ishga directors) is the Fairy Flag. Numerous traditions state that the flag originated as a gift from the fairies.
Cows, said to have been found on the shores of Luskentyre on Harris, Scorrybrec on Skye, and on the Island of Bernera, were called cro sith, ‘fairy cows’, because they were thought to be no mortal breed, but a kind that lived under the sea on seaweed.
A little Hebridean magic
And so, our Hebridean islands are a place steeped in a fascinating abundance of myths and legends, usually originating with the sea, or with fairy people. They’re certainly a wonderful, mystical location that captures the heart and imagination, and the kind of place where you could believe that they may be true. Why not come and see for yourself? In the meantime, we hope we can send you a little Hebridean magic in ishga’s award-winning seaweed skincare.