Blue men of the Minch
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The blue men of the Minch, also known as storm kelpies ( gd, na fir ghorma ), are
mythological creature A legendary creature (also known as a ''mythological'', ''mythic'' or ''fabulous'' creature) is a supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena or entities that are not subject to the . This term is attributed to , such as ...
s inhabiting the stretch of water between the northern
Outer Hebrides The Outer Hebrides () or Western Isles ( gd, Na h-Eileanan Siar or ; sco, Waster Isles), sometimes known as ("islands of the strangers") or the Long Isle/Long Island ( gd, An t-Eilean Fada, links=no), is an island chain off the west coast ...
and mainland Scotland, looking for sailors to drown and stricken boats to sink. They appear to be localised to
the Minch The Minch ( gd, An Cuan Sgitheanach, ', ', '), also called North Minch, is a strait in north-west Scotland, separating the north-west Scottish Highlands, Highlands and the northern Inner Hebrides from Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. It w ...
and surrounding areas, unknown in other parts of Scotland and without counterparts in the rest of the world. Apart from their blue colour, the mythical creatures look much like humans, and are about the same size. They have the power to create storms, but when the weather is fine they float sleeping on or just below the surface of the water. The blue men swim with their torsos raised out of the sea, twisting and diving as
porpoise Porpoises are a group of fully aquatic marine mammals, similar in appearance to a dolphin Dolphin is the common name of aquatic mammal Aquatic and semiaquatic mammals are a diverse group of mammal Mammals (from Latin language, ...

porpoise
s do. They are able to speak, and when a group approaches a ship its chief may shout two lines of poetry to the master of the vessel and challenge him to complete the verse. If the skipper fails in that task then the blue men will attempt to
capsize Capsizing or keeling over occurs when a boat or ship is turned on its side or it is Turtling (sailing), upside down in the water. The act of reversing a capsized vessel is called righting. If a capsized vessel has enough flotation to prevent ...
his ship. Suggestions to explain the mythical blue men include that they may be a personification of the sea, or originate with the Picts, whose painted bodies may have given the impression of men raising themselves out of the water if they were seen crossing the sea in boats that might have resembled kayaks. The genesis of the blue men may alternatively lie with the North African slaves the Vikings took with them to Scotland, where they spent the winter months close to the Shiant Isles in the Minch.


Etymology

The Minch, a strait that separates the northwest Scottish Highlands, Highlands of Scotland and the northern Inner Hebrides from the northern
Outer Hebrides The Outer Hebrides () or Western Isles ( gd, Na h-Eileanan Siar or ; sco, Waster Isles), sometimes known as ("islands of the strangers") or the Long Isle/Long Island ( gd, An t-Eilean Fada, links=no), is an island chain off the west coast ...
, is home to the blue men. The Scottish Gaelic terms for the blue men is ''na fir ghorma'' (in the genitive case, genitive ''fear gorm'', for example ''sruth nam fear gorm'' "the stream of the blue men"). The blue men are also styled as storm kelpies. The most common water spirits in Scottish folklore, kelpies are usually described as powerful horses, but the name is attributed to several different forms and fables throughout the country. The name ''kelpie'' may be derived from the Scottish Gaelic ''calpa'' or ''cailpeach'', meaning "heifer" or "colt".


Folk beliefs


Description and common attributes

The mythical blue men may have been part of a tribe of "fallen angels" that split into three; the first became the ground dwelling fairies, the second evolved to become the sea inhabiting blue men, and the remainder the "Merry Dancers" of the Aurora, Northern Lights in the sky. The legendary creatures are the same size as humans but, as the name implies, blue in colour. Writer and journalist Lewis Spence thought they were the "personifications of the sea itself" as they took their blue colouration from the hue of the sea. Their faces are grey and long in shape and some have long arms, which are also grey, and they favour blue headgear; at least one account claims they also have wings. The tempestuous water around the Shiant Isles to the north of Skye, an area subject to rapid tides in all weathers, flows beside the caves inhabited by the blue men, a stretch of water known as the Current of Destruction owing to the number of ships wrecked there. Although other storm kelpies are reported as inhabiting the Gulf of Corryvreckan, Gulf of Corrievreckan, described by poet, writer and folklorist Alasdair Alpin MacGregor as "the fiercest of the Highland storm kelpies", the blue men are confined to a very restricted area. According to Donald Alexander Mackenzie, Donald A. Mackenzie they have no counterparts elsewhere in the world or even in other areas of Scotland; such limited range is rare for beliefs in spirits and demons. Folklorist and Tiree minister John Gregorson Campbell says they were unknown in Argyll on the nearby coast of the mainland for instance, although Church of Scotland minister John Brand (minister), John Brand, who visited Quarff in Shetland in mid-1700, recounts a tale of what may have been a blue man in the waters around the island. In the form of a bearded old man it rose out of the water, terrifying the passengers and crew of a boat it was following. In traditional tales the blue men have the power to create severe storms, but when the weather is fine they sleep or float just under the surface of the water. They swim with their torso from the waist upwards raised out of the sea, twisting and diving in a similar way to a
porpoise Porpoises are a group of fully aquatic marine mammals, similar in appearance to a dolphin Dolphin is the common name of aquatic mammal Aquatic and semiaquatic mammals are a diverse group of mammal Mammals (from Latin language, ...

porpoise
. To amuse themselves the creatures play shinty when the skies are clear and bright at night. They are able to speak and converse with mariners and are especially vocal when soaking vessels with water spray, roaring with laughter as vessels capsize. When the blue men gather to attack passing vessels their chief, sometimes named as Seonaidh, Shony, rises up out of the water and shouts two lines of poetry to the skipper, and if he cannot add two lines to complete the verse the blue men seize his boat. Mackenzie highlights the following exchange between the skipper of a boat and the chief of the blue men: The quick responses took the blue chief by surprise; defeated and unable to do any damage to the vessel, the blue men returned to their underwater caves, allowing the vessel free passage through the strait. The blue men may alternatively board a passing vessel and demand tribute from its crew, threatening that if it is not forthcoming they will raise up a storm.


Capture and killing

No surviving tales mention attempts to kill the demons, but a Gregorson Campbell story tells of the capture of a blue man. Sailors seize a blue man and tie him up on board their ship after he is discovered "sleeping on the waters". Two fellow blue men give chase, calling out to each other as they swim towards the ship: On hearing his companions' voices the captured spirit breaks free of his bonds and jumps overboard as he answers: Sailors thus believed all blue men have names by which they address each other.


Origins

Mackenzie's explanation of the legend of the blue men was based partly on research into the Annals of Ireland and goes back to the times of Harald Fairhair, the first Norse king, and his battles against the Vikings. The Scottish Gaelic term ''fir ghorma'', meaning "blue men", is the descriptor for a black man according to Dwelly. Thus ''sruth nam fear gorm'', one of the blue men's Gaelic names, literally translates as "stream of the blue men", or "river, tide or stream of the black man". Around the 9th century the Vikings took Moor (people), Moors they had captured and were using as slaves to Ireland. The Vikings spent winter months near the Shiant Isles, and Mackenzie attributes the story of the blue men to "marooned foreign slaves". He quotes an excerpt from historian Alan Orr Anderson's ''Early sources of Scottish history, A.D. 500 to 1286'': More recent newspaper reports have repeated Mackenzie's hypothesis. Historian Malcolm Archibald agrees the legend originates from the days Norsemen had North African slaves, but speculates that the myth may have originated with the Tuareg people of Saharan Africa, who were known as the "blue men of the desert". The origin of the blue men of the Minch may alternatively lie with "tattooing people" specifically the Picts, whose Latin name ''picti'' means "painted people". If they were seen crossing the water in boats resembling the kayaks of the Finn-men they may have given simple islanders and mariners the impression of the upper part of the body rising out of the water.


See also

* Kelpie * Water bull


References


Citations


Bibliography

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * {{Scottish mythology, state=collapsed Scottish folklore Scottish legendary creatures Scottish mythology Water spirits