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Scottish Mythology:The Boobrie

By: Celtic Bard Jeff

The Boobrie is a shape-shifting bird from the mythology and folklore of the Scottish Highlands. Rather than using its wings to fly, it more commonly uses them to swim through the lakes and wells where it hunts. Well-known as a mimic, the Boobrie will often imitate the cries of an injured baby animal, grabbing and drowning any adult animal curious enough to come close and investigate. It prefers cattle and sheep but will also eat otters if needed. The Boobrie also has the ability to shape-shift into a horse and walk on water in this form, and it can also turn into an insect to suck the blood from horses. There are stories of hunters who have sworn they have seen a water-horse—another mythical creature of Scottish folklore—but upon closer inspection of the tracks left behind, they see the distinctive, antler-shaped tracks unique to the Boobrie. According to eyewitnesses, the Boobrie has a long white neck, wide wingspan, long beak, short legs, massive partially-webbed feet, and a cry that sounds like a bull. ¹

The Boobrie is a generally malevolent being that has the ability to materialise in the form of various mythical creatures. It commonly preys on animals being transported on ships, preferably calves, but will also happily eat lambs and sheep, carrying its prey away to the deepest water before consuming it. It is also extremely fond of otters, which it consumes in large quantities.

Its favourite manifestation is of a bird resembling a gigantic great northern diver or cormorant, but with white markings. According to the folklorist Campbell of Islay it is "larger than seventeen of the biggest eagles put together" - an imprint of a Boobrie's foot left in some lakeside mud equaled "the span of a large wide-spreading pair of red deer's horns". It bellows loudly, sounding more like a bull than a bird. Although sea lochs are the Boobrie’s' natural home they will shelter on land in overgrown heather.

Not only can the Boobrie manifest as a bird, it can also manifest as a water horse. In the form it is able to gallop across the surface of lochs; the beating noise of the creature's hooves on the water the same as if it were galloping on solid ground. One story told of the Boobrie in this form is of a farmer and his son who were ploughing a field on the Isle of Mull using a team of four horses beside Loch Freisa, but one of the horses lost a shoe and was unable to continue. Noticing a horse grazing nearby they decided to try using it as a replacement - they harnessed the horse to the wooden plough, and it initially worked steadily. However, when they reached an area close to the loch, it became restless, and the farmer gently used a whip to encourage the animal to continue. It reacted by immediately by transforming into a gigantic Boobrie, giving out a loud bellow and diving into the loch, pulling the plough and the other three horses with it. The frightened farmer and his son watched as the creature swam to the centre of the loch then dived underwater, taking the other horses and plough with it. Seven hours later there was still no sign of the three horses.

Yet another manifestation is as a bull. Campbell of Islay recorded a story of a man named Eachann who fed a colossal black bull when he discovered it writhing in pain and possibly close to death at the side of Loch nan Dobhran, on the west coast of Argyll. Some months later, Phemie, Eachann's girlfriend, was occasionally disturbed by elusive shadows she senses on the loch, which make her think of Murdoch, her former lover. One evening, while staying in a sheiling near the loch, she sat dreaming of Eachann when she sensed the flicker of a shadow behind her. It was Murdoch, who promptly overpowered her by enveloping her in a blanket and tying her hands. At that moment, a water bull came to Phemie's rescue by knocking Murdoch to the ground. The bull then knelt down allowing Phemie to get on its back, before transporting her at the speed of light back to the home of her mother. The bull disappeared, never to be seen again, but a "voice was heard in the air calling out loudly" in Gàidhlig, translated as:

"I was assisted by a young man And I aided a maid in distress; Then after three hundred years of bondage Relieve me quickly."

The Boobrie can also (infrequently) manifest in the form of a large insect that sucks the blood of horses, usually only at the height of the summer, during August and September. ²

Sources: ¹ ListVerse; ² Gàidhlig4Sasannachs Image: Boobrie by Peter Boehme

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