horse superstitions

Kelpie

The kelpie is a water being inhabiting the pools and lochs of Scotland. Often described as a horse, it can almost appear in human form. Almost every sizeable body of water in Scotland has an associated kelpie story. 

Description



Appearance:

  • It has seal-like skin.
  • Different accounts vary on colour; often being green, black, or grey.
  • They cannot completely escape the water so are often said to have seaweed in their hair.
  • Some accounts state that the kelpie retains its hooves when appearing as a human.
  • One of the kelpie’s common identifying characteristics is that its hooves are reversed as compared to those of a normal horse.

The nature of the kelpie is usually malevolent, as they prey upon humans. In some cases, kelpies take their victims into the water, devour them, and throw the entrails to the water’s edge. In its equine form the kelpie is able to extend the length of its back to carry many riders together into the depths. A common theme in the tales is of several children clambering onto the creature’s back while one remains on the shore. Usually a little boy, he then pets the horse but his hand sticks to its neck. In some variations the lad cuts off his fingers or hand to free himself; he survives but the other children are carried off and drowned, with only some of their entrails being found later. 

In their human form, kelpies are almost invariably male. One of the few stories describing the creature in female form is set at Conon House in Ross and Cromarty. It tells of a “tall woman dressed in green”, with a “withered, meagre countenance, ever distorted by a malignant scowl”, who overpowered and drowned a man and a boy after she jumped out of a stream. An account describes a kelpie adopting the guise of a wizened old man continually muttering to himself while sitting on a bridge stitching a pair of trousers. Believing it to be a kelpie, a passing local struck it on the head, causing it to revert to its equine form and scamper back to its lair in a nearby pond. Other accounts describe the kelpie when appearing in human form as a “rough, shaggy man who leaps behind a solitary rider, gripping and crushing him”, or as tearing apart and devouring humans.

Capture & Killing

If the kelpie was already wearing a bridle, exorcism may be achieved by removing it. A bridle taken from a kelpie was endowed with magical properties, and if brandished towards someone, was able to transform that person into a horse or pony.

A kelpie can be killed by being shot with a silver bullet, after which it is seen to consist of nothing more than “turf and a soft mass like jelly-fish” according to an account published by Spence.

When a blacksmith’s family were being frightened by the repeated appearances of a water kelpie at their summer cottage, the blacksmith managed to render it into a “heap of starch, or something like it” by penetrating the spirit’s flanks with two sharp iron spears that had been heated in a fire.

Siguanaba

La Siguanaba is a supernatural creature from Central American folklore. It is a shapeshifting spirit that typically takes the form of an attractive, long haired woman seen from behind. She lures men away into danger before revealing her face to be that of a horse or, alternatively, a skull.

Description

When encountered, she is a beautiful woman with very long hair who is either nude or dressed in ethereal white; she usually appears bathing in a public water tank, river, or other water source, although she may be found washing clothing.

She likes to lure lone men out late on dark, moonless nights, without letting them see her true face at first. She tempts such men away from their planned routes to lose them in deep canyons. If her victim (usually an unfaithful man) upon seeing her true face does not die of fear then he is driven mad by the sight.

When appearing to children, the Siguanaba will take on the appearance of the child’s mother in order to lure her victim into her grasp; once touched by the Siguanaba the child is driven mad and she will lead her victim into the wilderness to leave the child lost and insane.

Traditional methods are said to ward off the Siguanaba. In the border regions between Guatemala and El Salvador, those who see the Siguanaba make the sign of the cross upon her or bite their machete, while simultaneously banishing both the evil spirit and the fear that grips the victim.

In Costa Rica, the apparition is mostly rural, where in Guatemala she can be found wandering the streets of cities. 

Taraxippus

In Greek mythology, the Taraxippus was a ghost that frightened horses.

Description

The most fabled was the Taraxippos Olympios at Olympia, where Pausanias describes:

The race-course [of Olympia] has one side longer than the other, and on the longer side, which is a bank, there stands, at the passage through the bank, Taraxippos, the terror of the horses. It is in the shape of a round altar and there the horses are seized by a strong and sudden fear for no apparent reason, and from the fear comes a disturbance. The chariots generally crash and the charioteers are injured. Therefore the drivers offer sacrifices and pray to Taraxippos to be propitious to them.

Race horses were often adorned with good-luck charms or amulets to ward off the Taraxippus. The Taraxippus commonly made its appearance at the sharp turn of the race track, known to be the most dangerous.

At the Isthmian Games, the Taraxippos Isthmios was the ghost of Glaucus of Pontiae, who was ripped apart by his own horses

The Taraxippos Nemeios caused horses to panic during the Nemean Games:

At Nemea of the Argives there was no hero who harmed the horses, but above the turning-point of the chariots rose a rock, red in colour, and the flash from it terrified the horses, just as though it had been fire.

According to Statius, a Roman poet of the 1st century AD, the Taraxippoi possessed a “terrible visage to beholdendowed with countless terrors”. It also sent Ares’ own horse into a frenzy:

“When golden Arion saw it, his mane leapt up erect, and he halts with upreared shoulders and hold high suspended his yoke-fellow and the steeds that shared his toil on either side.”