December 6, 2023

The Nuckelavee: Like a Centaur, but Worse

The sound of waves crashing against the rocks are so loud you can hardly hear your own horse’s hooves as you and your companions make your way down the coast. You occasionally hear the wail of the wind above the waves, and your horse shifts uneasily. The sound seems to get louder, closer, and as you scan the horizon you see a shape rise out of the waves and realize it’s not the wind you hear. 

The Nuckelavee is coming at you, and this is going to get ugly.

This monster is a mix of horse and man that comes to us from the darkest corners of Norse and Orcadian mythology. Imagine a man who has melted into the back of his horse with breath so bad it can literally kill. Now picture it with no hair and no skin, and you have a sense of the type of nightmare you’re dealing with. 

It’s likely that the Nuckelavee began as a version of the Kelpie or the Nøkk, a demonic horse that drags humans to their watery deaths, but morphed over time into the worst centaur you’ve ever seen. According to the stories, this half-man, half-horse monstrosity spends its time on and around the Orkney Islands, living in the sea but equally comfortable and dangerous on land. It has the body of a horse with the torso and arms of a man perched on its back, with an oversized human head and giant mouth. The whole creature has no skin, just exposed flesh and visible veins filled with black blood, and everyone who has seen it agrees that it sucks to look at. 

It’s said that the Nuckelavee will chase down those unlucky enough to cross its path, and that it roams the islands spreading disease amongst livestock and humans and blight amongst crops with its legendarily bad breath. The smell of burning seaweed sends it into a murderous rampage, and it will kill horses and cattle to satisfy its rage. It doesn’t seem to specifically seek out humans, but it seems risky to bet your life on the Nuckelavee sparing you. 

If you have the bad luck to encounter the Nuckelavee, the good news is that it has a couple clear and useful weaknesses. First and foremost, this is a saltwater nightmare creature, so it has a pretty strong aversion to fresh water. Clever men have successfully avoided the wrath of the Nuckelavee by making a beeline for the nearest stream, which it will under no circumstances cross. The Nuckelavee also hates the rain, and will slink back into the sea at the hint of a drizzle. Time of year could also play in your favor. The summer months see the Nuckelavee at its weakest, often unable to leave the sea thanks to the strength of its foil, Mither O’ the Sea. This benevolent spirit brings calm seas and warm weather, basically acting as the inverse of the foul-tempered Nuckelavee. Mither O’ the Sea’s strength wanes in the fall and winter months, however, so make your travel plans accordingly.

Dex Dylan is the founder and acting president of the International Society of Astrocryptozoology. For decades, Dex has scoured the skies and seas (and sometimes the land, but honestly it’s so crowded) for hints of unusual life forms, and has done extensive research into the possible existence of chupacabras on Mars.