The most vile of Orkney beasties goes by the sinister yet catchy name: Nuckelavee (pronounced "nuhk-la-vee"). But before we get into all the terrible things this two-headed, two-chested, and spear-armed beastie does, let's talk a little bit about the culture it comes from.

The Nuckelavee is from Orcadian culture. No, not Orcadian like Orcs, you weirdo. Orcadian like "from the Orkney Islands"; descended from the mighty Picts! The Orcadian peoples have an ancestry stretching back nearly 9,000 years but their story really starts in 3800BCE at the Knap of Howar - a Neolithic farmstead on the Island of Papa Westray.

The Knap of Howar, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Knap of Howar, courtesy of Wikipedia.

A remarkably beautiful part of the world, Orkney is made up of a mainland and over 90 islands (twenty of which are inhabited). After Norse warriors conquered the Orcadians these islands were commonly used by the Vikings as jump-off points for their infamous raids.

Orkney is a land at the edge of the world. The last vestige of green earth between Scotland and the polar ice cap. A land first inhabited by Neolithic farmers and filled with some of the earliest and most impressive monuments of antiquity. The Ring of Brodgar, for example, is a stone circle with a circumference of over three-hundred meters; it was used to mark the passing of time in the old world.

Consider also Skara Brae, a group of stone houses, still standing, dating back 5000 years. Or how about Maeshowe? A passage tomb dating back to 2800BCE and containing hundreds of dead Orcadians. Or the recently discovered Ness of Brogdar? Orkney is a beautiful land of green and mystery; and if you're descended from the Scots (as I am) there's a chance your ancestors could have worked on these incredible structures.

But I digress. Let's talk about this beastie.

The Nuckelavee is Terrifying

Combining the bodies of a horse and a man might not seem unique to you; and I suppose you're right, it's not. But how about a horse with the upper body of a man growing out of its back!? Is that original enough for you!? Because that's what we've got going on here: a total and complete mind-melting, terror-forming, mammal-mashing, and battle-fierce ruiner of lives. Forbidden horror!


Interpretation of the Nukelavee by GoodSoup on

The Nuckelavee (hence forth "Nukey") is traditionally depicted in a red theme. A muscle-bedecked, skinless bad ass, with long arms and killer claws. Skinless. Did you hear me? He has no skin! This lunatic looks like a creation straight out of the maniac brain of Sid from Disney's Toy Story. He is a monstrosity. Stay away from Orkney! It's not worth the risk! Burn your passport!

The Nukelavee without a rider

Rendition of the Nukelavee without a "rider". By Sean Seal

Actually, for such a terrifying baddie, this dude has to abide by some pretty lame rules. Here's one: he can't cross running water. Here's another: he can't stand the smell of burning seaweed. Why would you burn seaweed? I guess that's how you make kelp; which I always believed was just a synonym for seaweed. Huh. Learn something new everyday, am I right?


Those rules are slightly weird (oh really, Tanner? Something weird in relation to a monster with an entire horse as a pelvis? Do go on) since Nukey is a creature of the whelming seas. Yeah, that's right, he lives in the ocean. He lives in the ocean so much so that his horse... err... his bottom... wait that sounds sexual, dammit... (is the Nuckelavee a top?)... ugh, okay, collect yourself Tanner! What I mean is the goddamn horse has webbed feet. Webbed feet on a horse!

"But, Tanner. How does that work with horseshoes?" - You, right now


Something else you might find interesting (as if this weren't interesting enough): Nukey is of elvish descent; that is to say, he's classified as an elf in Scottish lore. He is responsible for epidemics, drought, and failed crops. Some sources describe him as having one eye and a giant sword as one of his arms. He has black blood pumping through yellow veins, which you can of course see on account of him not having any skin. He kills livestock and whoever gets in his way.

Random thought: who's running the show here? Is the horse the thinker and the torso just a tool? Or vice versa?

As two-body-portrayed as he is, my research leads me to believe that the original concept of Nukey was that of a skinless horse, sans the conjoined half-man firmly affixed to his back. This does make some sense as horse beasties in the UK are fairly common. The Kelpie, the Each Uisge, the Shoopiltee, and the Nuggle are all haunting horses of the heartland (mmm... alliteration). Given the prevalence of equine terrors in the United Kingdom, it seems likely that the manpendage (man appendage) is an embellishment of the original version.

Oh Nukey. You're just another misunderstood horse from the depths of Hell.


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