You are captaining a vessel northwards along the Coast of the Scottish Highlands. To your west are a cluster of islands known as the Outer Hebrides; these isles are steeped in folklore and myth, dating back to the Neolithic era; indeed, there are standing stones dating back to the third millennium BC. From the Celts to the mysterious Picts, from the Norwegians to the Scots, the Hebrides have been home to many diverse peoples, all of whom brought their traditions, rituals and beliefs.
Not surprisingly, many of their practices have parallels with those from the mainlands. Still, some of their folktales have a surprisingly Hebridean – or in this case Minchian – flavor.
The Minch is the strait that runs between the Hebrides (Inner and Outer) and the Highlands. 70 miles long, 15 to 45 miles across, and flanked by lighthouses, it is a well navigated, if occasionally treacherous waterway, one that you are currently traveling on.
Why so treacherous?
Certainly, oceanographers and meteorologists have their theories, but what do they know?
As you sail Northwards, the waters grow choppy. Suddenly, rising from the waves, you spot a group of what appear to be blue humanoids. Wearing grey caps, bearing long faces, the start moving towards your ship, stirring up currents as they do.
Enter the Blue Men of the Minch:
Not that kind of Blue Man.
Let’s try again –
Enter the Blue Men of the Minch, a.k.a. the Storm Kelpies*:
*[“regular” Kelpies are related shape-shifting water creatures, known for appearing as horses]
These Blue Men swim lazily around the Minch, belly up like seals. Unlike seals, they have very human names – names like Duncan, Donald, and Ian More.
Also unlike seals, they like to engage in Epic Rap Battles with human seafarers.
If you can out rhyme them, you can pass freely through the waters of the Minch.
Otherwise, they will drag you down into the deep, hoarding your treasures in their submerged caves, while you and your crew end up in watery graves.
To wit, a “documented” exchange:
Blue Chief: Man of the black cap what do you say
As your proud ship cleaves the brine?
Skipper: My speedy ship takes the shortest way
And I’ll follow you line by line
Blue Chief: My men are eager, my men are ready
To drag you below the waves
Skipper: My ship is speedy, my ship is steady
If it sank, it would wreck your caves.
This back and forth was recorded by Scottish journalist and folklore expert Donald Alexander Mackenzie (24 July 1873 – 2 March 1936) in his book Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, published in 1917. Mackenzie recounts another encounter in the same book, this one describing a Blue Man being caught:
Duncan will be one, Donald will be two
Will you need another ere you reach the shore?
Duncan’s voice I hear, Donald too is near
But no need of helpers has strong Ian Mo[o]re
As reported to Mackenzie by one Gregory Campbell, Ian More was “sleeping on the waters” when he was netted by sailors. When he hears his two companions Duncan and Donald, he shrugs off their help, and promptly wriggles free from his bonds, jumping overboard to freedom.
The take away: We spend a lot of time comparing myths; finding common themes and motifs, chalking up variation to local flavor, sometimes ignoring the fact that are some myths that don’t fit neatly into any indexes, wiki-lists, or internet icebergs.
Academia would have us ignore these outliers, and treat them as purely anomalous data, what skeptic/aberrant phenomenon researcher Charles Fort called “Damned” data.
To quote Donald Alexander Mackenzie again: the Blue Men have ‘no counterparts elsewhere in the world or even in other areas of Scotland’.
They are, in the Fortean sense of the word, Damned indeed.
The Final take away:
If you gonna Ride Da Minch, be Ready to Busta Rhyme, Captain.
The Final, Final take away: