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Scottish Folklore: The Brollachan

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 18 Oct 2011 | comments*Discuss
 
Brollachan Folklore Fuath Kelpies

One of the creepier creatures in Scottish folklore, and certainly not something you want to meet on a dark night, is the brollachan. Said to linger around lonely places on the outskirts of civilisation, it is often associated with faerie folk and kelpies, and has sometimes been thought to be the larval form of the fuath, web-footed people believed to have interbred with certain highland clans. The brollachan is considered particularly dangerous to children.

Appearance

The most notable thing about the brollachan is that it has no shape. This is sometimes said to be because it is young and has not yet learned to keep a fixed form. It appears as a dark, cloudy entity with two bright red eyes in the middle. It is considered possible to summon a brollachan in this form, or to entrap it using magical rituals.

The brollachan varies in size, from about two feet in diameter in infancy to about two metres across at its largest. It is not a bold creature and likes to hide in shadows, but prefers barren hills to forested land. Perhaps due to its parentage, it is often found near water.

Possession

Due to its lack of shape, the brollachan covets the shapes of others. If it gets the chance, it will possess any creature of an appropriate size and pour its formless mass inside them. You can identify a creature possessed by the brollachan because it will darken in colour and its eyes will glow red. Often such creatures will behave in a wild and uncontrolled manner, as if trying to shake out the intruder.

Although there are stories of brollachans conversing with humans and showing them some measure of respect, when it comes to possession a human host is as good as any other. Humans are most vulnerable if they are not naturally strong willed or if they are emotionally upset at the time when possession occurs.

The brollachan cannot remain in a single host for long. Its intensity means that its host will wither after a few days and it will need to find a new one, often by using the dying host to lure a sympathetic or predatory creature close.

Exorcism

Driving out a brollachan from a possessed individual is very difficult to do. It is traditionally accomplished through the application of herbal medicine, though it is not clear whether the herbs themselves poison the brollachan or the ritual surrounding their administration drives it out. Often the treatment is accompanied by singing. The necessary herbs are hard to acquire and it may be necessary to seek the assistance of other magical creatures.

Once forced out of a body, the brollachan is very dangerous. If prevented from entering a new host (such as the person administering the cure), it may still be able to cast spells or curse those present. Bright light is the best way to drive it off in this situation. It also fears fire as, despite its formlessness, it can be burned.

When driving off a brollachan, it is best not to cause it serious harm, as this can draw down the wrath of its family members.

Cautionary Tales

Stories of the brollachan serve an important purpose in traditional Scottish highland culture. They warn children not to stray too far from home or wander alone into dark or watery places, and they warn the solitary traveller against approaching people or animals that may be behaving strangely. Fear of the brollachan may have helped to protect people against diseases like rabies.

An important aspect of the brollachan tale is its use in reinforcing the tradition of hospitality. This is very important in harsh lands where travellers left outside might easily die, but where guests must be watched carefully in case they are hostile.

Despite its habitat, the brollachan is said to feel the cold acutely. This is especially the case when it is not in possession of a body. A person who lets the brollachan into their house to give it warmth and shelter overnight will receive its gratitude and be safe in future. Because the brollachan is a creature of instinct, however, such a host would be well advised to spend that night hiding.

The Brollachan Today

Though most Scottish children now grow up in towns and cities where the old stories are no longer passed down as they once were, tales of the Brollachan are still told in the northern villages, especially where Gaelic is spoken. Most brollachan lore remains part of the oral tradition and relatively little has been documented in modern books on folklore, though it does make an appearance in some fantasy books and games.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
I am doing a drawing of the Brollachan and went looking for reference on the internet. Of course I was well aware of J. Campbell's description of the creature in Popular Tales of the West Highlands (Vol. 2) but I hoped the internet could provide some other source material for me. I found your website and was rather surprised by the volume of information you offered about this creature. It doesn't match anything I've ever read about the Brollachan so I am naturally curious where you got this description of this monster. Can you let me know by email or by posting sources on this page? Thanks.
Ron Weasley - 21-Oct-11 @ 12:13 AM
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