Published August 1, 2008
The creature we feature this month, for all your learning pleasures, is the horse-like amphibian Nykur. Try saying that slowly: Nykur. Ny-kur. It sounds kind of sinister rolling off your tongue. And that’s fitting, for Nykur is a sinister beast. In fact, its sole purpose of being is seeing wandering Icelanders (or their visitors) to a watery grave. This is your cue to gaze over Hugleikur Dagsson’s chilling illustration and shiver. Nykur is a horse-like being that lives underwater. Easily identified by its grey colour and backwards hooves, the Nykur will occasionally surface to try and lure passing humans to mount it. Once mounted by an unwitting passer-by (and it cannot be un-mounted, as its skin is all sticky), the Nykur will immediately ride towards its underwater home – drowning whoever stuck to it in the process. This makes the Nykur very happy.
So here is what you need to remember: If you are ever wandering the Icelandic countryside and find yourself confronting a grey horse hanging out by a massive source of water (e.g. a lake, a stream or the ocean), check if his hooves are on backwards. If they are, run like hell, for you have confronted a Nykur. And those guys are really big on the idea of drowning you.
If you don’t feel like running you can, however, rid yourself of the beast simply by muttering its name. This will reportedly prompt it to run back into the water and rid you of any imminent drowning danger. If yelling “Nykur!” at him doesn’t seem to work, you should try uttering some of his synonyms: Nennir, Nóni, Vatnaskratti (“water demon”) or Kumbur for starters.
Not much is known about the Nykur’s origins, but it has counterparts in many neighbouring countries’ folklore, so it has to be assumed that the creepy beast plagued the greater Scandinavia area in centuries past. In Orkney, Nykur’s cousin is called a Nuggle, Swedes call him Bäckahästen and Celtic folklore refers to him as Kelpie.