I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
John Masefield, Sea Fever
The sea is a powerful symbol for many cultures. It is simultaneously beautiful and destructive. Bountiful yet ruthless. Teeming with life and a wild magic all its own. There are just as many tales of the sea’s beauty as there are of its dangers. So naturally, there are just as many tales from mythology and folklore of mysterious beings who are tied to the water:
- Loch Ness
But one of my favorites by far, is the Selkie, a mythical creature featured in Scottish, Irish, and Icelandic folklore.
According to some tales, the Selkie can change form once every seven years, from its original seal form to that of a human by shedding its fur pelt after stepping onto the shore. Unlike some of it’s other shapeshifting or half-human counterparts, the Selkie does not find purpose or enjoyment in luring unsuspecting victims to a watery grave…however, it does have a somewhat darker origin.
Long ago, Selkies were indistinguishable from their more sinister cousins, the Finfolk. Dark and terrifying beings who would abduct unsuspecting victims and take them away to their hidden islands. Over time, however, tales began to differentiate between the two, casting the Selkie in a far gentler light.
Now, tales paint the Seal Folk as kind, inquisitive, and playful water spirits who prefer to live their lives in peace, occasionally shedding their skin to dance across the shore in the moonlight.
Unfortunately, Selkie stories rarely feature happy endings, and they are often caught up in rather tragic romances. The most common tales are of human men who happen upon a hidden seal pelt and steal it, thereby robbing a Selkie of her ability to return to the sea. The Selkie women would then marry, willingly or otherwise, the man and forget about their lives beneath the waves for years at a time…which sends a very unsettling Stockholm Syndrome-esque message. Can we all just agree that isolating someone from their home and forcing them into a romantic relationship is wrong? Ok, good. Let’s press on.
Eventually, the Selkie is reunited with her fur and disappears, returning unwaveringly to the sea, sometimes even taking her part-Selkie children with her. If not, she will sometimes return in seal-form to watch over them as they play.
There are accounts of sincere love between Selkies (male and female alike) and their human partners, but eventually, the Selkie always returns to their true home.
So if you are enjoying a beach holiday one day, and happen upon a strange fur pelt…leave it be! They mean you no harm and are just enjoying their rare opportunity to explore the land on two legs 🙂 Instead, you can read more about them on orkneyjar.com!