Selkies

Though the stories of selkies are often romantic, in the end, someone always ends up with a broken heart.

The most popular of the Selkie legends (although it does vary some from place to place) start with the finding of a seal pelt.  Occasionally, Selkies come to the shore and shed their furry skins simply for the enjoyment of being on land for a while. If a human man happens upon the seal skin while it’s unattended, he can coerce the Selkie woman to become his wife.  Most stories hold that Selkie women make excellent wives as long as they cannot find their skins.  Once they find their pelts, they are compelled to escape to the sea, leaving their human life behind forever.  Some legends even have the Selkie’s own children accidentally discovering their mother’s seal skin and returning it to her, and consequently, robbing themselves of their parent.  It’s a tragic tale that never ends well.  Someone—sometimes someones—are left bereft.

Selkies are sometimes mistaken for mermaids or lumped together with them.  However, Selkies are said to be beautiful women (occasionally men, but most legends refer to them as women) who wear magical seal skins in the water but who become women on land once their seal skin is removed.  Fur, not fish scales on the lower half.

Original Art by Stuart Higgins. See more @limbo_artwork on Instagram

Legends of these creatures are popular in Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia, and particularly the Orkney Islands.  In fact, the term selkie is the Orkanian (from Orkney) word for seal (www.orkneyjar.com).  To this day there are selkies all over the place in the cooler climates of Orkney and Scandinavia.  However, Selkies might be a bit harder to spot (they don’t like to make a fuss, you know.).

Looks like a good Selkie habitat

It’s thought that hundreds of years ago, people used stories to explain oddities or strange happenings.  Often these stories involved gods or goddesses, or unfamiliar (some maybe real?) creatures to explain such things. The Selkies have their own descendants in this way.  In the Outer Hebrides, there is a clan who claims they come from a line of Selkies due to the hereditary webbing of skin between their fingers (the condition is called Syndactyly) (www.conollycove.com, www.cinncinatichildrens.org).    I think that’s a pretty logical explanation for a child born with scaly-like skin (like psoriasis) or for the webbed digits—we must come from these revered creatures of legend.  See?  Here’s our proof!  

What do you think?  Would you rather meet up with a mermaid or a Selkie for afternoon tea?  Go up to the top of the article, click the grey Comments, and let me know!

Selkie by Julia Ruprecht. Find more of her artwork @julruprecht on Instagram

Book Recommendations

Tangled Tides by Karen Amanda Hooper

The Little Selkie by K. M. Shea

An Echo of the Fae by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

Fathom by Merrie Destefano. (Fathom is going on sale for .99 this week!!!)

Creative Writing Prompts

The sun feels glorious on my skin as I shiver in the light breeze that flits off the ocean.  I peel the rest of my seal skin from my legs, reveling at my toes that wiggle into the rough sand.

“Your mother must never touch the skins kept in this trunk.  Do you understand?”  I nodded my wee eyes, terrified at the vehemence in my father’s voice as he locked the cedar trunk.

I stared at the webbing between my fingers proudly.  It proved I was kin to a Selkie.

Contains some slightly mature content

Mermaids

Water is mysterious.  Water is life-giving.  Water is deadly.  Water is home to merfolk.

Mermaids have taken many faces over the centuries.  Some accounts say they are beautiful women that occasionally come on land and marry human men (more on Selkies next week!).  Others have mermaids as omens of bad luck and bringers of destruction (we’ll visit Sirens later this summer).  Disney says they’re rebellious teenagers with phenomenal pipes.  So, where do the legends come from?

“Mermaid” by Tamsin Bridge ©
Follow her @mnemosynes.dream on Instagram or find more of her artwork here.

Stories of half-fish, half-human people have abounded in cultural stories for thousands of years. Even the Bible has a merman!  The god of the Philistines, Dagon, was man on top, and all fish on the bottom (www.biblegateway.com).  Merfolk appear in other ancient cultures as gods or goddesses like Ea, the Chaldean god of the sea, or the Greek Triton, the son of Poseidon (www.britanica.com).  England and Iceland have their fair share of mermaids tales as well.  It’s believed that early settlements near water, possibly where the tails of large fish could be seen breaking the surface of the water now and then, may account for some of the mermaid tales that have circulated (www.realmermaids.net).  It has also been suggested that sightings of dugongs or manatees—mammals that nurse their young, and that from afar, have a (notably plump) humanoid shape, could have been mistaken for these mythical maidens (www.britanica.com).

Statue of Triton
Photo credits to @warriorphotographer

As most early civilizations formed near water, it’s only natural that there would be legends that sprung up from their surrounding environment.  It seems that most of these “Mer” deities were male to begin with, only later veering into more female counterparts, starting with Astargatis, an Assyrian goddess.  Astargatis reportedly killed her human lover (www.legendsandmyths.net) and then escaped to the sea.  Only in her vanity, refused to give up all her beauty, and kept the upper half of her body human.  Greeks later took Astargatis and made her Aphrodite (www.realmermaids.net).  Interesting!  But what is even more fascinating is the mapping of these stories.  Nearly every ancient culture in the Mesopotamia area has stories of merfolk.  It does make one think…

Statue of Dagon, the Philistine god

Mermaids became wildly popular with the (rather grim!) story of “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837.  Though it was changed significantly by Disney to give us Ariel and her singing backup (sha-la-la-la….), it became an enduring part of modern culture and brought about a resurgence of mermaids.  

Even more prevalent in today’s culture, though perhaps less realized, is the logo that graces every Starbucks cup (www.northernstar-online.com).  This is the representation of Melusina—a girl cursed by her mother and betrayed by her husband and fated to remain a lonely woman with two fish tails (sometimes serpent tails) for the rest of her near-immortal life (www.pitt.edu).  Kind of a downer mascot for a pick-me-up drink?

Why do you think we’ve remained so fascinated with mermaids?  Go up to the top of the article, click the grey “comments” and let me know!

Book Recommendations

“The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen

Everblue by Brenda Pandos

Seaweed by Lee Strauss

Creative Writing Prompts

“I see it!  Look!  It splashed again!” I swore it was a mermaid.  The very thing we’d been searching for the past four months.

The creature writhed on the beach.  Shimmering scales dimmed and fell off, littering the sandy shore with iridescent pebbles.  Was the sea girl dying…or…transforming?

Either I was going crazy, or I’d just seen a plump woman plunge beneath the surface of the water carrying an infant with her.

Kiss the Girl…because no post about mermaids is complete without this song.

And because I like this version, too…

I thought this last clip was superb speculation and story telling in a short snippet. What do you think?

Additional Sources

www.tamilandvedas.com/tag/dagon/

Dragons Part IV

What could a world-wide flood possibly have to do with dragons?

What do Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, Sumerian, Islamic, Buddhist, Babylonian, Aztec, Judeo Christian, Australian, Chinese, and Hawaiian myths all have in common?

Give up?

Each of these vastly different, widespread cultures (in addition to many other cultures) has stories of dragons and a story of a world-wide flood (www.mythoreligio.com).  That’s lovely, but what does a giant flood have to do with dragons, you may ask?  Excellent question.

Sir Reginald III aboard the Ark, enjoying a lovely cuppa. Original artwork by Julia Ruprecht. Check her out @julruprecht on Instagram.

In doing my research for the past few dragon-themed articles, I kept coming back to one question—where did all the stories about man killing great, hateful beasts originate?  Dragon stories populate every major culture in the world.  Surely, they can’t all be symbolic stories.  There’s too much evidence of early people interacting with and fearing these giant creatures (check out the past three dragon posts for more details.  They’re in the archives).  To quote Captain Jack Sparrow, “No survivors?  Where do the stories come from then, I wonder?”

This led me to the great Flood.  The most widely known and accepted flood story is found in the Bible in the book of Genesis.  To recap things quickly:  In the beginning, God created the world, and created man to rule over it (starting with Adam and Eve).  Over time, man became evil, and God was grieved that He’d ever created them.  God brought judgement to the world by way of much (MUCH!) water.  Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives, were found to be righteous.  God commanded Noah to build an ark (think 500-foot-long, multiple storied sea-faring vessel).  At the appointed time, God sent two of every kind of animal into the ark.

Now, going further into the Biblical account, God made Adam and Eve and all land-dwelling creatures on the sixth day.  Including dinosaurs…ergo, dragons (www.answersingenesis.org).  So.  If we can set aside that modern science has told us that dinosaurs were extinct millions of years before humans evolved to walk on land, could this be the link that brings humans and dragons together?

If dinosaurs/dragons were created with man at the very beginning, what if they were still roaming freely about during Noah’s time?  And if God told Noah to take two of each kind, then it stands to reason that Noah could very well have brought on a few pairs of different kinds of dragons.

If this could have been the case, then it stands to reason that man and dragons did live together—maybe even up into the middle ages.  Perhaps some of those tales of knights hunting dragons were real.  There are an awful lot of them.  Look at Bishop Bell’s tomb from the late 1400’s (www.creation.com).  Look at the temple at Ta Prohm.  The Ishtar Gate in ancient Babylon.  Persian artifacts depicting dragons.  Sumatran art showing warriors hunting a dinosaur-like creature.  China is inundated with dragons in every walk of life.  Ancient Greek pottery shows Hercules rescuing Hesoine from a dragon.  North American Anasazi rock depictions show a convincing Apatosaurus-like animal (www.genesispark.com).

Top Left: Dragon on the Ishtar Gate. Top Right: Stegosaurus from Ta Prohm. Bottom: From Bishop Bell’s tomb.

The point is, every major culture has stories of dragons.  Stories of great floods.  Most of them have stories with interactions between people and dragons.  World-wide coincidence? 

So where are all the dragons/dinosaurs now?  Obviously, they’re extinct.  Although there are still rumors of large dinosaur-like creatures roaming in the forgotten parts of the world like the Congo (www.livescience.com) Australia, and Papua New Guinea.  But what if they became extinct through natural causes?  Like loss of habitat.  Like over hunting.  Like low birth rates. Like any number of things that can and does cause extinction of species today. 

Plesiosaurus Fossil

Is it possible that ancient cultures simply found fossilized bones and concocted their stories from them?  Maybe.  It is just as likely—possibly more so—that they lived with these giant creatures of legend?  You tell me.

Pop up to the top, click the grey Comments, and tell me what you think—Did dragons and people exist together?

Book Recommendations

Fossils by Gary Parker

Flood by Design by Mike Oard

Evolution: The Grand Experiment Vol. 1 by Dr. Carl Werner

Noah:  Man of Destiny by Tim Chaffey & K. Marie Adams (recommended for 16 and up)

The Flood of Noah: Legends and Lore of Survival by Bodie Hodge & Laura Welch

Creative Writing Prompts

The waters rose.  With a heavy heart I watched, safe inside the ark, while our village flooded.  Soon it would just be the eight of us and the animals.  The baby dragon roared beside me from his pen.

I readied my spear.  I’d only have one shot to take down this fearsome creature!

Dragons did/did not live with man.  

Additional Sources

www.mid-day.com

www.hoshanarabbah.org

www.christiananswers.net

www.lyntonlevengood.deviantart.com

Dragons Part III

If you look up Chinese dragon, do you know the first thing that pops up?  Menus.  Many, many Chinese menus.  And trust me, I love Chinese food!  But I’m pretty sure there aren’t real dragons being sautéed with garlic and broccoli in all those woks.  But it does show the prevalence and the importance of this great mythological beast.

Sir Reginald III, Earl of Facts, Fantasy, & Fascinations, enjoying some marshmallows with his cousin, Chang, who is visiting from China. Original art by Julia Ruprecht. @julruprecht on Instagram

One of the earliest mentions of the Chinese dragon originates with their creation myth.  After a massive flood, Fu Xi and his sister, Nuwa, were the only survivors.  They went to the mythical mountain of Kunlun and prayed to the Divine Being.  The Divine Being blessed them.  They married then set about populating the earth.  In order to speed things along, they formed people out of clay and then made them live with the power entrusted to them by the Divine Being (www.nouahsark.com).  Where are the dragons in this story, you might ask?  Fu Xi and Nuwa are most often depicted with human torsos and heads, but with the bodies of dragons (though sometimes Nuwa is part fish or part snake…so, Medusa’s cousin or a mermaid?) (www.britanica.com).  Many Chinese people today still consider themselves descendants of the dragons (www.chinahighlights.com).  

Fu Xi and Nuwa with their dragon tails

Since then, the Chinese dragon has seen some evolution.  It is now considered the compilation of several animals—the head of a dog, the body of a serpent, the talons of an eagle (www.culturachina.net).  However, its place in Chinese society has remained steady over vast centuries.  It was considered the national symbol of China until a more recent move by the Communist party moved away from Imperialism and instituted the Giant Panda as China’s national symbol.

Traditional Chinese Ceremonial Dragon

Chinese dragons often fly, are givers of wisdom, and bringers of rain (which is pretty important when the livelihood of many depended on rice pads in ages past).  But did these great beasts actually exist?  Could they be the creation of a discovery of a giant serpentine creature?  Check out the Titanoboa remains out of South America for comparison.

Titanoboa fossil discovered in South America

For years, Chinese apothecaries have ground up the bones of dragons and sold them as cures for a variety of ailments.  Even today, you can go in and order some dragon capsules to calm your angry bowls or to calm your shen (spirit) (www.acupuncturetoday.com).  Obviously, these bones come from somewhere, right?  

These “dragon bones” are literally the fossilized bones of long-dead animals.  We’re all familiar with dinosaur bones.  It stands to reason that before the term “dinosaur” was coined, dragons were simply the giant fossilized remains of what we now call dinosaurs.

Is it Dragon or Dinosaur?

I find it particularly interesting that in so many different cultures, dragons were (or are!) a serious force to be reckoned with—both good and bad.  Sometimes both.  The Chinese have dragons in their creation story.  European history is peppered with valiant knights slaying marauding dragons.  Is it just coincidence or the discovery of fossilized remains that have fueled ALL of these vast dragon myths?  What if people and dragons really did live alongside each other?  

Join me again next week for a last look at dragons (for now) and we’ll examine one other well-known creation story with a slightly different twist and how dragons may have roamed the earth with humans.

Do find European dragons or Chinese dragons more interesting?  Go to the top of the article, click the grey comments, and tell me why!

Book Recommendations

Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Drawing Dragons: Learn How to Create Fantastic Fire-Breathing Dragons by Sandra Staple

Creative Writing Prompts

I knelt on the ground near the sacred springs, hoping the dragon would show itself and hear my pleas for help.  There was a ripple over the surface of the water…

Sir Reginald III blew a burst of flame from his right nostril, toasting my marshmallow to perfection.  “You still haven’t answered my question.  What do you think about my proposition?”  His cousin, Chang, watched me with unwavering eyes.

“There!” I shouted as I just made out a glimpse of flashing, shimmering scales in the sky as the dragon wove in and out of the clouds.

Chinese Dragons
Chinese Dragon Boat Racing
Chinese Dragon Dance

Additional Sources

www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Chinese_mythology

www.reddit.com/r/photoshopbattles/comments/1u0gfq/titanoboa_skeleton/

www.dreamplango.com/article/5250/5-strange-beautiful-rice-terraces

www.traditionalchinesemedisave.com

www.artwithmsk.com

www.bigfootevidence/blogspot.com