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.
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.).
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!
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.