Monday, June 10, 2013

Mysterious Monday: Selkies

Very late this week. Sorry! Monday snuck up on me and tackled me in almost dog-like fashion, licking my face and wagging its tail until I was nearly overcome.

Photo courtesy of savit keawtavee at

At any rate, this week I decided to talk about selkies. In Irish myth, a selkie (also known as a silkie) was a sea creature that took the form of a seal. Most often, we hear tales of the female selkies, who come ashore to dance in the moonlight after shedding their skins. If a man is lucky enough to capture a selkie’s seal skin and hide it from her, the selkie will become his wife. She will make a good, if melancholy, wife, who yearns to return to her sea home. When and if she finds her pelt, she leaves the man behind, sometimes taking their children with them, sometimes leaving the children at home.

Less often, we hear of male selkies, who come ashore in search of dissatisfied women, mostly fishermen’s wives. Apparently, the male selkies hide their pelts a bit better than their female counterparts because we don’t often hear of the males being kept in sexual slavery. Or it could be that we don’t hear of this because the selkie male would get chased off by some unhappy husband. The human women can “call” a male selkie by going to the beach at high tide and shedding seven tears into the water.

Personally, I think the whole thing stinks. The selkie females being taken against their wills, and the males taking advantage of over-worked, over-wrought, over-anxious wives. Now, admittedly, these stories originated in a time when being a wife was little better than being a slave in many instances, a time when women were little more than chattel, but my modern female back goes up when I read about some man taking the selkie female’s freedom. Not real pleased at the casual display of cheating by the selkie males and human women, either.

So why am I thinking of selkies this week? Frankly, I’m not 100% sure, but a selkie tale is playing at the edges of my consciousness, teasing, dipping its head above the waves to disappear an instant later. I would like to write a tale where there does not seem to be so much casual disregard for the feelings of the human or the selkie. My interest could be because of my research on Hy Brasil last week, where I delved into some Irish myths, a favorite past-time of mine since childhood. It could be because of the deluges of rain we’ve had the past few days that are making me think of gathering the local fauna into pairs whilst I work on a construction project of approximately forty cubits by forty cubits using gopher wood.

At any rate, the selkies are close cousins to the other water spirits, one of whom I almost wrote for my NaNoWriMo project last year, and will probably pursue this year. I’m always interested in the myths and legends of the northern peoples, be they Celts of any flavor, Lapps, Scandinavians, or Russians. Such a rich breeding ground of stories that could use a little brushing off and modernizing, or just a nice little re-telling. 

How about you? Do you use myths and legends for your story ideas? Or do you just like to read the stories of others? Do you have a “go to” culture that you prefer?

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