Selkies: The Seal Shapeshifters

Selkies were people of Irish, Scottish, and Faroese lore that could turn into seals using their magic sealskins. For those who might not know, the Faroe Islands are a group of islands between the north of Scotland and the southeast of Iceland. Selkies can also be known as silkies, sylkies, and selchies, among other things. Most people believed them to be absolutely gorgeous, whether male or female. In fact, these creatures were actually very friendly and would often marry humans, if the humans wanted to live a life beneath the waves.

Selkie woman often weren’t exactly willing partners to the human men they married. In countless tales, a human man would fall in love with a Selkie woman. He would then steal the woman’s sealskin, forcing her to marry him. Normally, he’d hide the sealskin somewhere he thought she could never find it, like the thatching on the roof of their house. She’d bear him children and be the perfect wife, but she would always long to return to the sea that she had once called home. In some stories, the wife would happen upon the sealskin, or her children would find it and show it to her, and eagerly take it back. In others, the husband would eventually return it to her. Either way, the outcome was always the same: she would don her sealskin and disappear into the sea, unable to resist the call of the ocean, even to stay with her family. However, in some stories, a selkie woman who has left her family can sometimes be seen playing with her human children in the waves.

Selkie men, on the other hand, usually were far more willing partners. They were thought to be unbelievably handsome men with a knack for seducing human women. They specifically showed themselves to human women who were vulnerable, such as those waiting for their husbands to come back from fishing trips or the like. To contact a male selkie, it was said that a woman need only shed seven tears into the sea. A male selkie would then appear to marry her and take her away.

The most sinister selkie story I’ve come across actually is a Faroese legend. A long time ago, a fisherman from the town of Mikladur on the island of Kalsoy happened upon a group of selkies dancing. He watched them dance and the stole the sealskin of one of the maidens. She was forced to marry him and bear his children. Eventually she finds her sealskin in the chest where he kept it, since he happened to leave the key at home on accident. By the time he came back from fishing, his wife had disappeared back into the sea and left him with their children. Eventually he found her with her selkie husband and selkie children. In his rage, he murdered her husband and her children. She then cursed the men of Kalsoy, demanding that so many of them lose their lives to drowning and falling off cliffs that they would be able to link their arms around the entire island. According to the legend, deaths like this continue to this day.

~Victoria

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