Selkies, gems of sea mythology by Gwillieth / DeviantArt

Legends of the Selkies, Hidden Gems of Sea Mythology

(Read the article on one page)

Amorous, affectionate and affable, Selkies are the hidden gems of sea mythology. Gentle souls who prefer dancing in the moonlight over luring sailors to their death, Selkies are often overlooked by mythological enthusiasts for the more enthralling forms of mermaids or sirens. Yet Selkies play a prominent role in the mythology of Scandinavia, Scotland and Ireland. Their myths are romantic tragedies, a common theme for land/sea romances, however it is the Selkies who suffer rather than their human lovers and spouses. While the tales of Selkies always begin with a warm and peaceful "once upon a time", there are no true happy ending for the tales of Selkies—someone always gets his/her heart broken.

The mythology of selkies is similar to that of the Japanese swan maidens, though historically it appears that the tales of the swan maidens predate the western tradition. Selkies can be either men or women, but are seals while in the water. What differentiates them from mermaids (aside from the choice of animal) is that they undergo a full body transformation upon coming to shore: they do not merely transform seal tails into human legs, but rather completely shapeshift from the sea animals into a human. This is accomplished by shedding their seal-skin when they come to land. Selkies are predominately mythological creatures from Irish, Scottish (particularly in Orkney and the Shetland Islands) and Faroese folklore, however there is a similar tradition in Iceland as well.

Their name descends from the Scottish selich, and there does not appear to be a Gaelic term for these creatures. This is likely indicative of their prominence in early modern Scottish culture. It is believed that the Selkies arose in legends when early Scottish settlers and shipwrecked Spaniards married dark-haired, fur-wearing Finnish and Saami native women.

A seal-woman steps out from her seal coat on the beach.

A seal-woman steps out from her seal coat on the beach. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Described as incredibly handsome and beautiful, Selkies take the role of both predator and prey. Those who willingly come to land often seek those who are already dissatisfied in their daily lives such as the wives of fisherman. It appears more common in myths that the "predator" Selkies are usually the males, as tales indicate the men more often seek out lonely humans; however, there are also variations in which human women choose to summon male Selkies to the shore by sending seven tears to the sea. Selkies can only remain in the presence of humans for a short period of time, and then must commonly wait seven years to return the shore. That rule is broken, however, when a Selkie is forced to remain a human without his/her consent.

Male selkie

Male selkie ( no-maam.blogspot.com)

The other way in which Selkies become part of human life is when their seal skin is stolen. These tales most often occur to female Selkies, creating the role of "prey" as mentioned above. It is not uncommon in myths for Selkies to come ashore and transform into humans for pleasure, and it is often during this time (when the skin is left unattended) that human men steal the female's skin.

Once a Selkie is no longer in possession of his/her skin, the Selkie is under the hold of the human—most often depicted as a forced marriage. Interestingly, Selkie women are very good wives, but regardless of how happy a Selkie is on land, or how many children he/she beget during their time on the surface, once a Selkie recovers his/her lost skin, the Selkie immediately returns to the sea without looking back. Ironically, various tales also depict the half human children accidentally finding their parent's lost skin and returning it without being aware of the repercussions.

Illustration of a Slekie losing its skin.

Illustration of a Slekie losing its skin. ( sites.google.com)

One rather uncommon tale of Selkies reveals what happens if a Selkie chooses to return to the sea. It appears, according to one tale from the Faroe Islands, that upon making this choice, the Selkie is not able to return to his/her former life even if the Selkie wanted to. An abridged version of this tale describes a human husband sailing into a treacherous storm, saved only when his Selkie wife retrieves her skin and rescues him as a seal from certain death. Though this tale indicates a real love between the Selkie wife and her human husband, her donning of her seal skin will prevent her from ever taking part in the human world again. This is only one variation, of course, and thus is contradicted by other mythologies, however it is pertinent to the tale of Selkies because it reveals that all human/Selkie marriages are not hollow.

Comments

Any time a serious person see that myth, he quits reading. Few people could swim, especially in armor. There are no records of living Spaniards from Armada getting to shore (other than a couple of crippled ships). & if one had, the Irish would have killed them. WHY does this ignorant fantasy persist ? The pre-Kelts were small & dark. the "wild Geese" brought home Spanish wives,in laws & servants. Native Americans made it to Ireland many times. 3 valid origins of "darker" Irish. Oh & the later refugees from Inquisition (marranos & Huguenots).

Wouldn't it be wonderful if human women could be as gentle, feminine, and affectionate as these lovely Selkies? I would certainly trade a horrid, shrewish modern woman for one of these adorable creatures anytime! So would most other men...

Where would that leave horrid modern women? Who cares?

Well David – it would depend on which Selkie myth you chose. Are you pining for one who is faithful until the end, or the usual type, who escapes to the sea with the first chance she gets? lol

An argument could be made for women in regards to the Nordic Fossgrim...a rather suave, but harmless male counterpart.

In any case, this article was treat to read!

 

Momo

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Denisova cave, some 150 km (93 mi) south of the city of Barnaul, is the only source of Denisovan's remains. Pictures: The Siberian Times
The distance from the only currently known home of the Denisovans in Altai region to the nearest point of Australia is roughly akin to the length of the Trans-Siberian railway, and yet it is looking increasingly likely that these ancient species of humanoids somehow made this epic journey deep in pre-history, perhaps 65,000 years ago.

Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Ancient Places

Artist’s representation of the sealed door of Vault B at Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Ropes of gold several meters long, Napoleonic coins, Venetian jewelry, diamond belts, emeralds the size of ostrich eggs, and barrels of golden rice…these are just some of the treasures said to have been hidden within Padmanabhaswamy Temple. But insufferable dangers may also be lurking for those who dare to open the temple’s mysterious sealed door. Would you take the risk?

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article