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In
Celtic The words Celt and Celtic (also Keltic) may refer to: Ethno-linguistics *Celts The Celts (, see pronunciation of ''Celt'' for different usages) are. "CELTS location: Greater Europe time period: Second millennium B.C.E. to present ancestry ...
and
Norse Norse is demonym for Norsemen, a medieval North Germanic ethnolinguistic group ancestral to modern Scandinavians, defined as speakers of Old Norse from about the 9th to the 13th centuries. Norse may also refer to: Culture and religion * Norse m ...
mythology, selkies (also spelled ', ', ') or selkie folk ( sco, selkie fowk) meaning 'seal folk' are mythological beings capable of
therianthropy Therianthropy is the mythology, mythological ability of human beings to metamorphosis, metamorphose into other animals by means of shapeshifting. It is possible that cave drawings found at Trois Frères, Les Trois Frères, in France, depict ancien ...
, changing from
seal Seal may refer to any of the following: Common uses * Pinniped Pinnipeds (pronounced ), commonly known as seals, are a widely range (biology), distributed and diverse clade of carnivorous, fin-footed, List of semiaquatic tetrapods, semiaqu ...
to human form by shedding their skin. They are found in folktales and mythology originating from the
Northern Isles The Northern Isles ( sco, Northren Isles; gd, Na h-Eileanan a Tuath; non, Norðreyjar; nrn, Nordøjar) are a pair of archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection o ...
of
Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba Alba (Scottish Gaelic Scottish Gaelic ( gd, Gàidhlig or Scots Gaelic, sometimes referred to simply as Gaelic) is a Goidelic language (in the Celtic languages, Celtic branch of the Indo-European ...

Scotland
. The folk-tales frequently revolve around female selkies being coerced into relationships with humans by someone stealing and hiding their sealskin, thus exhibiting the tale motif of the
swan maiden The swan maiden is a mythical creature who shapeshifting, shapeshifts from human form to swan form. The key to the transformation is usually a swan skin, or a garment with swan feathers attached. In folktales of this type, the male character spie ...
type. There are counterparts in
Faroese Faroese ( ) or Faroish ( ) may refer to anything pertaining to the Faroe Islands, e.g.: *the Faroese language * the Faroese people {{Disambiguation Language and nationality disambiguation pages ...

Faroese
and
Iceland Iceland ( is, Ísland; ) is a Nordic Nordic most commonly refers to: * Nordic countries, written in plural as Nordics, the northwestern European countries, including Scandinavia, Fennoscandia and the List of islands in the Atlantic Ocean#N ...

Iceland
ic
folklore Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psycholog ...

folklore
that speak of seal-women and seal-skin.


Terminology

The
Scots language Scots (endonym An endonym (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is a ...
word ' is diminutive for ' which strictly speaking means 'grey seal' (''
Halichoerus grypus The grey seal (''Halichoerus grypus'') is found on both shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large pinniped, seal of the family (biology), family Phocidae, which are commonly referred to as "true seals" or "earless seals". It is the onl ...

Halichoerus grypus
''). Alternate spellings for the diminutive include: ', ', ', ', ', ', ', etc. The term ''selkie'' according to
Alan Bruford Alan may refer to: People *Alan (surname), an English and Turkish surname *Alan (given name), an English given name **List of people with given name Alan ::''Following are people commonly referred to solely by "Alan" or by a homonymous name.'' *Al ...
should be treated as meaning any seal with or without the implication of transformation into human form. W. Traill Dennison insisted ''selkie'' was the correct term to be applied to these shapeshifters, to be distinguished from the merfolk, and that committed an error in referring to them as ''mermen'' and ''mermaids''. However, when other Norse cultures are examined, Icelandic writers also refer to the seal-wives as merfolk (). There also seems to be some conflation between the selkie and
finfolk In Orkney folklore, Finfolk (sometimes Finnfolk) are Magic (paranormal), sorcerous shapeshifting, shapeshifters of the sea, the dark mysterious race from Finfolkaheem who regularly make an amphibious journey from the depths of the Finfolk ocean hom ...
. This confounding only existed in Shetland, claimed Dennison, and that in Orkney the selkie are distinguished from the finfolk, and the selkies' abode undersea is not "Finfolk-a-heem"; this notion, although seconded by
Ernest Marwick Ernest Walker Marwick (born 1915 Evie, Orkney; died 1977) was an Orcadian writer noted for his writings on Orkney Orkney (; sco, Orkney; on, Orkneyjar; nrn, Orknøjar), also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago An archipe ...
, has been challenged by Bruford. There is further confusion with the Norse concept of the
Finns Finns or Finnish people ( fi, suomalaiset, ) are a Baltic Finns, Baltic Finnic ethnic group native to Finland. Finns are traditionally divided into smaller regional groups that span several countries adjacent to Finland, both those who are na ...
as shapeshifters, ''Finns'' (synonymous with ''finfolk'') being the
Shetland dialect Shetland dialect (also variously known as Shetlandic, (broad or auld) Shetland or Shaetlan, and referred to as Modern Shetlandic Scots (MSS) by some linguists) is a dialect of Insular Scots spoken in Shetland, an archipelago to the north of mainl ...
name for dwellers of the sea who could remove their seal-skin and transform into humans according to one native correspondent. ;Gaelic terms In
Gaelic Gaelic is an adjective that means "pertaining to the Gaels". As a noun it refers to the group of languages spoken by the Gaels, or to any one of the languages individually. Gaelic languages are spoken in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Whe ...
stories, specific terms for selkies are rarely used. They are seldom differentiated from
mermaid In folklore Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that ...

mermaid
s. They are most commonly referred to as in
Scottish Gaelic Scottish Gaelic ( gd, Gàidhlig ), also known as Scots Gaelic and Gaelic, is a Goidelic language The Goidelic or Gaelic languages ( ga, teangacha Gaelacha; gd, cànanan Goidhealach; gv, çhengaghyn Gaelgagh) form one of the two groups o ...
, in
Irish Irish most commonly refers to: * Someone or something of, from, or related to: ** Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ) is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britai ...
, and in
Manx Manx (; formerly sometimes spelled Manks) is an adjective (and derived noun) describing things or people related to the Isle of Man: * Manx people **Manx surnames * Isle of Man It may also refer to: Languages * Manx language, also known as Manx ...
('maiden of the sea' i.e. mermaids) and clearly have the seal-like attributes of selkies. The only term which specifically refers to a selkie but which is only rarely encountered is , or 'seal maiden'.


Scottish legend

Many of the folk-tales on selkie folk have been collected from the
Northern Isles The Northern Isles ( sco, Northren Isles; gd, Na h-Eileanan a Tuath; non, Norðreyjar; nrn, Nordøjar) are a pair of archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection o ...
(Orkney and Shetland). In
Orkney Orkney (; sco, Orkney; on, Orkneyjar; nrn, Orknøjar), also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection of island A ...

Orkney
lore, ''selkie'' is said to denote various seals of greater size than the grey seal; only these large seals are credited with the ability to shapeshift into humans, and are called "selkie folk". The type of large seals that might have been seen on the islands include the (also known as the Harp Seal) and the crested seal (also known as the hooded seal). Something similar is stated in
Shetland Shetland ( on, Hjaltland; sco, Shetland; nrn, Hjetland), also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zetland, is a subarctic archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or co ...

Shetland
tradition, that the mermen and mermaids prefer to assume the shape of larger seals, referred to as ''Haaf-fish''.


Selkie wife and human lover

A typical folk-tale is that of a man who steals a female selkie's skin, finds her naked on the sea shore, and compels her to become his wife. But the wife will spend her time in captivity longing for the sea, her true home, and will often be seen gazing longingly at the ocean. She may bear several children by her human husband, but once she discovers her skin, she will immediately return to the sea and abandon the children she loved. Sometimes, one of her children discovers or knows the whereabouts of the skin. Sometimes it is revealed she already had a first husband of her own kind.Shetland version localized in
Unst Unst (; sco, Unst; nrn, Ønst) is one of the North Isles The North Isles are the northern islands of the Shetland Islands Shetland ( on, Hjaltland; sco, Shetland; nrn, Hjetland), also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zet ...

Unst
: ; : "The Mermaid Wife".
Although in some
children's story "Children's Story" is a song recorded by British-American hip hop artist Slick Rick. Taken as the second single from his album ''The Great Adventures of Slick Rick'', the song was a Top 5 hit on both the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, Hot R&B Singles a ...

children's story
versions, the selkie revisits her family on land once a year, in the typical folktale she is never seen again by them. In one version, the selkie wife was never seen again (at least in human form) by the family, but the children would witness a large seal approach them and "greet" them plaintively. Male selkies are described as being very handsome in their human form, and having great
seductive Seduction has multiple meanings. Platonically, it can mean "to persuade to disobedience or disloyalty", or "to lead astray, usually by persuasion or false promises". Strategies of seduction include conversation and sexual scripts, paralanguage, ...
powers over human women. They typically seek those who are dissatisfied with their lives, such as married women waiting for their
fishermen A fisher or fisherman is someone who captures fish Fish are aquatic Aquatic means relating to water Water (chemical formula H2O) is an inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless chemical substance, which ...

fishermen
husbands. In one popular tattletale version about a certain "Ursilla" of Orkney (a pseudonym), it was rumoured that when she wished to make contact with her male selkie she would shed seven tears into the sea. Children born between man and seal-folk may have webbed hands, as in the case of the Shetland mermaid whose children had "a sort of web between their fingers", or "Ursilla" rumoured to have children sired by a male selkie, such that the children had to have the webbing between their fingers and toes made of horny material clipped away intermittently. Some of the descendants actually did have these hereditary traits, according to
Walter Traill Dennison Walter Traill Dennison (1825–1894) was a farmer and folklorist. He was a native of the Orkney island of Sanday, Orkney, Sanday, in Scotland, where he collected local Folklore, folk tales and other antiquites. Dennison recorded most of the infor ...
who was related to the family.


Binding rules and sinful origin

Some legends say that selkies could turn human every so often when the conditions of the tides were correct, but oral storytellers disagreed as to the time interval. In ''Ursilla's rumour'', the contacted male selkie promised to visit her at the "seventh stream" or springtide. In the ballad ''
The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" or "The Grey Selkie of Sule Skerry" is a traditional folk song from Shetland Shetland ( on, Hjaltland; sco, Shetland; nrn, Hjetland), also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zetland, is a subarcti ...
'', the seal-husband promised to return in seven years; the number "seven" being commonplace in balladry. According to one version, the selkie could only assume human form once every seven years because they are bodies that house condemned souls. There is the notion that they are either humans who had committed sinful wrongdoing, or fallen angels.


Superstitions

It was only during hard times that the people of the Scottish Isles would kill seals to make use of their skin and blubber. It was thought that the killing of a seal would result in misfortune for the perpetrator.
Ernest Marwick Ernest Walker Marwick (born 1915 Evie, Orkney; died 1977) was an Orcadian writer noted for his writings on Orkney Orkney (; sco, Orkney; on, Orkneyjar; nrn, Orknøjar), also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago An archipe ...
recounts the tale of crofters who brought their sheep to graze upon a small group of holms within the Orkney Islands. During the summer, a man placed seven sheep on the largest holm. While on his way home from grazing sheep, the man killed a seal. That night, all of the man's sheep disappeared, however, the other crofters, who had not killed a seal, did not lose their sheep.


Orkney tales

The selkie-wife tale had its version for practically every island of Orkney according to W. Traill Dennison. In his study, he included a version collected from a resident of
North Ronaldsay North Ronaldsay () ( sco, North Ronalshee) is the northernmost island in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland. With an area of , it is the fourteenth-largest.Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 334 It is mentioned in the ''Orkneyinga saga''; in modern times i ...
, in which a "goodman of Wastness", a confirmed bachelor, falls in love with a damsel among the selkie-folk, whose skin he captures. She searches the house in his absence, and finds her seal-skin thanks to her youngest daughter who had once seen it being hidden under the roof. In "Selkie Wife", a version from
Deerness Deerness (Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia ...
on the
Mainland, Orkney The Mainland, also known as Hrossey and Pomona, is the main island of Orkney Orkney (; sco, Orkney; on, Orkneyjar; nrn, Orknøjar), also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island g ...
, the husband locked away the seal-skin in a sea-kist (
chest The thorax or chest is a part of the anatomy Anatomy (Greek ''anatomē'', 'dissection') is the branch of biology concerned with the study of the structure of organism In biology, an organism (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ὀργανι ...
) and hid the key, but the seal woman is said to have acquiesced to the concealment, saying it was "better tae keep her selkie days oot o' her mind". However, when she discovered her skin, she departed hastily leaving her clothes all scattered about. A fisherman named Alick supposedly gained a wife by stealing the seal-skin of a selkie, in a tale told by an Orkney skipper. The Alick in the tale is given as a good acquaintance of the father of the storyteller, John Heddle of
Stromness Stromness ( non, Straumrnes; nrn, Stromnes) is the second-most populous town in Orkney Orkney (; sco, Orkney; on, Orkneyjar; nrn, Orknøjar), also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes cal ...

Stromness
.


Shetland tales

A version of the tale about the mermaid compelled to become wife to a human who steals her seal-skin, localized in
Unst Unst (; sco, Unst; nrn, Ønst) is one of the North Isles The North Isles are the northern islands of the Shetland Islands Shetland ( on, Hjaltland; sco, Shetland; nrn, Hjetland), also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zet ...

Unst
, was published by in 1822. She already had a husband of her own kind in her case. Some stories from Shetland have selkies luring islanders into the sea at
midsummer Midsummer is the period of time in the middle of the summer. The exact dates vary among different cultures, but is primarily held close to the summer solstice The summer solstice, also known as estival solstice or midsummer, occurs when one of ...

midsummer
, the lovelorn humans never returning to dry land. In Shetland, the sea-folk were believed to revert to human shape and breathed air in the atmosphere in the submarine homeland, but with their sea-dress (seal-skin) they had the ability to transform into seals to make transit from there to the reefs above the sea. However, each skin was unique and irreplaceable. The shape-shifting nature of selkies within Shetland tradition is detailed in the Scottish ballad ''
The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" or "The Grey Selkie of Sule Skerry" is a traditional folk song from Shetland Shetland ( on, Hjaltland; sco, Shetland; nrn, Hjetland), also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zetland, is a subarcti ...
'': In the tale of "Gioga's Son", a group of seals resting in the
Ve Skerries The Ve Skerries or Vee Skerries ( non, Vestan sker, West Skerries) are a group of low Skerry, skerries (rocky islands) north west of Papa Stour, on the west coast of Shetland, Scotland. They define the southwest perimeter of St Magnus Bay. Sker ...
were ambushed and skinned by
Papa Stour Papa Stour ( sco, Papa Stour) is one of the Shetland Islands in Scotland, with a population of under fifteen people, some of whom immigration, immigrated after an appeal for residents in the 1970s. Located to the west of mainland Shetland and w ...

Papa Stour
fishermen, but as these were actually seal-folk, the spilling of the blood caused a surge in seawater, and one fisherman was left abandoned. The seal-folk victims recovered in human-like form, but lamented the loss of their skin without which they could not return to their submarine home. Ollavitinus was particularly distressed since he was now separated from his wife; however, his mother Gioga struck a bargain with the abandoned seaman, offering to carrying him back to Papa Stour on condition the skin would be returned. In a different telling of the same plot line, the stranded man is called Herman Perk, while the rescuing selkie's name is unidentified.


Parallels

Tales of the seal bride type has been assigned the number ML 4080 under
Reidar Thoralf Christiansen Reidar Thoralf Christiansen (27 January 1886 – 22 July 1971) was a Norwegian folklorist, archivist of the Norwegian Folklore Collection (NFS) and professor of folkloristics at the University of Oslo. Biography Christiansen studied theology du ...
's system of classification of migratory folktales. These stories of selkie-wives are also recognized to be of the
swan maiden The swan maiden is a mythical creature who shapeshifting, shapeshifts from human form to swan form. The key to the transformation is usually a swan skin, or a garment with swan feathers attached. In folktales of this type, the male character spie ...
motif type. There are now hundreds of seal bride type tales that have been found from Ireland to Iceland. Only one specimen was found in Norway by Christiansen. In the
Faroe Islands The Faroe Islands ( ), or simply the Faroes or Faeroes ( fo, Føroyar ; da, Færøerne ), are a North Atlantic archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection of is ...

Faroe Islands
there are analogous beliefs in seal-folk and seal-women also. Seal
shapeshifters In mythology Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitud ...
similar to the selkie exist in the folklore of many cultures. A corresponding creature existed in Swedish legend, and the
Chinook people Chinookan peoples include several groups of Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest The Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast are composed of many nations and tribal affiliations, each with dist ...
of North America have a similar tale of a boy who changes into a seal.


Icelandic folk-tales

The folk-tale "" ("The Seal-Skin") published by Jón Árnason offers an Icelandic analogue of the selkie folk tale. The tale relates how a man from Mýrdalur forced a woman transformed from a seal to marry him after taking possession of her seal-skin. She discovers the key to the chest in her husband's usual clothes when he dresses up for a Christmas outing, and the seal woman is reunited with the male seal who was her betrothed partner. Another such tale was recorded by Jón Guðmundsson the Learned (in 1641), and according to him these seal folk were sea-dwelling elves called ( and
mermaid In folklore Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that ...

mermaid
s). His tale is of a man who comes across the dancing and celebrating of elves within a cave by the ocean. The cave is lined with the seal skins of the dancing elves. As soon as the elves take notice of the man, they rush to don their skins and dive back into the ocean. However, the man is able to steal the smallest of the skins, sliding it underneath his clothes. The owner of the skin tries to retrieve her skin from the man but he quickly takes hold of the young elf and takes her to his home to be his wife. The man and the elf are together for two years, producing two children, a boy and a girl, but the elf harbors no love for the man. During this time, the former elf woman's elf husband swims along the shore by the couple's home. One day, the elf woman finds her skin, and runs away, never to be seen again.; I, pp. XII–XIV A more distant echo of selkie-type stories may be found in the medieval story of the demonic woman
Selkolla Selkolla (literally 'seal-head') is a supernatural being in Icelandic folklore. She is described as a fair woman that is sometimes seen having the head of a seal Seal may refer to any of the following: Common uses * Pinniped Pinnipeds (pro ...
(whose name means 'Seal-head').


Faroese legends

A famous selkie story from the
Faroe Islands The Faroe Islands ( ), or simply the Faroes or Faeroes ( fo, Føroyar ; da, Færøerne ), are a North Atlantic archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection of is ...

Faroe Islands
is ''The Legend of'' '','' literally meaning 'seal woman.' The story tells of a young farmer from the village of
Mikladalur Mikladalur, meaning "great valley or dale Dale or dales may refer to: Locations * Dale (landform), an open valley, particularly in northern England and southern Scotland * Dale (place name element) Geography ;Australia *The Dales (Christmas Isl ...
who, after learning about the local legend that seals could come ashore and shed their skins once a year on the Thirteenth Night, goes to see for himself. While laying in wait, the man watches as many seals swim to shore, shedding their skin to reveal their human forms. The farmer takes the skin of a young selkie woman, who, unable to return to the water without her skin, is forced to follow the young man back to his farm and become his wife. The two stay together for many years, even producing several children. The man locks the selkie woman's skin in a chest, keeping the key to the lock on his person at all times, so his wife may never gain access. However, one day the man forgets his key at home, and comes back to his farm to find that his selkie wife has taken her skin and returned to the ocean. Later, when the farmer is out on a hunt, he kills the selkie woman's selkie husband and two selkie sons. Enraged, the selkie woman promises vengeance for her lost kin. She exclaims that "some shall be drowned, some shall fall from cliffs and slopes, and this shall continue, until so many men have been lost that they will be able to link arms around the whole island of
Kalsoy Kalsoy ( da, Kalsø) is an island in the north-east of the Faroe Islands of Denmark between Eysturoy and Kunoy. The name means man island; by contrast with the parallel island to the east, Kunoy, the name of which means woman island. The northernm ...

Kalsoy
." Deaths that occur on the island are thought to be due to the selkie woman's curse. ''Peter Kagan and the Wind'' by
Gordon Bok Gordon Bok (born October 31, 1939) is an American folklorist and singer-songwriter, who grew up in Camden, Maine, Camden, Maine and is associated with music from New England. Career Bok's first album, self-titled, was produced by Noel Paul Stoo ...
tells of the fisherman Kagan who married a seal-woman. Against his wife's wishes he set sail dangerously late in the year, and was trapped battling a terrible storm, unable to return home. His wife shifted to her seal form and saved him, even though this meant she could never return to her human body and hence her happy home.


Irish folklore

The mermaid in Irish folklore (sometimes called ''merrow'' in Hiberno-English) has been regarded as a seal-woman in some instances. In a certain collection of lore in
County Kerry County Kerry ( gle, Contae Chiarraí) is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers ...

County Kerry
, there is an
onomastic Onomastics or onomatology is the study of the etymology Etymology ()The New Oxford Dictionary of English ''The'' () is a grammatical article Article often refers to: * Article (grammar) An article is any member of a class of dedicated ...
tale in
Tralee Tralee ( ; ga, Trá Lí, ; formerly , meaning 'strand of the Lee River') is the county town In the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage ...

Tralee
which claimed the Lee family was descended from a man who took a ('mermaid') for a wife; she later escaped and joined her seal-husband, suggesting she was of the seal-folk kind. There is also the tradition that the Conneely clan of
Connemara Connemara ( ga, Conamara ) is a region on the Atlantic coast of western County Galway County Galway ( ; gle, Contae na Gaillimhe) is a in . It is in the , taking up the south of the of . There are several in the west of the count ...

Connemara
was descended from seals, and it was taboo for them to kill the animals lest it bring ill luck. And since ''conneely'' became a moniker of the animal, many changed their surname to Connolly. It is also mentioned in this connection that there is a Roaninish (, 'seal island') off Donegal, outside Gweebarra Bay.


Selkie children

In many versions of the selkie myth, the children produced by the coupling of a selkie and a human, are born with certain physical characteristics that set them apart from normal children. In David Thomson's book ''The People of the Sea,'' which chronicles the extensive legends surrounding the Grey Seal within the folklore of rural Scottish and Irish communities, it is the children of male selkies and human women that have webbed toes and fingers. When the webbing is cut, a rough and rigid growth takes its place. In ''The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland'',
Ernest Marwick Ernest Walker Marwick (born 1915 Evie, Orkney; died 1977) was an Orcadian writer noted for his writings on Orkney Orkney (; sco, Orkney; on, Orkneyjar; nrn, Orknøjar), also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago An archipe ...
cites a tale of a woman who gives birth to a son with a seal's face after falling in love with a selkie man. A dream later reveals the location of silver for the woman to find after giving birth to her son. A group of selkie descendants, also mentioned by Marwick, possessed a skin that was greenish, white in color and cracked in certain places upon the body. These cracks exuded a fishy odor.


Theories of origins

Before the advent of
modern medicine Medicine is the science and Praxis (process) , practice of caring for a patient, managing the diagnosis, prognosis, Preventive medicine, prevention, therapy, treatment, Palliative care , palliation of their injury or disease, and Health promoti ...
, many physiological conditions were untreatable. When children were born with abnormalities, it was common to blame the
fairies A fairy (also ''fay'', ''fae'', ''fey'', ''fair folk'', or ''faerie'') is a type of mythical Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions com ...
. The MacCodrum clan of the
Outer Hebrides The Outer Hebrides () or Western Isles ( gd, Na h-Eileanan Siar or ; sco, Waster Isles), sometimes known as ("islands of the strangers") or the Long Isle/Long Island ( gd, An t-Eilean Fada, links=no), is an island chain off the west coast ...
became known as the "MacCodrums of the seals" as they claimed to be descended from a union between a fisherman and a selkie. This was an explanation for their
syndactyly Syndactyly is a condition wherein two or more digits are fused together. It occurs normally in some mammal Mammals (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a struc ...

syndactyly
– a
hereditary Heredity, also called inheritance or biological inheritance, is the passing on of traits Trait may refer to: * Phenotypic trait in biology, which involve genes and characteristics of organisms * Trait (computer programming), a model for st ...
growth of skin between their fingers that made their hands resemble
flippers Flipper may refer to: Common meanings *Flipper (anatomy), a forelimb of an aquatic animal, useful for steering and/or propulsion in water *Alternate name for a swimfin, footwear that boosts human swimming efficiency *Flipper (pinball), a part of a ...
. Scottish
folklorist Folklore studies, also known as folkloristics, and occasionally tradition studies or folk life studies in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, ...
and
antiquarian An antiquarian or antiquary (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Thro ...
, David MacRitchie believed that early settlers in Scotland probably encountered, and even married,
Finnish Finnish may refer to: * Something or someone from, or related to Finland * Finnish culture * Finnish people or Finns, the primary ethnic group in Finland * Finnish language, the national language of the Finnish people * Finnish cuisine See also

...
and
Sami Places * Sápmi (, smj, Sábme / Sámeednam, sma, Saepmie, sju, Sábmie, , , : Соаме ''Soame'') is the traditionally inhabited by the . Sápmi is in and includes the northern parts of , also known as the "". The region stretches ...
women who were misidentified as selkies because of their sealskin
kayak A kayak is a small, narrow watercraft Watercraft, also known as water vessels or waterborne vessels, are vehicles A vehicle (from la, vehiculum) is a machine A machine is any physical system with ordered structural and functional pr ...

kayak
s and clothing. Others have suggested that the traditions concerning the selkies may have been due to misinterpreted sightings of Finn-men (
Inuit Inuit (; iu, ᐃᓄᐃᑦ 'the people', singular: Inuk, , dual: Inuuk, ) are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples Indigenous peoples, also referred to as First people, Aboriginal people, Native people, or autochthonous people, ...
from the
Davis Strait Davis Strait (french: Détroit de Davis) is a northern arm of the Atlantic Ocean that lies north of the Labrador Sea. It lies between mid-western Greenland and Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada. To the north is Baffin Bay. The strait was named for ...
). The Inuit wore clothes and used kayaks that were both made of animal skins. Both the clothes and kayaks would lose buoyancy when saturated and would need to be dried out. It is thought that sightings of Inuit divesting themselves of their clothing or lying next to the skins on the rocks could have led to the belief in their ability to change from a seal to a man. Another belief is that
shipwreck A shipwreck is the wreckage of a ship A ship is a large watercraft Watercraft, also known as water vessels or waterborne vessels, are vehicles A vehicle (from la, vehiculum) is a machine A machine is any physical system ...

shipwreck
ed
Spaniards Spaniards, or Spanish people, are a predominantly Romance Romance (from Vulgar Latin , "in the Roman language", i.e., "Latin") may refer to: Common meanings * Romance (love) Romance or Romantic love is an emotional feeling of love for, ...
were washed ashore, and their jet black hair resembled seals. As the
anthropologist An anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology Anthropology is the of ity, concerned with , , , and , in both the present and past, including . studies patterns of behaviour, while studies cultural meaning, including ...

anthropologist
A. Asbjørn Jøn has recognised, though, there is a strong body of lore that indicates that selkies "are said to be
supernaturally The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena or entities that are not subject to the Scientific law, laws of nature. This term is attributed to non-physical entity, non-physical entities, such as angels, demons, gods, and ghost, spirits. It ...
formed from the
souls In many religious, philosophical, and myth Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude ...
of drowned people".


Modern treatments

Scottish poet
George Mackay Brown George Mackay Brown (17 October 1921 – 13 April 1996) was a Scottish poet, author and dramatist with a distinctly Orkney, Orcadian character. He is seen as one of the great Scottish poets of the 20th century. Biography Early life and career Ge ...
wrote a modern prose version of the story, entitled "Sealskin".Brown, George Mackay (1983), "Sealskin", ''A Time to Keep and Other Stories'', New York, Vanguard Press, pp. 172–173, cited in .


In popular culture

Selkies—or references to them—have appeared in numerous novels, songs and films, though the extent to which these reflect traditional stories varies greatly. Work where selkie lore forms the central theme include: * ''
A Stranger Came Ashore ''A Stranger Came Ashore'' is a 1975 young adult novel written by Scottish People, Scottish author Mollie Hunter. Set in the Shetland, Shetland Islands in the north of Scotland, the plot revolves around a boy called Robbie Henderson, his family a ...
'', a 1975
young adult novel Young adult fiction (YA) is a category of fiction Fiction is any creative work A creative work is a manifestation of creativity, creative effort including Work of art, fine artwork (sculpture, paintings, drawing, Sketch (drawing), sketching ...
by
Scottish Scottish usually refers to something of, from, or related to Scotland, including: *Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family native to Scotland *Scottish English *Scottish national identity, the Scottish ide ...
author
Mollie Hunter Maureen Mollie Hunter McIlwraith (30 June 1922 – 31 July 2012) was a Scottish people, Scottish writer known as Mollie Hunter. She wrote fantasy for children, historical fiction, historical stories for young adults, and realistic novels for adults ...
. Set in the
Shetland Islands Shetland ( on, Hjaltland; sco, Shetland; nrn, Hjetland), also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zetland, is a subarctic archipelago in the Northern Atlantic, between Great Britain, the Faroe Islands and Norway. It is the northernmos ...
in the north of Scotland, the plot revolves around a boy who must protect his sister from the Great Selkie. * ''
The Secret of Roan Inish ''The Secret of Roan Inish'' is a 1994 American/Irish independent film of Irish Magic realism, magical realism written and directed by John Sayles. It is based on the 1957 novel ''Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry'', by Rosalie K. Fry. It is centered o ...
'', a 1994 American/Irish independent film based on the novel ''Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry'', by Rosalie K. Fry. The film's story follows a young Irish girl, Fiona Coneely, who uncovers the mystery of her family's selkie ancestry, and its connection to her lost brother. * ''
Selkie In Celtic The words Celt and Celtic (also Keltic) may refer to: Ethno-linguistics *Celts The Celts (, see pronunciation of ''Celt'' for different usages) are. "CELTS location: Greater Europe time period: Second millennium B.C.E. to ...
'', a 2000
Australian Australians, colloquially referred to as "Aussies", are the citizens Citizenship is a relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection. Each state determines ...
made-for-TV A television film is a feature-lengthIn Internet marketing, online marketing, a landing page, sometimes known as a "lead capture page","single property page", "static page", "squeeze page" or a "destination page", is a single web page that appe ...
film. * '' Ondine'', a 2009 Irish film in which a woman caught in a fishing net is believed to be a selkie. * ''
Song of the Sea #REDIRECT Song of the Sea The Song of the Sea ( he, שירת הים, ''Shirat HaYam'', also known as ''Az Yashir Moshe'' and Song of Moses, or ''Mi Chamocha'') is a poem Poetry (derived from the Greek '' poiesis'', "making") is a form o ...
'', a 2014 Irish animated film about a young boy who discovers his mute sister is a selkie who must find her voice and free the
faerie Fairyland (''Faerie'', Scottish Scottish usually refers to something of, from, or related to Scotland, including: *Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family native to Scotland *Scottish English *Scottish na ...
creatures from the Celtic goddess
Macha Macha () was a sovereignty goddess Sovereignty goddess is a scholarly term, almost exclusively used in Celtic studies (although parallels for the idea have been claimed in other traditions, usually under the label ''hieros gamos''). The term de ...

Macha
.
Generally Spooky Podcast Episode 8
a Scottish history podcast talks about the selkies, telling some of the selkie stories alongside looking at their history and why the stories may have started.


See also

*
Bucca (mythological creature) Bucca is a male sea-spirit in Cornish folklore, a merman, that inhabited mines and coastal communities as a hobgoblin during storms. The mythological creature is a type of water spirit likely related to the Púca from Irish folklore, Irish, the Pw ...
*
Finfolk In Orkney folklore, Finfolk (sometimes Finnfolk) are Magic (paranormal), sorcerous shapeshifting, shapeshifters of the sea, the dark mysterious race from Finfolkaheem who regularly make an amphibious journey from the depths of the Finfolk ocean hom ...
*
Kelpie A kelpie, or water kelpie, is a shape-shifting spirit inhabiting lochs in Scottish folkloreScottish folklore encompasses the folklore Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tra ...
*
Mermaid In folklore Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that ...

Mermaid
*
Merman Mermen, the male counterparts of the mythical female mermaid In folklore, a mermaid is an aquatic creature with the head and upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, in ...

Merman


Explanatory notes


References

;Bibliography * * * * * * * ** ** ** ** ** (translated from the German) * * * ;Further reading * *


External links


The Mermaid Wife and other migratory legends of Christiansen type 4080
tr. ed. D. L. Ashliman
Annotated Selkie resources
from
Mermaids on the Web
'

by Beth Winegarner * http://heima.olivant.fo/~hjck/enMyndasavn7.htm, which was performed by children at the theatre in
Tórshavn Tórshavn (; lit. 'Thor In Germanic mythology Germanic mythology consists of the body of myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myt ...
in May 2001 *
The First Silkie
' by William Meikle, read on the ''Celtic Myth Podshow'' {{Fairies Aos Sí Fairies Fantasy creatures Female legendary creatures Irish folklore Irish legendary creatures Legendary mammals Mermaids Mythological aquatic creatures Mythological human hybrids Orcadian culture Scottish folklore Scottish legendary creatures Witchcraft in folklore and mythology Shapeshifting Shetland culture Scandinavian legendary creatures Tuatha Dé Danann Water spirits