By Liana Paraschaki
Selkies are a shape-shifting magical creature, found all over Scotland, Ireland, and Iceland. Selkies typically wore the hide of a seal, which allowed them to explore both below the water and the land. Every so often, and our sources disagree as to precisely how often that would be, the selkies could shed their skin, and dance in the moonlight, this time as humans. Once their skin was shed, however, they would remain in human form until the seal skin was placed back upon their shoulders. If lost, the selkies were doomed to stay humans forever.
Selkie men and women alike were thought to be irresistible. While most of our sources speak of female selkies turning into beautiful women, the males of the species were no less handsome. Unhappy, unsatisfied women were encouraged to make their way to the shore and shed seven tears. Their selkie lover would then appear, shed his skin, and seek “unlawful love” in her embrace. If a girl was ever lost at sea, her selkie lover was to blame.
For female selkies, the myths are a bit more melancholy. Our myths usually begin with selkie women dancing in the moonlight, their skins shed and lying on their feet. A mortal man comes across them, and enamoured by their beauty, manages to hide one of their skins. The unfortunate selkie can no longer return to the sea and is forced into a human marriage. Years later, one of her children finds the skin and returns it to the selkie, who tenderly hugs her child before returning to the sea.
Folklorists and storytellers often disagree on the nature of the selkies, mostly on the frequency of their appearance. Some claim that selkies could take on human form only once every year, others every seven nights, or even every seven springtides. Most legends, however, agree on their gentle nature. Initially thought to be rather innocent, they were eventually regarded as punished sinners or even fallen angels, once Christianity was firmly established on the islands. Despite the disputes on the nature of selkies, it was considered bad luck to kill a seal and use its skin, so Scotsmen would resort to such actions only in times of need.