Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Selkie

Selkies are found in Celtic mythology, including Irish and Scottish folklore. They are also featured in Icelandic folklore. I will add here that there are threads of relatedness between Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic, and Norse legends. Selkies are creatures which exist as seals in the ocean or as human beings on land. They evidently become human by shedding their seal skins. In a number of accounts, Selkie women are trapped into  marriages when men steal and lock away these seal skins. The stories are often romantic tragedies which end in a Selkie recovering her skin, forsaking her human family, and returning to the sea. Of course, opinions on whether such events are tragedies vary since the Selkie was essentially held captive in a forced marriage. Any male inclination to “force now, persuade later” is best avoided.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

For my epic story poem, The Fear of a Farmer, I chose to portray the Selkie as a changeling who simply alters her form when she moves between land and sea. Here, I must confess my lack of internet skills, despite which I was still surprised and frustrated by my inability to find classic paintings of this popular legend. Most of what I found was more modern and tended to fall into the following categories: naked women on rocks, naked women on rocks with seals, naked women with seals in water, naked women with seal eyes, and naked women stripping off seal skins. These generally don’t interest me, and I find many of them rather creepy or even grotesque. In the above picture, I chose to represent a Selkie as a naked woman wrapped in her own hair for the sake of modesty (mine). The background scenery is reminiscent of what I saw when I was on the southern coast of Oregon. Very large rock formations were both on the beach and offshore. Below is a facial close-up to develop her visual character.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

I did find some other images which seemed to have that something extra which tickled my imagination. Unfortunately, I was unable to find credits for all of them. Those I could find are captioned. These next two show a powerless yearning to return to the sea. They are also distinctive in that the women are dressed.

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selkie 3

 

Likewise for this one. It is dramatic and poignant since the Selkie has recovered her skin and is obviously preparing to escape back to the sea. The effect is intensified by the furtive, resentful, or regretful look she is casting over her shoulder.

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From A Selkie Story (Copyright: 2009 Kate Leiper).

Here is a photo of a statue. Can you identify the category?

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Statue called Selkie or Seal Wife, village of Mikladulur, Kalsoy.

Incidentally, The Fear of a Farmer has finally been formatted and should be available for purchase on Amazon by the publication date of this post or soon thereafter.  Here is where I have to show my requisite illustration of a seal. This is similar to the view I was afforded in Bandon, Oregon, where I saw a harbor seal swimming roughly 10 yards off shore and paralleling my progress as I walked along the beach.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

I still have a couple more creatures to go…

12 thoughts on “Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Selkie”

  1. Love these posts, especially since my knowledge of mythology outside of Greek mythology is limited. Not permanently limited; I find mythology a fascinating area to explore (and very necessary to fully appreciate many works of art.)

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    1. I’ve had an interest in mythology since I was 10 or 11. As an adult, I finally got around to reading The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, and the Prose Edda. I’m certainly not an expert, just a recreational reader and commentator. It stimulates my imagination for the stories I write. Take care.

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  2. There is a film that was done years ago about a Selkie, “The Secret of Roan Irish” c. 1994 – it was captivating. Later, an animated film was made, Song of the Sea c.2014. You’ll have to rent them and watch them.

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    1. I’m not sure exactly when I might start posting again. I’ve been concentrating on writing short stories and submitting them to genre magazines and literary magazines. I need to get active on the internet again, and I’ll probably do so when my inspiration reaches critical mass.

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      1. Where can I find a good book on mythical beasts and monsters? Can you suggest one? I’m a part time writer (and full time physician) and need some solid source material to base some of things for a story of mine.

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      2. Like you, I’m afraid this is outside of my field. I’m a retired biology professor, and my specialization is in molecular biology. I can think of one idea: learning about mythological creatures from epic poems such as The Odyssey and Beowulf. Another possibility is William O’Connor’s Dracopedia Bestiary and his books on dragons. These are illustrated (he was a fantasy artist). They’re far from academic, but they might give you some ideas. I hope this is helpful.

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