Tag Archives: Celtic mythology

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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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…

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Water Horse

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

Let us turn now to Celtic mythology (more specifically, Scottish legend) for another mythological creature: the Water Horse. Sometimes considered synonymous with a Kelpie,  sometmes considered distinct from it, this entity appears to be part creature and part aquatic spirit.

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The Kelpie (1895) by Thomas Millie Dow.

It is a changeling (shape shifter) that appears in various versions as a woman, a man, a horse, or combinations of these. Whichever version you run across, it is usually a very deceptive and dangerous thing to encounter. In at least one Scottish legend, it lures people into mounting it for a ride, whereupon they become fastened to its back and unable to get off. It then plunges into the water and drowns them. In other accounts, it kills by devouring or crushing its victims. Regardless of the method used, it sometimes does this when it is in human form. This last possibility renders the following painting by Herbert James Draper particularly chilling.

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The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper

The artistic portrayals I have seen are in three main categories. It can be human (usually female) as seen above. Secondly, it may simply be shown as a horse or a horse in the water. The following picture apparently combines the first two approaches.

The Water Horses of Loch Ness (2011) by R. Watson.

Finally, it is sometimes depicted as a hybrid between a horse and a fish or eel of some kind. This is more typical of modern fantasy art. The rather gruesome example below is oddly accentuated by the presence of the heron.

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By Saltygottschalk.com.

I like the bold, clean lines of this next one. The style is more graphic.

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From camstockphoto.com.

I also like the following blend of Celtic and Greek mythology.

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Horses of Neptune by Walter Crane.

In the picture with which I began this post, I chose the hybrid approach. If you look closely, you can see that I adapted it from Ming Dynasty sculptures of horses. I substituted simple fins for the hair of the mane, chin, and tail. I also extended and pointed the ears. I will end with a profile of the head which I drew to enhance the visual character of this creature for my story.

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

But wait! There will be another mythical creature next week…