Know Your Creatures: Selkies

The more I poked the novel with a pointy stick, the more I appreciated that creatures of Celtic myth and legend aren’t as widespread as they should be. To fix this, I highly recommend starting somewhere like Scotland’s Stories, whose beautiful illustrations remind me of Betty Swanwick who’s best known for the Selling England By The Pound cover. The wonderful tales at Orkneyjar are also worth your time.

Today I want to talk about the selkie.

Selkies usually live beneath the sea and in their world resemble more beautiful versions of humans. To cross into our world, though, they take the form of a seal; when they reach our shores they can take the sealskin off. If they lose the skin, they’re stuck on land. This forms the basis for many selkie stories; a well-known tale has a man fall in love with a selkie woman and hide her skin so she is forced to stay with him. They marry and have children; one day the selkie finds her skin and immediately plunges into the sea, never to be seen by her husband again. (Some accounts say she is seen by the shore with her children.)

Another account suggests they’re particularly gifted in the bedroom department. A woman known only as ‘Ursilla’ was a handsome, strong-willed girl whose husband seems to have been impotent. So the story goes:

And she was not the woman to sit down and cry over sorrow; she determined to console herself by having intercourse with one of the selkie folk.

She shed seven tears into the sea and a handsome bull seal appeared. They had a regular affair, resulting in several babies with webbed hands and feet which the midwife duly clipped off. I guess there’s always been a need to hide the products of supernatural unions…

Cavan, on the other hand, doesn’t like to hide anything. He’s spent many an enjoyable decade in our world, because humans seem to find him incredibly attractive. To be fair, he is always impeccably-dressed, albeit several centuries out of date. (I believe the yoof call this being a ‘hipster’.) One day he might get pulled up by the Council for his little jaunts out of Otherworld, but until then he’s quite content to work his way through whichever man or woman takes his fancy. That is, until he muscles in on Rael’s potential conquests one night…

So, to answer the people who have asked me ‘are selkies like mermaids?’ Well, if they’re anything like Hipster Ariel but 100% more vain, perhaps.

Into underwater worlds before it was cool.

Into underwater worlds and sexytimes with humans before it was cool.

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