Selkie Shores Picture

" Selkie Shores "

30 x 30 cm

Acrylic on canvas

„ The seas around Orkney and Shetland harbor the sky Selkies or Seal-Faeries, also known as the Roane in Ireland. A female Selkie is able to discard her seal-skin and come ashore as a beautiful maiden. If a human can capture this skin, the Selkie can be forced to become a fine, if wishful, wife. However, should she ever find her skin she immediately returns to the sea, leaving the husband to pine and die of broken heart and emptiness. „

Selkies (also spelled silkies, sylkies, selchies; Scots: selkie fowk) are mythological creatures found in Scottish, Irish, and Faroese folklore. Selkies are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land. The legend is apparently most common in Orkney and Shetland and is very similar to those of swan maidens.

„…To the onshore observer it is not hard to see how the legends surrounding the selkie-folk — the seal people — sprang into life.
Orkney has many tales concerning this shape-shifting race.
Unlike the Finfolk, who retained their malicious tendencies throughout the years, the selkie-folk have come to be regarded as gentle creatures, with the ability to transform from seals into beautiful, lithe humans. This, however, is a far cry from the original folklore. In the surviving folklore, there is no agreement as to how often the selkie-folk were able to carry out the transformation. Some tales say it was once a year, usually Midsummer's Eve, while others state it could be “every ninth night” or “every seventh stream”. Regardless of how often they were able to transform, the folklore tells us that once in human form, the selkie-folk would dance on lonely stretches of moonlit shore, or bask in the sun on outlying skerries. A common element in all the selkie-folk tales, and perhaps the most important, is the fact that in order to shapeshift they had to cast off their sealskins. Within these magical skins lay the power to return to seal form, and therefore the sea. If this sealskin was lost, or stolen, the creature was doomed to remain in human form until it could be recovered. Because of this, if disturbed while on shore, the selkie-folk would hastily snatch up their skins before rushing back to the safety of the sea. The selkie-men were renowned for their many encounters with human females — married and unmarried. A selkie-man in human form was said to be a handsome creature, with almost magical seductive powers over mortal women. According to tradition, they had no qualms about casting off their sealskins, stashing them carefully, and heading inland to seek out “unsatisfied women”. Should such a mortal woman wish to make contact with a selkie-man, there was a specific rite she had to follow. At high tide, she should make her way to the shore, where she had to shed seven tears into the sea.The selkie-man would then come ashore and, after removing his magical sealskin, seek out “unlawful love”.
In the words of the 19th century Orkney folklorist, Walter Traill Dennison, these selkie males:
". . . often made havoc among thoughtless girls, and sometimes intruded into the sanctity of married life."
If a girl went missing while out on the ebb, or at sea, it was inevitably said that her selkie lover had taken her to his watery domain — assuming, of course, she had not attracted the eye of a Finman. But while the males of the selkie race were irresistible to the island women, selkie-women were no less alluring to the eyes of earth-born men. The most common theme in selkie folklore is one in which a cunning young man acquires, either by trickery or theft, a selkie-girl’s sealskin. This prevents her from returning to the sea, leaving the seal-maiden with no option but to marry her “captor”. The tales generally end sadly, when the skin is returned, usually by one of the selkie-wife's children. In some accounts, her children go with her to the sea, while others have them remaining with their mortal father. “

The origin of the selkie-folk
The times a selkie could assume human form was not the only subject once debated around the peat fires of old Orkney. The mythological origin of the selkie-folk was no clearer. One possibility discussed by the Orcadian storytellers of yesteryear was that the selkie-folk were actually the souls of those who had drowned. One night each year these lost souls were permitted to leave the sea and return to their original human form. Others insisted that the selkie-folk were once human beings who, for some grave misdemeanour, were doomed to assume the form of a seal and live out the rest of their days in the sea. Selkie lore is not confined to Orkney but is also found in the Western Isles, Ireland and down the north and western coasts of Scotland. There, the seal-people are referred to as "silkies" or "selchies".On first glance, the common element - selkie/silkie/selchie - in these different forms of dialect indicates a common root to the tales of the seal-people, probably stemming from early Celtic mythology or tradition.
Although the old folk of Orkney had few possible folkloric origins for the shapeshifting selkie-folk, to the scholar of Orcadian mythology, the source of the tales is not as clear-cut.
On the face of it, the selkie-folk stories don't appear to have a Norse origin — only a few scattered accounts of selkie-folklore are found in Norway and Iceland. Instead, the distribution of the myths — from Shetland, through Orkney and down the west coast of Scotland into Ireland — seems to clearly point to a Celtic origin. Still, to get a better idea of the source of the selkie-folk mythology, we need to examine the mythology surrounding another “creature” found in Orkney and Shetland — in particular its development over time and geographical space. It is even possible that the selkie folklore is inextricably tied up with the tales of the Finfolk, and that at one time these two magical races were regarded as one and the same. Although Orkney folklore now regards the selkie-folk and the Finfolk as completely separate, both clearly have the same source — the people the early Norwegian settlers referred to as "Finns", the Saami people of Scandinavia - a race feared and respected as great magicians.

About the children of the selkie-folk

"An evil spirit your beauty haunts me still.
Wherewith, alas! I have been long possessed."
Michael Drayton

Given the selkie-men's insatiable appetite for mortal women, children said to the result of a union between mortal and selkie were common in Orcadian folk-tales. The story of the Goodman o' Wastness and his seven selkie children is a typical example of this genre. However, the phenomenon was not simply restricted to fireside yarns and, until fairly recently, some Orcadian families still claimed descent from the selkie-folk. One allegedly true story, documented by the 19th century Orkney folklorist, Walter Traill Dennison, centres around one family from the North Isles of Orkney whose children were all born with "selkiepaws" — webbed feet and fingers. At each birth, the midwife desperately clipped away these webs, but to no avail. The web always grew back:". . . and many a clipping Ursilla clipped, to keep the fins from growing again; and the fins, not being able to grow in their natural way, grew into a horny crust on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. And this horny substance can be seen in many of Ursilla's descendants to this day."Dennison witnessed this condition. In his notes regarding the subject he states categorically: "whatever may be thought of this tale, its last sentence is quite true."

Female selkies are said to make excellent wives, but because their true home is the sea, they will often be seen gazing longingly at the ocean. If she finds her skin she will immediately return to her true home, and sometimes to her selkie husband, in the sea. Sometimes, a selkie maiden is taken as a wife by a human man and she has several children by him. In these stories, it is one of her children who discovers her sealskin (often unwitting of its significance) and she soon returns to the sea. The selkie woman usually avoids seeing her human husband again but is sometimes shown visiting her children and playing with them in the waves. Male selkies are described as being very handsome in their human form, and having great seductive powers over human women. They typically seek those who are dissatisfied with their lives, such as married women waiting for their fishermen husbands. If a woman wishes to make contact with a selkie male, she must shed seven tears into the sea. If a man steals a female selkie's skin she is in his power and is forced to become his wife. Stories concerning selkies are generally romantic tragedies. Sometimes the human will not know that their lover is a selkie, and wakes to find them returned to their seal form. In other stories the human will hide the selkie's skin, thus preventing the selkie from returning to its seal form. A selkie can only make contact with one human for a short amount of time before the selkie must return to the sea.
The selkie is unable to make contact with that human again for seven years, unless the human steals their selkie skin and hides it or burns it.
In the Faroe Islands there are two versions of the story of the Selkie or Seal Wife. A young farmer from the town of Mikladalur on Kalsoy island goes to the beach to watch the selkies dance. He hides the skin of a beautiful selkie maid, so she cannot go back to sea, and forces her to marry him. He keeps her skin in a chest, and keeps the key with him both day and night. One day when out fishing, he discovers that he has forgotten to bring his key. When he returns home, the selkie wife has escaped back to sea, leaving their children behind. Later, when the farmer is out on a hunt, he kills both her selkie husband and two selkie sons, and she promises to take revenge upon the men of Mikladalur. 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, there are still occasional deaths occurring in this way on the island.
Peter Kagan and the Wind by Gordon Bok 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. Some stories from Shetland have selkies luring islanders into the sea at midsummer, the lovelorn humans never returning to dry land. A legend similar to that of the selkie is also told in Wales, but in a slightly different form. The selkies are humans who have returned to the sea. Dylan (Dylan ail Don) the firstborn of Arianrhod, was variously a merman or sea spirit, who in some versions of the story escapes to the sea immediately after birth. When children were born with abnormalities, it was common to blame the fairies. The MacCodrum clan of the Outer Hebrides 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 the hereditary horny growth between their fingers that made their hands resemble flippers. Scottish folklorist and antiquarian, David MacRitchie believed that early settlers in Scotland probably encountered, and even married, Finnish and Saami women who were misidentified as selkies because of their sealskin kayaks and clothing. Others have suggested that the traditions concerning the selkies may have been due to misinterpreted sightings of Finn-men (Inuit from the Davis Strait). 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.
As the anthropologist A. Asbjorn Jon has recognised though, there is a strong body of lore that indicates that selkies "are said to be supernaturally formed from the souls of drowned people".

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