Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Seal Maiden

Alexandra shares some Celtic folklore.
The Silkie Wife:

Those in Shetland and Orkney Islands who know no better, are persuaded that the seals, or silkies, as they call them, can doff their coverings at times, and disport themselves as men and women. A fisher once turning a ridge of rock, discovered a beautiful bit of green turf adjoining the shingle, sheltered by rocks on the landward side, and over this turf and shingle two beautiful women chasing each other. Just at the man's feet lay two seal-skins, one of which he took up to examine it. The women, catching sight of him, screamed out, and ran to get possession of the skins. One seized the article on the ground, donned it in a thrice, and plunged into the sea; the other wrung her hands, cried, and begged the fisher to restore her property; but he wanted a wife, and would not throw away the chance. He wooed her so earnestly and lovingly, that she put on some woman's clothing which he brought her from his cottage, followed him home, and became his wife.

Some years later, when their home was enlivened by the presence of two children, the husband awaking one night, heard voices in conversation from the kitchen. Stealing softly to the room door, he heard his wife talking in a low tone with some one outside the window. The interview was just at an end, and he had only time to ensconce himself in bed, when his wife was stealing across the room. He was greatly disturbed, but determined to do or say nothing till he should acqui
re further knowledge. Next evening, as he was returning home by the strand, he spied a male and female phoca sprawling on a rock a few yards out at sea. The rougher animal, raising himself on his tail and fins, thus addressed the astonished man in the dialect spoken in these islands:--"You deprived me of her whom I was to make my companion; and it was only yesternight that I discovered her outer garment, the loss of which obliged her to be your wife.

I bear no malice, as you were kind to her in your own, fashion; besides, my heart is too full of joy to hold any malice. Look on your wife for the last time." The other seal glanced at him with all the shyness and s
orrow she could force into her now uncouth features; but when the bereaved' husband rushed toward the rock to secure his lost treasure, she and her companion were in the water on the other side of it in a moment, and the poor fisherman was obliged to return sadly to his motherless children and desolate home.

For a creative retelling of the silkie (selkie) legend, I highly recommend the charming film mentioned by Alexandra, The Secret of Roan Inish. Share


christopher said...

I remember reading this exact story as a kid, thanks for the post and bringing back some nice memories.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Christopher and my thanks to Alexandra!

Enbrethiliel said...


I always feel sad for the abandoned children at the end of selkie stories. =(

This fairy tale can take on a whole new meaning when read at a time when families are breaking up in record numbers.

elena maria vidal said...

Excellent insight, as always, E. That is why the old tales have renewed meaning for each new generation.

Alexandra said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :) I have a special place in my heart for Celtic fairy tales.