Call of the Selkie



I do not claim to be an expert on folklore. I leave that to the academics, and purists who like to argue amongst themselves and dissect ancient traditions. In doing so they fail to see the magic and timeless wisdom in these old myths that at one point in time were more than just stories. 

As for me, I subscribe to the belief that the origins of the seal folk came from the indigenous inhabitants of Northern Scandinavia, the Saami. A nomadic people, from a territory known as Finnmark. Distinct from their Norwegian neighbours, they were regarded as great sorcerers who had the power of prophesy and healing. The ability to control the weather and to enter into an otherworldly trance journey state. It was said they could shapeshift at will and often took the form of a sea animal. These Norse Finns were a shamanic people, some of whom still live a nomadic life. Their traditions and legends were carried into Shetland and Orkney by the Norsemen and perhaps by even the Saami themselves. It was considered to be a great honour by island folk if they had Sammi blood in their line.

Through time, the shamanic traditions of the Finnar, morphed into mythical beings called of the Fin Folk. They have their own 'sea devil' stories. They were said to be a race of dark amphibious sorcerers who were feared by mortals, as they often stole men and women to hold captive in their secret island homes. They would wreck fishing boats, cause drownings and steal catches. Some would argue these tales gave birth to the more modern Selkie ones. Some would argue that the Fin Folk and Seal Folk are one in the same. Mainly due to the seal skin boats and clothes of the Saami. And the many documented sightings of seal skins lying on the rocks along with naked people on the shores around Orkney and Shetland.  Some writers have even suggested that the Seal Folk were in fact, Artic Inuit who ventured south to Norther Europe during the Little Ice Age. Some believe that although there are connections Finn Folk and Seal Folk are two separate mythological races. This supports the 'good and evil' moralist metaphor that mankind seems to like so much. Whatever you choose to believe, Scotland has a rich history of folk lore that gave birth to the selkie stories and great ballads that are still told and sung today. 


For me, selkies are like the Saami, they are a shamanic race of shapeshifters from the sea, who can also live on the land if they take off their magical seal coats. A true spirit walker of both worlds. There is no agreement about how often they could transform and rightly so. As the moon has such power over the sea and connection to mortal women. I sometimes like to think that female selkies would shift their shape during a full moon, when they would dance upon the sands under the silver light of the great grandmother in the sky. That male selkies powers to transform would be heightened by yellow sunlight and that they could come ashore as it rose in the East to find themselves a human lover and return to the sea before the sun set in the West. But, as magical creatures I don't think either would be bound by gender, human constraints, or lack of a mythic imagination. 

The elements of the selkie myth that most agree upon are, that without their seal coats they cannot transform back to their seal form and return to their home in the sea. As you might imagine, this makes their enchanted skin very precious. That is why it is often stolen by mortal man to give them power over the selkie. Sometimes it is buried, or locked away but it is almost always found in the end. Take heed, no good can ever come of taking something that does not belong to you. Be that heart, soul or selkie skin.

Most lore lovers agree, that Selkie men are very handsome in their human form. Often with pale skins, thick black wavy hair and shiny dark eyes. They have great seductive powers over women. It is believed that if a woman wishes to find a selkie lover, she must perform a 'ritual' to call him to her. She must shed seven tears into the sea at high tide. If this is carried out, the male selkie can shift into human form and come ashore to make love to the mortal woman. This bit of particular lore, calls out to my soul and I have included it in both prose and story penned by my own hand. 

Selkie maidens are also said to also be very beautiful and just as irresistible to human men. Often mortal man uses trickery to steal their seal coats, so they can force them to become their brides. A marriage under such terms is always doomed to fail in the end. The wife is sometimes said to be satisfied for a short while but never truly happy. She is always a good mother but spends her days gazing out to sea, for her heart is always homesick for the place of her birth and for her seal family. 

If children are born from a mortal and selkie union. They have the dark look of the seal, are great swimmers and sometimes have a condition called 'selkie paw' (webbed feet or fingers) that always grows back no matter how much it is cut away. The children are often the ones who find the stolen seal skins and return them to their selkie mothers. Sometimes they go with them when they return to a live under the waves but more often than not, they are left behind with their mortal repentant fathers. Some island folk proclaim to have Selkie or ancestors. Who am I to argue, for I too would be proud to call these folk my kin. 

There is much wisdom in these old myths if you care to look and much magic. As a storyteller, it is my role to bring this magic to the world of mortals. For never before has mankind needed it or the wisdom so much. Let the enchantment begin...….


“Rowan Morrison’s beautiful storytelling is magical. Evocative of the true Bardic dreaming of this land”. (Maxine Smillie)