Fae Folk: Selkie

“For I am a man upon the land
I am a Selkie on the sea…”

Selkie are fae folk from Orkney, Shetland and feature in Irish folklore. The word “selkie” is simply Orcadian for “seal”, and the selkie of folklore are shapeshifters, beings who assume human form on the land but who become seals when they swim in the sea. When they come ashore, the leave behind their seal skins, and if a mortal man takes a selkie maid’s skin, he can force her to marry him.  A selkie bride will always attempt to find her skin and return to the sea, leaving behind any children she may have had with her mortal husband.

Male selkies are said to be unfriendly to fishermen, causing storms and overturning boats, but desirable to mortal maids, upon whom they father children. According to folklore, if a mortal maid cries into the sea she will call a selkie lover from the depths, who will be handsome, wild and mysterious. The folk song The Great Selkie of Suleskerry tells of a woman who is visited by the selkie father of her child. He reveals he has come to take their son to be raised among the selkies but before he leaves he predicts that the woman’s next husband will kill him and their son.


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