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Folklore

Here Be Selkies

Scotland has its fair share of fantastic beasts.

And whilst everyone knows where to find (or at least look for) Nessie, there are a few lesser-known creatures that, to me at least, are no less iconic.

And foremost amongst those is the selkie.

A Scots version of the mermaid legend, the selkie is an understandable myth when you consider Scotland’s reliance on the coast and islands and its people’s relationship with the sea.

Half human, half seal, and more often than not female, tales of the selkie are prevalent amongst many sea-faring cultures of the northern hemisphere.

Most of the Scottish tales revolve around the concept of the ‘seal wife’, where a fisherman spies a selkie in human form and steals her skin, binding her to land – and to his servitude.

And, with Scottish folklore being frequently fatalistic, most of the tales end in similar fashion: with the wronged selkie rediscovering her skin and slipping gratefully back beneath the waves in her true form, never to be seen again.

Perhaps these tales were originally intended as moral warnings not to upset the equilibrium of humanity’s delicate relationship with the ocean. It’s possible they even served to remind the listener that love and companionship should be earned and not stolen. But viewed through a modern lens, the tales’ conclusions become less melancholic and more justified.

Whatever the intent of the original stories, the myth of the selkie does have a ring of modernity about it, of humanity’s place in things, and of the wonder of the natural world. Seldom if ever evil, the selkie is an innocent creature that has its place in things, and a place it longs to be, no matter what befalls it or whomever crosses its path.

So, if you spy a seal skin lying on some uninhabited shoreline, leave it be.

Selkies belong in the sea.

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