The Legend of the Selkies - ShanOre Irish Jewlery

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The Legend of the Selkies: A Love & Transformation Story

The Tale of the Shape-Shifting Mythological Creature in Celtic Folklore

Are you ready to fall in love with another enchanting Irish folk tale? Today’s post will explore the mesmerizing legend of the Selkies. These mystical creatures tell a story of love, loss, and the magic of transformation.

Let’s explore the origins and background of the Selkies and how they have captivated people’s imaginations for generations.

What are Selkies?

What are Selkies?

In Scottish and Irish folklore, Selkies are mythical seals with shape-shifting abilities. These unique seals have the incredible ability to shed their skin and assume a human form. They are our Celtic version of Mermaids.

According to Celtic folklore, Selkies are gentle and kind creatures who are also known for having a mischievous side. In human form, Selkies are said to be beautiful, graceful, and have a captivating singing voice. Selkies can only transform from seal to human form on certain nights. These nights usually occur on Midsummer’s Eve or when there is a full moon.

The legend also describes them as having webbing between their fingers. This feature allows them to move between the world of man and the sea. Once a Selkie sheds its skin, it can only return to its seal form by finding its skin again.

Some tales describe how these mystical creatures can control the weather and sea. Hence, they are often associated with storms and shipwrecks. Selkies have been the subject of many stories, songs, and poems throughout Scottish and Irish folklore. They are still a popular topic in modern culture, referenced in literature, music, and film.

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Origins of the Selkies


The origins of Selkies are rooted in Scottish and Irish folklore. Early references to these creatures can be found in medieval texts. These include the Icelandic “sagas” and the Orkneyinga Saga, which was written in the 13th century.

These texts describe Selkies as supernatural beings that could transform from a seal into a human by shedding their skin. As we mentioned previously, this ability was somehow tied to the cycles of the moon and the tides. Hence, Selkies were often associated with the power of the sea.

Over time, however, the folklore surrounding Selkies evolved, and they became more closely associated with romantic love stories. An example is a story of love between a human and a Selkie. Unfortunately, the Selkie eventually returns to the sea, leaving the human behind.

These stories were often told as warnings. The message was clear: Love with someone outside of one’s own kind can be risky. They also highlight the theme of longing and loss.

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The Male Selkie

While most stories about Selkies feature female beings, there are also accounts of male Selkies. Male Selkies are said to possess strikingly human forms and alluring powers that women can’t resist.

According to legends, male Selkies frequently target unhappy women, particularly married ladies who long for their fisherman husbands. If a woman wishes to contact a male Selkie, she must shed seven tears into the sea.

The number seven is a recurring theme in Selkie mythology. Some claim that Selkies can only take on human form once every seven years. Others believe Selkies were once humans who committed sinful acts or fallen angels.

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Popular Selkie’s Tale

Popular Selkie's tale

One famous retelling of the Selkie legend is the ballad “The Secret of Roan Inish,” a 1994 American-Irish independent film. The work was based on the novel “Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry” by Rosalie K. Fry. It tells the story of a young girl who discovers she descends from Selkies. The girl sets out on an adventure to find her brother, who allegedly had been taken by the Selkies.

One of the most poignant elements of the Selkie legends is the idea that they must eventually return to the sea. Myths often depict them gazing longingly at the ocean. They are usually torn between their love for their human partners and their need to return to their authentic form.

In some versions of the story, the Selkies can revert to their seal form after shedding seven tears into the sea. This act allows them to return to their natural state and escape the world of humans.

In another version, a man finds out that his wife is actually a Selkie. He then steals her seal skin to keep her on land. When she finally escapes and returns to the sea, she leaves behind her youngest daughter. The girl has webbing between her fingers, which is said to be a characteristic of Selkies and a human descendant.

Other versions also indicate that human women can become Selkies if they wear a seal skin and walk into the sea. They can then return to human form once they shed the skin.

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The Selkie Bride Tale

One of the most well-known Selkie stories is the tale of “The Selkie Bride.” It tells the story of a fisherman who falls in love with a Selkie.

One day, a fisherman hears beautiful singing coming from the shore. Upon investigating, he sees a group of Selkies, who quickly disappear into the water when they notice him. The man, however, finds a seal skin lying on a rock, which he picks up and takes with him.

As he walks away with the skin, a beautiful young woman approaches him and begs that he returns her sealskin. She explains that she is a Selkie and must return to the sea. The fisherman, who has fallen in love with her, convinces her to stay with him and become his wife. He hides her skin in the chimney to prevent her from leaving.

Both get married and have children together, but she always looks longingly out to sea. One day, while the fisherman is at sea, the youngest child asks the Selkie woman why she is always sad. She then reveals that she is a Selkie and cannot return to the sea because her skin is hidden.

The child finds the skin and returns it to his mother, who transforms again into a seal. She swims away, leaving a note thanking the fisherman for his kindness. The fisherman is heartbroken. However, he knew that the Selkie woman was never happy on land and that she belonged in the sea.

The story ends with the fisherman watching the seals playing in the water. Deep down he knows that his Selkie bride is where she belongs.

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Selkies in Popular Culture

Selkies have made appearances in various forms of popular culture, including novels, songs, and films. One such novel is A Stranger Came Ashore, a young adult book by Scottish author Mollie Hunter. The story follows a boy who must protect his sister from the Great Selkie.

The Secret of Roan Inish is a 1994 independent film from America and Ireland. The work is based on Rosalie K. Fry’s novel, Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry. It tells the story of a young girl on a journey to uncover her family’s Selkie ancestry.

Another adaptation of the Selkie legend is the 2000 Australian made-for-TV movie, Selkie. The story portrays a teenage boy who begins to grow scales and webbed fingers, indicating a link to the Selkies.

Ondine, a 2009 romantic drama starring Colin Farrell, is perhaps one of the most beloved adaptations of the legend. The movie is set in Castletownbere, Ireland, and explores the possible existence of Selkies. It is the story of an Irish fisherman who discovers a woman in his fishing net. His curious daughter begins to suspect that the woman might be a Selkie.

To sum it up

To summarize, the legend of the Selkies is a beautiful yet tragic tale that has captured the hearts of generations. It speaks to our deep-seated desire for transformation and our love for the ocean and its creatures.

So next time you find yourself gazing longingly at the sea, keep an eye out for the female Selkie. Who knows? You may just fall in love with a Selkie yourself.

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