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What the Heck is a Selkie? 馃ΝUnveiling The Mysteries Of Selkie Mythology

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Have you ever stood on a windswept Irish cliff, gazing out at the endless sea, and felt a story brewing in the air around you? Well, you’re not alone. And maybe you weren’t alone. Perhaps a wee Selkie was lurking in the water below you? 

Last week, I talked a lot about Cú Chulainn and his role in Irish history. But once I started looking into Selkie mythology, my interest spiked. There are a lot of varied stories about Selkies. But I am breaking them down as best I can so you can fully understand just what the heck a Selkie is. 

But what the heck is a Selkie? 🦭

A Selkie in seal form in the water

Maybe it was the eyes?

The selkie is a creature of legend born from the misty tales of the Celtic shores. These are mystical beings, with the sea in their eyes and the wild in their hearts, dancing the line between seal and human. Cloaked in sealskin, they shed their ocean disguise upon the land, revealing a form as fetching as the dawn. With voices that weave the very essence of enchantment, selkies can serenade the sea-hardened sailor to a bewitched end, singing songs as captivating even the most hardy of souls. Each selkie has one specific cloak that only works for them. There are stories of their parents hiding the cloak from them as babies so that the child grows up normally. 

The Enchantment of the Selkie

Let’s delve into the enchantment of the Selkie, breaking down the main characteristics for clarity:

  • Mystical Transformation: The most magical aspect of the Selkie is their ability to shift from seal to human. This transformation, often at the edge of the sea, is a sight that intertwines nature’s mystery with the stuff of legends.A realistic image of a female selkie who has almost completely transformed into her human form on a serene Irish beach under moonlight.
  • 🎶The Lure of the Selkie Song: Selkies are renowned for their enchanting songs. In their human form, their voices carry the depth and mystery of the ocean, often described as irresistibly captivating, capable of luring sailors and stirring the hearts of those who hear them.
  • Symbol of Freedom and Longing: In Selkie mythology, the sea represents boundless freedom, while the land signifies the human world with its limitations. The Selkie, moving between both, embodies a deep yearning for liberty and the eternal struggle to return to one’s true essence.
  • Beauty Beyond Compare: Whether male or female, Selkies are said to possess an otherworldly beauty in their human form. This allure isn’t just physical; it’s a reflection of their wild, untamed spirits and the profound mysteries of the sea.
  • Tales of Love and Loss: Many Selkie stories centre around themes of love, often tragic and unfulfilled. The romance between a Selkie and a human is fraught with the tension of two worlds colliding, where love battles the inevitable pull of the Selkie back to the sea.
  • Connection with Nature: Selkies serve as a reminder of our deep connection to the natural world, particularly the sea. They are symbols of the ocean’s wonders and its unfathomable depths, teaching respect and awe for the wild spaces of the earth.
  • Cultural and Emotional Resonance: Beyond just mythological creatures, Selkies resonate with the emotional landscape of the human heart – love, freedom, the allure of the unknown, and the pain of separation. They are as much a part of the human condition as they are of the mythical world.

How did the story of Selkie mythology make its way through history?

They say that all the stories throughout history came from some truth. The enchanting tale of the selkie, with its origins nestled in the Celtic and Norse tapestries of Ireland, Scotland, and the North Atlantic isles, whispers of a time when the sea was both a lifeline and a vast, mysterious expanse.

Born from the heartbeats of remote maritime communities, these stories served to explain the unexplainable, weaving the natural with the supernatural in a world where the lines between human and animal, freedom and captivity, were as fluid as the transforming selkie itself.

Passed down through generations by the warm glow of the hearth, the selkie myth has evolved, capturing the universal themes of love, identity, and the eternal human longing to belong, becoming a rich emblem of cultural heritage and the timeless dance between the human spirit and the wild, untamed sea.

At the core of many a Selkie tale is a story of a human who finds a Selkie’s skin hidden away while its owner walks on land in human form. By taking possession of the skin, the human can prevent the Selkie from returning to seal form and the sea, essentially trapping them in the human world.

But if you’re thinking Selkie mythology has been long forgotten, you would be incorrect. In fact, before researching for this article, I didn’t even realise I had watched a film in 2009 with Colin Farrell all about Selkies! Okay, 2009 was some time ago, so you can forgive me for forgetting. The film is called Ondine, and I really enjoyed it. I was sceptical about the film initially, but it turned out to be a great mix of folklore and storytelling. Set in Ireland, it’s about a fisherman who finds a woman in his net, and his daughter thinks she might be a selkie. Watch the trailer below: 


Other films about Selkie include “Song of the Sea” (2014); this animated feature brings to life the tale of a young brother and sister who embark on an adventure that reveals their Selkie heritage. And The Secret of Roan Inish(I found the full clip of this movie, and you can watch it at the end of this article). It appears to be legitimate when I checked the source. I haven’t watched the movie yet myself, but I will have to give it a go soon. 

Even more mentions of Selkie mythology online: 

  • Literature: “The Folk of the Airseries by Holly Black features a character who is a part of Selkie, blending modern fantasy with traditional folklore. The series has incredible reviews! “The Brides of Rollrock Island” by Margo Lanagan is a novel that delves deep into selkie mythology, exploring the lives of men who take selkie wives.
  • Poetry: The ethereal essence of selkie mythology has also found its voice in poetry, capturing the haunting beauty and sorrow of these sea beings. “The Selkie” by Jane Yolen is one such piece that delves into the selkie’s dual existence, tugging at the heartstrings with its lyrical depiction of transformation and longing. Another notable work is “Selkie” by Annie Finch, which elegantly explores the selkie’s navigation between the worlds of land and sea, encapsulating the deep-seated yearning for one’s true home. “The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry” is a haunting folk ballad that weaves a poignant tale of love and loss, capturing the essence of selkie mythology through its lyrical verses and emotive narrative.
  • Music: The Scottish band Runrig has a song called “The Summer Walkers” that references the Selkie myth. Another example is the song “Sealwoman/Yundah” by Mary McLaughlin, which tells the selkie story through haunting lyrics and melody. And let’s not forget about Seal!! The singer is literally telling us he was once a seal <- this was a joke. 
  • Art and Illustration: Artists like Jackie Morris and Helen Nicholson have created beautiful works inspired by selkie legends, often featured in galleries, books, or online platforms dedicated to mythological and fantasy art.
  • Online and Social Media: Platforms like Tumblr, DeviantArt, and Pinterest host a wealth of selkie-inspired content, from amateur and professional art to short stories and fan theories.

Why the Selkie Stories Endure

In today’s fast-paced world, the Selkie myth and Selkie mythology remind us of the timeless dance between nature and humanity, the pull of the untamed wild, and the deep, intrinsic connections we share with the natural world. These stories resonate with the universal themes of love, freedom, and the search for one’s true self, wrapped in the mystical allure of the Celtic tradition. I hope this post has given you a bit of a background into Selkie mythology. 

So, the next time you find yourself by the sea, listen closely. Perhaps you’ll hear the soft whispers of the Selkie tales carried on the wind, inviting you to ponder the deep, enduring mysteries of the sea and the stories it inspires.

Thanks for reading, 



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