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Selkies, the Queens of Toxic Relationships

seal+on+a+ledge
Elizabeth Herrmann
seal on a ledge

“What are selkies?”
Selkies are shapeshifters. They’re seals who can shed their skin and walk on land as a woman. Often described as beautiful, kind, graceful, and having dark black hair, these fantastic creatures are from Scottish, Irish, and Icelandic folklore but their influence can be found in many other cultures. Almost every story about selkies starts with a seal who turns into a woman and helps a sailor, then the sailor steals her seal skin, making her his wife (boo). They live together, have kids, the wife finds her seal skin, and then returns to the sea. In some stories the kids find the skin and return it to their mother, sometimes it is revealed that the selkie already had a husband who’s a seal/selkie and she needs to return to them. Usually, these marriages between humans and selkies are unhappy, seeing as the selkie is being held hostage and unable to return home. In most of the folklore after she returns to the sea she is never seen again, but in some children’s stories, she comes back to visit her family once a year, and in a few, she reappears as a seal who comes to land and seemingly greets the children.

“How are selkies born?”
There isn’t a clear definition for how selkies are born, but in some stories, women will walk into the sea wearing a seal skin and not come back. A lot of the time the kids of a human father and a selkie mother are not selkies, but sometimes they can transform into seals and go to live with their mothers. All in all, it is folklore and it does not have a very clear right and wrong for how selkies are created or born. It is also said that children who were born from both human and selkie will have webs between their fingers, which is an actual abnormality with humans.

“Do selkies eat children? If not, why?”
Usually, selkies are kind and helpful towards humans and do not eat kids. But, they are on occasion said to be dangerous and vengeful. Most selkies are caring mothers and most likely would not like to eat kids. Selkies are not very similar to mermaids or sirens who both have a reputation for killing and eating humans.

“Do they serve a cultural purpose?”
Selkies often save the lives of fishermen and children who fall into the sea. Almost all stories portray them this way.

“Can selkies be men?”
Yes, selkies can be men but they lead very different lives than a selkie who is a woman. Male selkies usually come to land willingly to seduce women who are unhappy with their relationships. Most of the time, they would find wives of sailors who had yet to return to land. Male selkies are also said to be very powerful, causing massive storms. It is also said that if a woman were to cry 7 tears into the sea the selkie would emerge from the water.

“What are some other names for selkies?”
Some of the most common names for selkies are;
Selkies, seal folk, selky, seilkie, sejlki, silkie, silkey, saelkie, sylkie, seal-wives, alongside maighdean mhara in Irish, or moidyn varrey in Manx.
They are often called merfolk or finfolk but they are distinct categories and have different meanings within their cultures most of the time.

“What’s with the number 7 and selkies?”
For some reason, selkies are often associated with the number seven. If you cry 7 tears into the sea they’ll appear, and in some stories, the selkies can only come to land every 7 years, and there are a lot of references to a 7th stream. So for some unknown reason, selkies are heavily associated with the number 7.

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About the Contributor
Hi! I'm Liz, I'm an 8th grader and this is my second year in journalism. I go by she/her pronouns and enjoy doing art, writing, and hanging out with animals. :)

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  • C

    Clara Bakkane ¦ Dec 13, 2023 at 12:39 pm

    If I’m a lady and I cry seven tears into the sea, can I still get a selkie lady??

    Reply
    • L

      Liz ¦ Jan 24, 2024 at 11:40 am

      yes

      Reply