Faerie Folk: Selkies



The Selkie Legend

I am a man upon the land.

I am a silkie on the sea.

                                                –The Great Silkie (Childe Ballad #113

                                                                        Sung by Joan Baez on YouTube

            The Selkie myth arose hundreds of years ago in the northern isles of Europe.  Stories about selkies (also spelled silkies, sylkies, selchies), or Seal Folk, originated in the folktales of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, Ireland and the Faroe Islands.

            Selkies can be male or female.  They are shapeshifters who can change from seal to human form by shedding their sealskin.  This ability of human beings to transform into other animals is called therianthropy.  The most famous therianthrope, or shapeshifter, is the werewolf.  Unlike the werewolf, selkies are said to be gentle souls, and attractive in appearance.

            In the selkie legends, the male selkies transform into handsome men who come ashore to seek out and romance lonely women.  Like Simead Nair in Ripples of Magic, the selkie is often bound by rules restricting how often he may turn human.  Male selkies belong to the vast variety of faerie folk, and have the magical ability to charm women using their faerie glamour.

            The most well known tale about the female selkie is the version I used in Awakening Magic. In the traditional story, the female selkie comes ashore and transforms into a human to bask in the sun or dance on the beach.  A fisherman or seaman steals her sealskin.  By possessing her sealskin, he traps the selkie in her human form and forces her to bow to his will.  She remains a prisoner until she can retrieve the hidden sealskin and escape back to the sea.

            The children of a selkie and a human union may have webbed fingers, like Demara in Ripples of Magic. It is said that selkie children are drawn to the sea, and that they will never drown.  True fact: The people in the MacCodrum clan of the Outer Hebrides Islands have webbing, called syndactyly, between their fingers.  They claim to be descendants of a selkie/human match.






Demara is the protagonist in Ripples of Magic, Book IV of the Karakesh Chronicles. She is the child of a union between a selkie man and a human woman. She feels like an outcast, not fitting in to either world, yet she longs to be a selkie like her father, and live with him in the sea.

excerpt from Chapter 2, Ripples of Magic:

            By age twelve I was all too aware of the oddity of our family arrangement.  On market days in the village, the children I met sometimes spoke about their fathers. I kept silent.  Many fathers were miners who worked the day or night shift. There were farmers and craftsmen, bakers and tradesmen.  Some fathers were drunkards, and a few were absent entirely.  But none, none at all, were selkies who came out of the sea for three-day visits at the full moon.

            Freyla was my best source of comfort and information.

            “What am I supposed to do with these?” I asked her more than once, showing her my hands and feet.  I spread out my fingers and toes to reveal the thin webbing of skin between them.  “The village kids call me ‘Ducky.’” I wiped away a couple of loose tears.            

“Those are your faerie badges of honor,” Freyla said. 

All five books of the Karkesh Chronicles are available on Amazon and from Handersen Publishing

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