If the oceans were a high school Selkies would be the damaged drama kid that discovered an English accent in the tenth grade and started dating the janitor because he used to be in a band. Selkies are magical seals with the questionable gift of shedding their skins to walk on land in the guise of humans. What would inspire a creature to give up a life frolicking in the waves for the drudgery of a bipedal existence on the Scottish coast? Firstly, curiosity. Secondly, true love. Well, true love facilitated by the wrinkle that anyone who finds the Selkie’s shed skin can trap her in human form, forcing her to remain on land. You see Selkies were careless with both their hearts and their pelts, and momentary dalliances with fishermen could become long term relationships if their paramour stumbled upon the Selkies discarded husk before the Selkie’s walk of shame back to the ocean was complete.
As was the custom at the time the Selkie would then enter into a loveless, blackmail-facilitated marriage with her metaphysical kidnapper, often bearing him a few melancholy children that also longed for the sea. After a decade or so of numb, identity-stripping, domesticity the Selkie would either find her skin and escape, or drown the children and then fling herself off a cliff. I should mention tales of the Selkie are generally thought of as quite romantic.
Country of origin: Scotland
Are They scary:
This myth was either invented by a sailor who drowned his girlfriend after a bad break up and needed plausible deniability, or devised as a cautionary tale for young women on the perils marrying a man who will not abide their true nature. In any case it is a parable about control, leverage, and the price of subsuming one’s identity in service of a failed marriage, the forbidden ocean the only chance of escape. For an iron age myth the plot is uncannily reminiscent of Sleeping with the Enemy. Throw an aggressive mustache on the fisherman and widen up that seals mouth and you could make a case for outright plagiarism.
Is the Selkie scary? Not especially. But the idea of a moment’s vulnerability allowing acquisition in the guise of commitment…that is terrifying.
What does this say about Scotland:
Damn it Scotland, why are your monsters all depressing victims? And why a seal? When I think of alluring hybrid sea creatures a dumpy waddling seal is well down the list. Maybe a capricious Otter or a smooth sultry dolphin. But a seal, that’s the ocean equivalent of a sexy myth about a possum that just lays there and takes it, but you both know she’s not really dead. Probably.
What is the lesson:
Women are treacherous and you need leverage to make sure they won’t leave you. But they still will anyways, and you’ll have to take care of the kids. So lock up that seal skin tight and maybe they will forget the world was once larger than your insecurities.
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