Seallike Merbeing of Northern Europe. Etymology: Gaelic, "seal." Variant names: Roane (from the Irish ron, "seal"), Sea trow, Seal maiden, Selchie, Silkie.
Physical description: Seallike, with a removable skin that it takes off to become human.
Behavior: Goes on land once or more each year to pass as a human and dance or bask on the shore. Male Selkies have had numerous liaisons with human females. Sometimes raises storms and sinks the boats of sealers.
Distribution: Orkney and Shetland Islands; Scotland; Ireland; the Faroe Islands; to a lesser extent, Iceland and Norway. Possible explanations:
(1) The survival of a pre-Christian taboo on harming the seal, a sacred or totem animal to the Celts.
(2) Some sightings may be based on the similarity of seals, especially the Gray seal (Halichoerus grypus), to human beings, at least from a distance.
(3) Some sightings may be based on occasional visits to Scotland by sealskin-clad, kayaking, nomadic Saami from northern Norway. This might well explain folklore about the creatures' upright appearance in the water, becoming human when they remove their skins, and liaisons with the locals.
Sources: William Grant Stewart, The Popular
Superstitions and Festive Amusements ofthe Highlanders ofScotland (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1823), pp. 65-71; Nelson Annandale, The Faroes and Iceland (Oxford: Clarendon, 1905); Alan Bruford, "The Gray Selkie," Scottish Studies 18 (1974): 63-81; Ernest W. Marwick, The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland (London: B. T. Batsford, 1975); Katharine M. Briggs, A Dictionary ofFairies (London: Allen Lane, 1976), pp. 340-341, 349-350, 353-355; John M. MacAulay, Seal Folk and Ocean Paddlers (Cambridge: White Horse, 1998); Taylor Edgar, "Were Orkney's Seal People Nomadic Canoeists?" Fortean Times, no. 155 (March 2002): 35; Sigurd Towrie, Orkneyjar: The Selkie Folk, http://www. orkneyjar.com/folklore/selkiefolk/index.html.
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