Fantasy, Fiction, ireland, Lore, love, Magik, Nordic, Orkney Islands, scottland, Seals, Selkie

Romance of the Scottsh Sea: Selkie Lore

“As soon as the seal was clear of the water, it reared up and its skin slipped down to the sand. What had been a seal was a white-skinned boy”
-George Mackay Brown


Selkie
is the Orcadian dialect word for, “seal”. The word derives from earlier Scots, selich, (from Old English, seolh) So, selkies are a very common sight across Orkney. Heads bobbing above the waves, they are often seen  by the shore, watching  inquisitively with uncannily human eyes.

In the Faroe Islands there are two versions of the story of the Selkie or Seal Wife. A young farmer from the town of Mikladalur on Kalsoy island goes to the beach to watch the selkies dance. He hides the skin of a beautiful selkie maid, so she can not go back to sea, and forces her to marry him.
He keeps her skin in a chest, and keeps the key with him both day and night. One day when out fishing, he discovers that he has forgotten to bring his key. When he returns home, the selkie wife has escaped back to sea, leaving their children behind. Later, when the farmer is out on a hunt, he kills both her selkie husband and two selkie sons, and she promises to take revenge upon the men of Mikladalur. Some shall be drowned, some shall fall from cliffs and slopes, and this shall continue, until so many men have been lost that they will be able to link arms around the whole island of Kalsoy. Unlike the Finfolk, who retained their malicious tendencies  throughout the years, the selkie-folk have come to be regarded as gentle  creatures,  with the ability to transform from seals into beautiful, lithe  humans.

In the surviving folklore, there is no agreement as to how  often the selkie-folk were able to carry out the transformation. Some tales say  it was once a year, usually Midsummer’s Eve, while others state it could be  “every ninth night” or “every seventh stream”.

Regardless of how often they were able to transform, the  folklore tells us that once in human form, the selkie-folk would dance on  lonely stretches of moonlit shore, or bask in the sun on outlying skerries (rocks).

The selkie skin

A common element in all the selkie-folk tales, and perhaps  the most important, is the fact that in order
to shapeshift they had to cast off  their sealskins. Within these magical skins lay the power to return to seal  form, and therefore the sea.

If this sealskin was lost, or stolen, the creature was  doomed to remain in human form until it could be recovered. Because of this, if  disturbed while on shore, the selkie-folk would hastily snatch up their skins  before rushing back to the safety of the sea.

Amorous encounters

. The selkie-men were renowned for their many encounters with  human females — married and unmarried.

A selkie-man in human form was said to be a handsome  creature, with almost magical seductive powers over mortal women. According to tradition, they had no  qualms about casting off their sealskins, stashing them carefully, and heading  inland to seek out “unsatisfied women”.

Should such a mortal woman wish to make contact with a  selkie-man, there was a specific rite she had to follow. At high tide, she  should make her way to the shore, where
she had to shed seven tears into the  sea.

The selkie-man would then come ashore and, after removing  his magical sealskin, seek out “unlawful love”.

In the words of the 19th century Orkney folklorist, Walter  Traill Dennison, these selkie males:

“. . . often made havoc among thoughtless girls, and  sometimes intruded into the sanctity of married life.”

There is a folk song called, “The Maiden & The Selkie,”  that is a very lovely and tribal depiction of the romance of the Selkie-man to the women of the Orkneys, to hear it click the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om8LzIcFmbA

If a girl went missing while out on the ebb, or at sea, it  was inevitably said that her selkie lover had taken her to his watery domain —  assuming, of course, she had not attracted the eye of a Finman.

But while the males of the selkie race were irresistible to  the island women, selkie-women were no less alluring to the eyes of earth-born  men. The most common theme in selkie folklore is one in  which a cunning young man acquires, either by trickery or theft, a selkie-girl’s  sealskin.

This prevents her from returning to the sea, leaving the  seal-maiden with no option but to marry her “captor”.

The tales generally end sadly, when the skin is returned,  usually by one of the selkie-wife’s children. In
some accounts, her children go  with her to the sea, while others have them remaining with their mortal father. Tragic and connective the lore of the Selkie is a profound representation of the human connection and longing for the sea.

Literature

The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry or The Grey Selkie of Suleskerry is a traditional folk song from Orkney. The song was collected by the American scholar, Francis James Child in the late nineteenth century and is listed as Child ballad number 113.

“The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry.”

An earthly nourris sits and sings,
And aye she sings, “Ba lilly wean,
Little ken I my bairns father,
Far less the land that he staps in.”

Then ane arose at her bed fit,
And a grumly guest I’m sure was he,
Saying “Here am I, thy bairns father,
Although I am not comely.”

I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie in the sea,

And when I’m far frae every strand,
My home it is in Sule Skerry.”

“It was na weel”, the maiden cried,
“It was na weel, indeed” quo she,
“For the Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie,
To hae come and aught a bairn to me!”

Then he has taken a purse of gold,
And he has laid it on her knee,
Saying, “give to me, my little young son,
And take thee up thy nouriss fee.

It shall come to pass on a summer’s day,
When the sun shines hot on every stone,
That I shall take my little young son,
And teach him for to swim the foam.

And thou shalt marry a proud gunner,
And a very proud gunner I’m sure he’ll be,
And the very first shot that e’re he shoots,
he’ll kill both my young son and me.”

An interpolated 5th stanza has also been heard:

‘Twas weel eno’ the night we met,
When I’d be oot and on my way,
Ye held me close, ye held me tight,
“Just ane mair time ere the break o’ day!”
Phrase Key

nourris = nurse
ken = know
 staps = stops
bed fit = foot of the bed
 grumly = strange

The version I like best of this was done by Joan Baez. To hear it click below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zZy2Q3QY0Q&list=PL4593CF2488169FD8

Great books for more on Selkies:

  • Thomson, David. The People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend
  • Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures
  • Williamson, Duncan (1992). Tales of the seal people: Scottish folk tales
  • “The Brides of Rollrock Island” by Margo Lanagan

Source material: http://www.orkneyjar.com/index.html

http://www.stolaf.edu/people/hend/VictoryMusic/July-MusicTrad_SelkieLore.htm

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All Halows Eve, American Lore, Ancestors, autumn, Beer, celebration, fall, Feast, Halloween, harvest, Hearth Fire, holiday, ireland, Lore, love, love lost, Magik, new year, poetry, Ritual, Samhain, Samhain Ritual, scottland, spirits

Samhain: A Night to Honour…

All Hallows Eve is a contemplative night for me and my household.

It is a time for joy and tears as the veil is now quite sheer. On this night we light candles and make a large feast of stuffed mushrooms, brown sugared carrots, rosemary potatoes twice baked, and roast salted pork, we throw open all of the doors and windows so that none may be left out, be they man or spirit. We wear masks for protection. We drink wine, mead, or beer, offer sweets for security, and most importantly we hail the honored dead.

This is a night of holy reverence to acknowledge the lives and deaths of those that came before us.

My extended family has let this tradition go for many years, giving into Protestantism, but the ways of our ancestors have come around full circle into our not so modern little house. The snake has bitten its tail, and so I will say the prayers long neglected, and light our hearth after midnight to usher in the new year to come.

As we light it I will say,

” Save. Shield. Surround,

The hearth, the house, the household

The eve, the day, the year.

We honor & thank you.”

For you see, as Celts, the onset of Winter is the birth of our new year, which is actually entirely optimistic. The hardest part is the beginning, Spring is born, matures into Summer, and before you know it, the year wanes…and you have come full circle.

So on your Hallowed Night, make a circle and say a few words of kindness, let it all go, tell raucous stories about family members present and past, for this is the heart of our wild selves and this is the tradition of our people.

I really felt like this poem by Fredrick Manning well represents my heart this season:

“Yea, she hath passed hereby, and blessed the sheaves,
And the great garths, and stacks, and quiet farms,
And all the tawny, and the crimson leaves.
Yea, she hath passed with poppies in her arms,
Under the star of dusk, through stealing mist,
And blessed the earth, and gone, while no man wist.

With slow, reluctant feet, and weary eyes,
And eye-lids heavy with the coming sleep,
With small breasts lifted up in stress of sighs,
She passed, as shadows pass, among the sheep;
While the earth dreamed, and only I was ware
Of that faint fragrance blown from her soft hair.

The land lay steeped in peace of silent dreams;
There was no sound amid the sacred boughs.
Nor any mournful music in her streams:
Only I saw the shadow on her brows,
Only I knew her for the yearly slain,
And wept, and weep until she come again.” 
― Frederic Manning

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autumn, fall, harvest, Lore, love, poetry, spirits, warmpth

To Autumn: by William Blake


O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

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autumn, autumn equinox, cat, celebration, fairies, fall, harvest, harvest moon, love, Magik, poetry, warmpth

Autumn’s Child

Night time falls soft upon the Earth

Like a shroud for he who lies dormant until the lithe Spring

Balance of light to dark becomes bent and rounds until the cold is spent

Leaves touched gold by faerie hands, turn old and red and fall upon the ground

 Autumnal triumph once again is welcomed with open arms by those who hear

The Harvest Moon, is a greeting from my mother, that warms me

September’s equinox is the gateway to comfort

Bracing for the coolness, I step into the change and all of its splendor

Cloak wrapped tightly against the wind, there is magic liveliness in the air

Candles lit, the hearth is too, tea is made, & I am cozy, ready with a book, and a blanket

Renewal comes with the first cold as peace and silence return to the once bright world

This heart of sweet rich darkness is finally breathing, beating strong, and at home again

High above, the sand hill cranes call against the heavens once more

My mind rises, presenting itself to the trials of life

-The Lady

 

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apollo, love, poetry, sun, sun worship

An exerpt from: THE SINGING LEAVES

CHARM : TO BE SAID IN THE SUN.

I reach my arms up, to the sky,

And golden vine on vine Of sunlight showered wild and high,

Around my brows I twine. I wreathe, I wind it everywhere,

The burning radiancy Of brightness that no eye may dare,

To be the strength of me. Come, redness of the crystalline,

Come green, come hither blue And violet

— all alive within, For I have need of you.

Come honey-hue and flush of gold,

And through the pallor run,

With pulse on pulse of manifold

New largess of the Sun !

-By Josephine Preston Peabody

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apollo, daphne, Fantasy, greek, Lore, love, love lost, Magik, mythology, poetry, Short story, Uncategorized

The Chase: The Love Story of Apollo & Daphne

“It was not brought about by accident, but by the malice of Cupid. The frustration of the gods is inevitable and cruel as Sun God learned…”

 One day the Sun god, Apollo saw the boy, Cupid, playing with his bow and arrows full; and being himself,  prideful with his recent victory over Python, he said to him,

“What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them, Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain! Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my weapons.”

Venus’s boy heard these words, and replied,

“Your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you.”

So wise Cupid, climbed upon the rock of Parnassus, and drew two arrows of from his quiver. Each arrow had its own usage, and were made for this express purpose. The first was an arrow that would make anyone fall in love, but the second arrow, were anyone to be shot by it, then the one who was shot with the former arrow would only ever be someone to spite and resent. The love arrow was made of gold and was crafted to be very sharp. The second arrow was made with a rounded head, so as to be blunt, and was made of lead.  So, angry Cupid, nocked his lead arrow and aimed for  the nymph Daphne, who was the daughter of the river god Peneus. Then turning with a smile, he aimed the arrow love at proud Apollo, an sot him straight through the heart. Immediately Apollo was overtaken with love for an obsessive love of Daphne, and upon seeing the lusty greed in his eyes, she immediately was appalled and quite afraid of the love-struck god.  Her delight was in woodland sports and in the spoils of the chase… lovers sought her, but she spurned them all, ranging the woods, and taking no thought of Cupid nor of Hymen. She, hating the thought of marriage as a crime, with her beautiful face tinged all over with blushes, one day threw her arms around her father’s neck, and said,

“Dearest father, grant me this favour, that I may always remain unmarried, like Diana.” He consented, but at the same time said,

“Your own face will forbid it.”

Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her; and he who gives oracles to all the world was not wise enough to look into his own fortunes. He saw her hair flung loose over her shoulders, and said,

“If so charming, in disorder, what would it be if arranged?”

He saw her eyes bright as stars; he saw her heart shaped lips, and was not satisfied with only seeing them. He admired her hands and arms, naked to the shoulder, and whatever was hidden from view he imagined more beautiful still. He followed her; and she fled, swifter than the wind, and delayed not a moment at his entreaties.

“Stay,” said he, “daughter of Peneus; I am not a foe. Do not fly from me as a lamb flies the wolf, or a dove the hawk. It is for love I pursue you. You make me miserable, for fear you should fall and hurt yourself on these stones, and I should be the cause. Pray run slower, and I will follow slower. I am no clown, no rude peasant. Jupiter is my father, and I am lord of Delphos and Tenedos, and know all things, present and future. I am the god of song and the lyre. My arrows fly true to the mark; but, alas! An arrow more fatal than mine has pierced my heart! I am the god of medicine, and know the virtues of all healing plants. Alas! I suffer a malady that no balm. can cure!”

The nymph continued her flight, and left his plea half uttered… And even as she fled she charmed him. The wind blew her garments, and her unbound hair streamed loose behind her. The god grew impatient to find his wooings thrown away, and, sped by Cupid, gained upon her in the race. It was like a hound pursuing a hare, with open jaws ready to seize, while the feebler animal darts forward, slipping from the very grasp. So flew the god and his temptation- he on the wings of love, and she on those of fear. The pursuer is the more rapid, however, and gains upon her, and his panting breath blows upon her hair. Her strength begins to fail, and, ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river god:

“Help me, Peneus! open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!” She found herself saying though in her mind and heart she felt differently.

Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs; her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became leaves; her arms became branches; her foot stuck fast in the ground, as a root; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing of its former self but its beauty, Apollo stood amazed. He touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark. He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood. The branches shook under his lips.

“Since you cannot be my wife,” said he, “you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay.”

The nymph, now changed into a Laurel tree, bowed its head in graceful acknowledgment. At last he had her, but was it really her?

This is the tragedy and beautiful melancholy of the chase of Daphe by the one who would love her…

History & Facts

That Apollo should be the god both of music and poetry will not appear strange, but that medicine should also be assigned to his province, may. The poet Armstrong, himself a physician, thus accounts for it:

“Music exalts each joy, allays each grief,
Expels diseases, softens every pain;
And hence the wise of ancient days adored
One power of physic, melody, and song.”

The story of Apollo and Daphne is often alluded to by the poets. Waller applies it to the case of one whose amatory verses, though they did not soften the heart of his mistress, yet won for the poet wide-spread fame:

“Yet what he sung in his immortal strain,
Though unsuccessful, was not sung in vain.
All but the nymph that should redress his wrong,
Attend his passion and approve his song.
Like Phoebus thus, acquiring unsought praise,
He caught at love and filled his arms with bays.”

The following stanza from Shelley’s “Adonis” alludes to Byron’s early quarrel with the reviewers:

“The herded wolves, bold only to pursue;
The obscene ravens, clamorous o’er the dead;
The vultures, to the conqueror’s banner true,
Who feed where Desolation first has fed,
And whose wings rain contagion: how they fled,
When like Apollo, from his golden bow,
The Pythian of the age one arrow sped
And smiled! The spoilers tempt no second blow;
They fawn on the proud feet that spurn them as they go.”

Version inherited from Bulfinch’s Mythology, and Metamorphoses by Roman poet Ovid

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Fiction, love, Ritual, Short story, yule

The Philosopher’s Song


 She smokes as she walks, the Philosopher

with eyes that are masked by the moon

she will play you a song and then leave when she’s done

but you’ll find, her song never leaves you

Her laugh brings you joy when you think of her

and her countenance brings you a tear

but the wisdom she knows only just seems to grow

were you ever a child, my dear?

She smokes when she walks, the Philosopher

fighting injustice with truth

even when you are grey, there will not be a day

that I go without thinking of you

My philosopher stands when its difficult

she is barefoot and baring her soul

if you’re quiet and poor, even if you’re a whore

she will come share a drink with you

You’re a Saint, You’re a Sinner, Philosopher

You are friends with the homeless and gay

Silence Masses, and watch what true love really looks like

and maybe you’ll get there someday

My Philosopher Sister is beautiful

her hair is as dark as the night

I watch her go onward and following after

are those who would bask in her light.

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