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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Beer, Beer Recipe, Brewing, herbal remedy, Herbology, Herbs, Home Brew, ireland, Lore, mythology, Nettle Beer, Nettle Tea, Nordic, Norse Gods, Orkney Islands, plants, Thor

Nettle Beer: Homebrew, Lore, & Medicinal Usage of Nettles


Stinging nettle
 or common nettleUrtica dioica, is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America, and is the best-known member of the nettle genus Urtica. The species is divided into six subspecies, five of which have many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals. The plant has a long history of use as a medicine and as a food source.

LORE:

There is a telling of the Norse God, Thor that after arranging some bones
on goatskin before a cooking fire, that He returns the animals to life by raising his hammer, Mjollnir, over the bones and blessing them. I perceive this revivifying action as a metaphor for urtication and suggest that this is why nettle is sacred to the Thunder God. Indeed, the Norse believed that when Thorr flung Mjollnir across the sky, lightning flashed. Certainly a nettle thrashing is a “fiery” experience! Further, in Holland, young boys would go out early in the morning to gather bunches of nettles to tie to the doors of the village houses. Grimm notes that this was done on the “Zaterdag before Pentecost”, suggesting that it was a Heathen fertility custom which survived the conversion—perhaps an ancient remnant of flogging (birch branches were used likewise in the saunas to bring blood to the surface).
It should also be noted that Thorr was a god of fertility of both Earth and womb. Bunches of fresh Nettles were also laid across vats of beer to prevent thunder from turning and spoiling the beer. Young nettles were boiled and eaten with meat on Grün-donnerstag (Maundy Thursday). Depending on the author in secondary sources, stinging nettle was called Wergulu or Stithe in the Nine Herbs Charm, which was a charm used by Odhinn for protection against the “flying venom”(one of four causes of disease in Teutonic etiology). The Anglo-Saxons used purple dead-nettle in butter based eyesalves and “holy salves” against disease; red nettle was used in salves against rash or “elf-shot”, another cause of disease within this etiology (note that many of these texts were written prior to the establishment of the binomial nomenclature developed by Linnaeus; so identification of herbs based on folknames is imprecise at best).

Edibility: This is a highly nutritious plant, high in iron, calcium, potassium,
vitamins A, C and D. When cooked, the harmful ingredients are neutralized and the plant can be treated like a spinach for spring greens or used for tea. Young plants prior to blooming should be used as older ones become fibrous (see below) and after blooming the leaves develop cystoliths which irritate the urinary tract if eaten in large amounts. Nettles were widespread as a foodstuff. Sir Walter Scott discusses them in Rob Roy, Pepys refers in his diary of 1661 to eating Nettle Porridge which he thought to be very good. Victor Hugo included some discourse on Nettle usage in “Les Miserables”. Grieve gives recipes for Nettle Pudding and Nettle Beer. ( I will share a recipe with you for this further down!)


Medicinal:
 As species of Urtica (such as Urtica dioica) grow worldwide, there is considerable old literature as to folk and medicinal use. There are 17th century Russian tracts on its use. The most common medicinal use was as a diuretic, an astringent and a tonic. It is also a styptic – something which checks the flow of blood from the surface (acting very quickly); by the use of powdered root or softened and bruised leaves, Nettle has few equals in that regard. It was recommended for nosebleed that a small piece of fine cloth be moistened with Nettle juice and placed in the nostril. Several references list a use of the fresh leaves or stems as a “counter-irritant”, that is, it is applied to the skin where there is another painful irritation such as arthritis. The best explanation for that effect is that the nettle sting took ones mind off the other pain. However, the juice of the Nettle is a complete antidote for its own sting. Likewise, the juice of Dock, particularly Yellow (Curly) Dock, has the same effect. Grieve reports on the old English Saying “Nettle in, dock out. dock rub nettle out”. Densmore reports its use among the Minnesota
Chippewa for dysentery and for stoppage of urine.

There are many references to Nettle preparations involving the seeds and the flesh of the plant for a hair tonic – i.e. “restorer”; so many references that one could assume one might have had some success with it prior to today’s preparations. The presence of formic acid, mineral salts and carbonic acid was the key.


Practical Uses:
 Besides beer as mentioned above, the most practical use for Nettle is as a substitute for Cotton. The fiber of Nettle is similar to Hemp and Flax and thus it can be used for making cloth, sacking, cordage, etc. Nettle produces less fiber than Flax. It’s fibers varying from 3/4” to 2 1/2”. The upper sizes equal the best Egyptian Cotton. Plants that grow in good loam, such as near ditches and other moist sources produce the best fiber. Nettle is so effective for making cloth that when Germany and Austria were short of Cotton in 1916 – 1918 during the Great War they resorted to collecting huge quantities of Nettle. In 1916 alone 2.7 million kilograms were collected for cloth production. In 1917 The British analyzed some German overalls and found they were made of 85% nettle. It does not take dye the way wool does because of its microscopic structure, but there is nothing else close to it for making cloth when you are short of Cotton.
Hans C. Andersen refers to coats being woven of Nettle in the story, “The Princess and the Eleven Swans.” As does Juliet Marillier in her interpretation of the same tale, “Daughter of the Forest.”
If humans can like to eat them, so can the animals. The plant makes great fodder once it has been allowed to wilt and begin to dry. Then the stinging effects have dissipated (although in some species dissipation is not complete). While a number of insects may feed on the plant, it is distasteful to flies and a bunch of Nettle near foodstuffs can keep flies away. It is also an important host to a number of butterflies. A decoction of Nettle produces a permanent green dye – widely used in old Russia.

Alright! So! On with the BEER!!!

A refreshing Spring or early Summer Country Drink which can be enjoyed after three weeks.

What you’ll need

1.0 kg of nettle tops (approx. 50 nettle tops with 4/6 leaves)
450gms of brown sugar
1 gallon (4.5 litres) water
2 lemons
25gms Cream of Tartar
6gms of beer brewing yeast

How to make Nettle Beer

  1. Wash the nettle tops to clean off any insects and dust.
  2. Put in large pan and add 4.5 litres of water.
  3. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Strain into a food grade plastic bin and add the brown sugar, lemon juice and rind (not the white pith), and cream of tartar. The brown sugar adds a little colour to the beer.
  5. Stir well and allow to cool to about 20 to 25 degC. Then sprinkle the yeast over the surface and cover with a cloth.
  6. Leave in a warm place for between 5 to 6 days to allow the fermentation to take place. If a scum forms after 2 or 3 days it can be removed. A hydrometer can be used to check that the process has finished. The SG reading should be approximately 1.000.
  7. Strain again through a fine mesh bag or muslin so that it’s ready for bottling.
  8. Using clean strong swing top bottles or similar, add half a teaspoon
    of sugar to each bottle and then syphon the beer into bottles. You should have enough for 8 pint bottles or 9 bottles 500ml size.
  9. Leave the bottles in a warm place for 2 days and then move to somewhere cooler to allow the beer to clear.
  10. Nettle beer doesn’t have a long life, so once the beer has settled it is ready to drink in about 2 weeks.
  11. Enjoy! Try it with a little bread and cheese as they did in the old days!

http://www.friendsofeloisebutler.org/pages/photosubpages/photoinfopages/stingingnettlelore.html

http://www.herbshealing.com/herbal_ezine/march04/wisewoman.htm

http://www.hopsandvineshomebrew.co.uk/page.asp?id=101

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