Innis | Selkie
Found in Chapter…
- water torture
- breath play
More to the story…
Stories of women who wear the skins of animals abound in every culture. Often they are painted as mysterious, mercurial things who must be captured or tricked into submission. Other times they are said to be devious, wicked things who sow discord and chaos. Selkies are a bit of both, for depending upon the context of the story, they can be your greatest love, your worst enemy, or both.
There is scant enough magic in this mundane and miserly world of humans, but the seal women seem to be in possession of at least some of it. Every culture attributes them to a different classification. If you ask the Irish, the Scots, and the Welsh, the will tell you that selkies are part of the fae folk. However if you discuss them with the Inuit people of Alaska, they will describe them as shapeshifters. The Finnish people attribute them to part of the merfolk legends, while the Greeks of old may have called them Undines and seen them as among the demigods of the natural world along with nymphs. It may, in fact, be that all these races share some lineage with one another, allowing for some diversity in their attributes.
Some things can be said for certain. All selkies are mammalian in origin and are among the webfooted aquatic mammal classification. Not all selkies are seals, though the ocean-bound ones do seem to prefer the hardier, more powerful build of seals. Inland selkies seem to prefer the shape of otters, beaver, and even platypus if it suits them. Most selkies are female, choosing to mate and even occasionally marry human males. There is the occasional male selkie, but they are prone to wandering and are much shyer than the bold and curious females.
All selkies, regardless of form, share the magic of requiring a coat in order to transform. Though there has been a great deal of research and questioning regarding the subject, no one seems to know if selkies are born with a coat, or gifted it at some point by their mother. Given the legends surrounding the seal-folk, they may have perfectly good reasons for being so secretive about it. But what is known is this, a selkie only has one coat in their lifetime. If it is lost or destroyed, they can never change again. Unsurprisingly, their coat is the most precious of things to them, and a selkie will lie, cheat, steal, or kill to get it back, as many unfortunate and foolish people have found out.
A story comes to mind of a young man who found a woman ensnared by fishing nets. She had dark black eyes, smelled of seawater, and was very comely. He freed her from her trap with a knife, and in exchange she dallied with him, always coming to him from the sea. They would lie on her coat and make love in the sands, and in the morning she would leave him before he woke. Over time, she became more comfortable with the young man, and let herself sleep late. The young man, who knew well enough what she was, stole her coat from under her and hid it in a cave. The young woman pleaded with him and told him that she would forgive this if he would but return her coat to her. “I will stay with you for three years for the three nights pleasure you gave. But if in three years you have not returned my coat to me, an evil will befall you.” So the young man thought himself lucky to have bound her. Every year, the selkie would remind him of her vow, even as she cooked and cleaned and made love to him dutifully. And he promised to return it to her before his time was up. But as the final night approached, he refused to return her seal coat to her, and the selkie took her revenge in a terrible way. During their years, she bore him two children as fine and strong as any man might ask for. In the night, she killed both of them and vanished from the house before he could awaken. The young man, upon seeing what she had done, ran to the cave to get the coat and destroy it as punishment. But the selkie followed him and struck him over the head with a rock! When he awoke, she had left, and he was alone with two dead children left as a reminder of his treachery.
However, selkies can be extremely grateful to those who have kind to them. Along the coast of Africa, there are seals with rich, dense brown fur which were once prized for their coats and hunted. One night, the fur traders were astonished to see that someone had freed the captured creatures from their pens and destroyed their cudgels. When they returned to camp, they found their tents and supplies demolished and strewn about with a vengeance. Thinking it to be thieves, they set up traps to find and punish the intruders. They told their servants to stand guard and report to them the moment they caught someone. A young woman they had taken from her people was set to guard one of the traps. She awoke one night to a soft and mournful cry, and she was astonished to see a beautiful woman caught in the trap, staring up at her from the hole and clutching a lovely fur coat. She did not hesitate. She freed the woman and told her to run, for if the hunters found her, they would surely take her too. “I can not leave! My friends are being killed for meat and furs. I can not leave them there!” She pleaded. The young woman felt understanding for her plight, and said: “If I can find a way to free your friends, will you run?” The seal skin woman agreed, and the young woman founded a plot. Over the next few nights, she stole sheers and made holes in the fencing, covering it with barrels and crates so no one would see it until it was too late. When the next batch of seals were being herded in, the young woman waited until nightfall and revealed the passage to the seal woman. “If we are careful and keep it hidden, you will be able to free your friends again and again without them knowing.” And the seal woman smiled at her, kissing her sweetly again and again. “You helped me, and so I will help you. I promise it.” As the months passed and the time came for the seals to migrate, the hunters began to pack up, intending to take their captives and furs with them. There was a great rumbling up from the sea, and dozens of women walked forward, naked save for their coats, baring blades and sharp teeth, and dark eyes. Each of the hunters fell that night, but the people were spared to return to their tribes. The seal skinned woman turned to the young woman who had helped her and embraced her. “You could come with me if you wish. I will teach you to swim in deep water and keep you warm in my coat. You could come with me, and I will keep you as I keep my stone, close to my heart.”
Whether or not the woman accepted, the legend does not say, but the selkies vengeance and gratitude are well marked.