This beautiful Selkie story Tom sent me for my Myths in isolation alphabet wasn’t written specifically for the image as the others were. But it fit so well I was very pleased to include it. Perhaps Tom and I walk parallel paths in our dreams somehow. One day I hope to visit him and Rhonda at their Orkney home where this drawing now also lives…
The Selkie and the moon
There was once a seal who lived in the sea – a big, round, fat seal with whiskers who loved to chase the fish that she fed on. She was like any other seal, only sometimes things are not always what they appear to be. For on the nights when the moon is magic the seal would come ashore, on the pink sands between the soaring red cliffs, and she would slip off her seal skin, just like taking off a dress, and she would become a beautiful woman. She would stand naked on the shore and thank the moon for the blessings that she had bestowed in allowing her to be the other half of her true nature. The moon would smile down on her, scattering her silver stardust over the selkie woman as a blessing. Then the selkie woman, lithe and slender in her human form, would dance for joy on the sand, bathed by the silvery light. And so it was for a long time.
One night, as the selkie woman danced, she was observed by a human man; a farmer who lived by the shore. He saw her step out of her skin, and he stole it before she knew he was there. She wept and begged him to return her skin, but all he could see was her naked perfection and his blood stirred. It wasn’t love that drove his actions, but lust and the desire to possess this beauty all for himself. He didn’t care about her pleas and tears, he wanted to own her. So, he forced her to follow him home. He locked her up while he took her skin to one of his fields and he buried it deep underground. Her fate was sealed – she had to stay and be his wife.
The farmer did not treat her well. He made her work hard for the scraps that he gave her to eat. She was naked, but he clothed her in tattered rags with an apron over the top. She looked like a beggar, although the farm was prosperous enough. At night, she would slip outside and beg the moon to help her return to the sea, but the moon no longer recognized her, dressed in rags. The moon said nothing, for she didn’t know her.
Sometimes, in bed, the farmer made her do things that she didn’t want to. That is how it happened. Life sprung forth in her womb and she carried her unlooked for burden for nine months. When the child was born she wept. The little girl, clinging to her mother, was so like her that it was hard to believe it was possible. She looked just like her, only smaller. The selkie woman loved her daughter like a wilting flower loves the rain. She showered her with love and kisses. Her father was not so loving – he had wanted a son to help him with the farm work. What was a daughter but another mouth to feed.
The years went by and it came to the time when the farmer needed to plough the field in which he had hidden the skin. One night, under the cover of darkness, the farmer slipped out of the house and took a spade to the field and dug up the seal skin. But what to do with it? Could he risk burying it again, or was that unsafe? If the skin was under the earth, or in the sea, would it rot away? If it did, what would become of his beautiful wife? Would she too wither and die? He decided to hide it under the sheaves of the barn, which were ready to be thrashed, until he could find the perfect hiding place. He placed the skin under the sheaves and then went back to his bed.
The following day, as the farmer brought out his horse to plough the field, the little girl went to play in the barn. Under the sheaves she found a treasure – a beautiful thing of silver with dark patches on it. What could it be? To the little girl there was something familiar about it, but she couldn’t think where she might have seen it before. She knew that her mother would know, so she took it to her to ask her about the strange covering. When the selkie woman saw her skin she cried out with joy. She gently took the skin from out of her daughter’s hands and she prepared to leave. She put out the fire, to protect her little girl from harm, then she kissed her and told her that she loved her. She ran out of the house and down to the shore. Leaving her little girl was hard – the hardest thing in the world, but she could not refuse the call of the sea. That was the other side of her true nature, and she longed for it. She took off her rags, standing naked on the pink sand so that the moon would recognize her once more. Although it was a spring morning, the moon was still lingering in the sky. She recognized the selkie woman once more and smiled to her. The selkie woman pulled on her skin and slipped quietly into the sea once again. The feel of the waves pushing against her round, fat body felt so good after years on land. The taste of freshly caught fish was a treat after the dry bannocks that the farmer let her eat. She was home, she was free.
When the farmer returned from the field he saw that his wife was gone and he was angry. Not understanding what had happened, the little girl told her father of the treasure that she had found under the sheaves in the barn and how she had taken it to show her mother. The farmer was furious – he grabbed the child and put her over his knee and spanked her long and hard. She cried out in pain and fear, calling to her mother to help her. Down by the shore, the selkie woman could hear her child being beaten and wept along with her little girl. The cries were too much for her to bear. She swam away – far away. She never stopped until she reached Sule Skerry, where the King of the Selkie Folk lived. She went to see him and told him about the farmer and his cruelty, and of her daughter’s suffering at his hands. The king gave her a gift, one that only he could give, and she swam away with it.
She reached the shore that night and crawled up the pink sand of the beach. She stepped out of her skin and stood naked before the moon. She asked for her blessing and was given it. The silvery beams danced around her. She carefully hid her seal skin in a place that only she would find it and then crept silently up to the house. It was all dark and quiet. The man lay asleep in his bed, while the little girl lay silently, too afraid to make a sound as the tears streamed down her face. The selkie woman was as quiet as a cat as she opened the door and slipped inside the house. She went to her daughter’s bed and put her hand over her mouth to make sure that she didn’t cry out and wake the farmer. The little girl, wide eyed with wonder and joy, made no sound as the two of them left the man sleeping and went outside. They ran down to the shore, as quickly as they could; the selkie woman carrying the child when her legs grew tired. The pink sand felt cold but soothing under their bare feet. The selkie woman slipped off her daughter’s ragged nightdress and they both stood naked on the shore. The selkie woman pointed up into the sky, and there was the moon, shining more brightly than the little girl had ever seen before. The selkie woman spoke to it:
“Mother Moon – this is my daughter. She has suffered on the land at the hands of her father. She has a grandmother and grandfather under the waves, and we will go to them now. Bless her as you have blessed me, I beseech you, oh my Mother Moon, recognize my child”
The moon smiled down on them both and scattered stardust over them, which glittered like silver on their skin. The selkie mother took her skin and the gift that she had received from the King of the Selkies – a little white seal skin. The selkie woman helped her daughter put on the skin and then slipped on her own one and the two of them slid quietly into the surge of the waves that caresses the pink sand of the beach. Weightless, they rolled and tumbled in the sea, laughing with a joy that neither of them had known before. Their new life stretched before them like an uncharted ocean. And overhead, the moon smiled a blessing on them, scattering a silver light to safely guide their way.