The Selkie Myth
The Selkie. The name conjures up romantic images, even if you’re not quite sure what they are--seals that come ashore and take on human form at midsummer’s eve. You can almost believe it when you look at their baleful eyes with their long lashes that look so human. And their mournful cries that convey such sadness. Is it a myth? Some people, especially in times past would have said, ‘not so.’
The myths of the selkie are usually found among people who inhabit the coastal waters of Scotland, Ireland and even far flung areas where the Saami (Laplanders) and the Inuit live. One of the theories used to explain their existence is that selkies are the souls of dead fishermen and other people lost at sea. Another theory is that they are fallen angels, doomed to live out their days as animals until judgement comes; or that they are humans forced to take animal form for some grave misdemeanour.
The various myths that feature selkies show them as either men or women who come ashore either Midsummer’s Eve, “every ninth night,” or “every seventh stream.” I use both types of selkies in my novel, Selkie Dreams. A myth of a woman selkie tells of a fisherman who spies a selkie woman on the shore and compels her to go with him after he steals and hides her seal skin. She bears him a child, but eventually she finds her seal skin and she returns to the sea, leaving her child behind with the promise she will come when the child calls.
“Yer mam left but she had no choice, so,” Cook would tell me as she watched Polly, the kitchen maid, chop the vegetables, or Annie the house maid collect the tea tray. “She went back to the sea, back to her seal folk. They live ashore for a brief spell, following human ways, until after a while the pull from the sea comes over them, strong and forceful like. It’s their true folk, the selkies, who call them home, so it is.” Excerpt from Selkie Dreams.
A male selkie myth is also a running theme in my novel and comes from the song The Silkie of Sule Skerrie, the song that frames the novel. It tells the story of a selkie man who comes ashore and seeks out a lonely woman. After spending only one night together the man departs and the woman spends her days searching the shoreline awaiting his return. Eventually, after she gives birth to a son, the man appears and gives her a gold chain for the son. Years later, when the son is seven years old, the selkie comes again to claim him. Though she mourns her son and lover, she marries a hunter who, not long after their marriage, shoots two seals, one with a gold chain around its neck.
With all the many versions of the myth, each contains the unmistakeable theme of transformation and the idea of humanity’s unbreakable link with the sea.
About the Book
Belfast, 1889. A young woman haunted by her mother’s death embarks on an Alaskan adventure to escape an unwanted marriage.
Máire McNair is lured by the selkie myth symbolism (seals that take on human form) to the promise of the Alaskan wilds to fulfill her dream of finding acceptance.
Cunning and determination get her there in the guise of teaching at the Tlingit Indian mission. But Alaska proves more complex and difficult than she imagined and the hope that this new place would transform her is elusive as ever.
The censorious Mrs. Paxson, the wife of the trading post manager, constantly finds fault with Máire’s efforts to teach the children. She has her own plans and Máire clearly is in the way. Will Máire be able to forge her own way and make a success of her teaching? And what should she do about the handsome and moody Lieutenant Green who actively courts her on ship and later on shore?
Then there is the Tlingit, Natsilane, a former mission protégé. Troubled and disaffected from the mission, he constantly confronts Máire’s naive views and perceptions as he seeks to regain his own cultural identity,by resuming a traditional lifestyle that draws from his memory and myth. But he cannot escape his past, nor can he or Máire escape the mutual attraction they feel, two outsiders in a world that permits no rulebreakers.
Buy links: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Book Depository
Price: $23.99 hardcover, $9.99 ebook
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Knox Robinson Publishing
Release Date: June 7, 2012
About the Author
Originally from Philadelphia, Kristin Gleeson lives in Ireland, in the West Cork Gaeltacht, where she teaches art classes, plays harp, sings in an Irish choir and runs two book clubs for the village library. She holds a Masters in Library Science and a Ph.D. in history, and for a time was an administrator of a national denominational archives, library and museum in America. There she handled the letters, diaries, reports and artefacts of Alaskan missionaries and assisted Tlingit Indians in recovering their land and their past. Later, she served as a public librarian in America and in Ireland.
She has also published short stories and historical essays. Her essay, ‘Blazing Her Own Trail: Anahareo’s Rejection of Euro-Canadian Stereotypes’ was published in, Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands edited by Sarah Carter and Patricia McCormack, Athabasca University Press, which has been nominated for the Canadian Historical Association prize for Canadian Aboriginal History.
Myths and other folk tales have always fascinated her and she combined her love of these tales with her harp playing and performed as a professional harper/storyteller at events in Britain, America and Ireland.
Links to connect with Kristin: