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What is a Selkie?

A selkie is most definitely not a mermaid. The word “selkie” is the Orcadian dialect for “seal”. In Scottish mythology, they are seal men and women who live and look like seals while they are in the water, but when the mood strikes them, can shed their skins, pose as mighty fine-looking humans, and tread on land. How this occurs is debatable. Some old-timers say that selkies do this annually, others say only on Midsummer’s Eve, while yet others say this feat can be accomplished “every ninth night”.

The female selkies are thought to be docile and believed to make fine brides. A lucky sailor might catch a peek of a naked woman, sans sealskin, sunning herself on the rocks. There’s no shortage of stories of fishermen who’ve found themselves the skin of a female selkie and captured themselves a bride. Without her skin, the poor female remains landbound. But the fisherman must hide her skin well, for if she finds it, she will be indelibly drawn to the sea and disappear forever.

The male selkie is an equally fascinating creature and nothing like his submissive counterpart. One might even say he is downright mischievous. While you are warming yourself by a peat fire, he may be stalking through your lettuce, overturning your boat, or even killing a few of your sheep. Most notoriously, these beautiful creatures have the power to lure a woman to her death beneath the sea. If you should ever visit the Orkney Islands, you should avoid these shapeshifters at all costs. You will recognize him in his human form by his dark eyes, pale skin, and supernatural beauty. And whatever you do, do not accept any of his invitations to the shore.

I hope you enjoy the artwork I commissioned when I released my novel, The Lure of Shapinsay. There aren’t a lot of images of selkie men out there, so I am proud of this original piece of art. As you might have guessed my little tale of selkies is set on the tiny island of Shapinsay in the Orkney Islands and features a mighty fine selkie man and his unsuspecting victim.