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Icelandic folk-tale: The Seal Wife

Icelanders share a belief in selkies with their cousins in the Faeroe Islands, Scotland and Ireland. This is the most commonly told selkie story:

From Vík í Mýrdal

Once upon a time the was a man in the Mýrdalur area who was walking along the sea-shore at the foot of some high cliffs very early in the morning, before most people were awake. He came to a cave and heard the sounds of revelry and dancing from inside. Outside he saw a large pile of seal-skins. He took one of the seal-skins with him as he went on his way, took it home with him and locked it in a trunk.

Later in the day he returned to the cave and found there a pretty young woman. She was nude and crying. This was the seal to whom the skin belonged. He gave her some clothes, dried her tears and took her home with him. She was shy and aloof with everyone but him, and would often sit and look at the sea. 

A while later the man proposed to her and was accepted. They had a happy marriage and had several children together. The man kept the skin firmly locked away in the trunk and carried the key with him wherever he went. 

Many years later he went out to sea for some fishing but forgot the key at home under his pillow*. The woman took the key and opened the trunk and found the skin. She was unable to stop herself from taking the skin, so she said goodbye to her children, put on the skin and disappeared into the sea. Before she left she said: 

“Oh, pitiful me,
I have seven children under sea
and seven on land.”

The man was struck with grief when he came back and discovered what had happened. After this, often when he rowed out to fish there would be a seal circling the boat that seemed to be crying. His catch was thereafter always big and many useful things were cast upon the shore below his farm. 

Often when the children from this union walked down by the sea there would be a seal swimming in the sea near them and it would throw them colourful fish and beautiful shells. But their mother never came ashore again.
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*Another version of the story claims that he went to church at Christmas with the rest of the household, but his wife was ill and unable to join them. He had forgotten to remove the key from the pocket of his everyday clothes and when he returned from church the trunk was open and the woman and the seal-skin were gone.


Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.

Comments

Phaedosia said…
Oh. I love this story. Thanks for posting. Did you ever see that movie, The Secret of Roan Inish?
Bibliophile said…
Yes, I did. Wonderful movie.

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