Selkie stories are told throughout Ireland and Scotland, where my family history comes from. However, I was raised in America where most people have never heard of a Selkie.
Hints of our Irish and Scottish past were sort of buried in my family. They weren’t obvious, but they were there. We weren’t Catholic and we didn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (aside from maybe wearing a little green) but my mother and grandmother both sang me to sleep with old Irish folksongs (the incredibly sad ones where someone always dies or gets abandoned by the love of their lives). My grandmother also played the violin and my mother plays the harp. In this way, I think Celtic culture was tucked into my subconscious without me even realizing it
Human and Selkie Marriage
The first selkie story I remember hearing was about an English fisherman who encountered a beautiful woman sunbathing by the sea. He was so entranced, that he fell immediately and completely in love with her.
Unfortunately, when the woman saw him approaching, she grabbed something from a nearby rock and dove into the sea. The man was heartbroken, thinking he may never see her again, never know her name, and never speak to her.
He came back to the same spot day after day to see if she would return. After months of waiting, one day, she did. The man watched from a rock above as the woman emerged from the sea, shedding her seal skin as she went. In that moment, he knew she was a selkie.
His infatuation for her was so strong that he hatched a plan – he would steal her selkie skin, forcing her to stay on land in her human form.
So, he snuck down the rocks and, when she wasn’t looking, secreted her selkie skin away. After hiding it safely in his small house, he returned to find her distraught. Although he was the cause of her distress, he pretended not to know who she was and to help her look. When the skin could not be found, he gave her a place to stay and food to eat.
Over time, the Selkie fell in love with him as well. The couple married and had children. All was well, until one day the couple’s young son found a package hidden up the chimney. He pulled it out and showed it to his mother who, upon seeing the selkie skin, grabbed it and fled back to the sea.
Although she loved her family, her thirst for freedom and the open sea was too strong for her to remain on land.
Although this story has a sad ending with a few troubling elements (a peeping Tom, deceit, and Stockholm syndrome for starters), I have always been fascinated by the idea of these wild creatures who could live both on land and in the water. I was equally compelled by the idea of a wild woman whose heart belonged so fully and deeply to the sea that nothing could hold her back, even Selkie marriage and children.
Stories like this, combined with my upbringing, planted the seed of “Uncharted Waters” in my mind. When we lost my grandmother, that was the spark that really set the story in motion. The book is based on true events, with a good dose Selkie magic thrown in.