Seal Folk

Seal folk or selkie folklore is common to Iceland, Scotland, the Faireys, the Shetlands and the Orkneys. Here, seal folk are generally humans who sought death in the ocean rather than true Fair Folk. Once a year, on a particular night, they return to land, strip off their seal skins and dance and sing as humans.

There are two archetypal stories with the definitive versions of both being found in the Faireys. Both stories involve seal wives (Kópakonan, the Fairey name, translates as The Seal Wife). Both are captured against their will by taking their seal skins but one eventually escapes when she gains access to her skin and returns to her seal husband and children (who are later killed by her human husband and children), while one is more loving of her human husband but must become a seal again to rescue him – and then is forced to leave as she cannot be with him as a human again.

There are also tales of seal husbands, usually attracted by crying into the sea, although these are usually found in the Shetlands and the Orkneys.

The modern interpretation suggests that these seal folk may be Otherworld seals (probably a subspecies of Halichoerus grypus) who have swum into our reality’s seas, with the shedding of the skin indicating a switch from their animal to spirit forms. The actual possession of the skin as a plot point in these stories may indicate borrowings from Norse versions of the Animal Wife motif.

A Kópakonan sculpture was erected on a coastal rock by Mikladagur on the Fairey island of Kalsoy in 2014. Since its construction there have been sightings, usually at dawn and dusk, of both lone grey seals and lone humans on the rock. Local Warden investigation has shown that the connection to the Otherworld has strengthened around this point, making it the first recognised Waypoint in the Faireys.

The 2016 Ranger Expedition started from the Kópakonan sculpture in the Faireys during April. The Expedition technically finished at the first major landmark they achieved, which was the Paradise of Birds, but was officially completed at Ramsey on the Isle of Man in January 2017. The reports and tales published so far suggest that selkies were observed for the first six months of the expedition.

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