Changelings and Selkies, Oh my!
For this month I’ve decided to cover two topics of mythology: the selkies and the changelings. These are both wonderful ideas to draw on for tales and I hope I can inspire you, or at the very least leave you with a few titles to further explore and enjoy these tales.
Let’s start with the selkies. For all you mermaid lovers, this tale is similar but more tame and showing a creature that is often depicted as loving humans rather than the darker tales of mermaids and sirens luring men to their deaths.
The selkie tale is known in Scotland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and Ireland, with a similar myth being found in Iceland. Selkie simply means seal in an Orkney dialect and the legend goes that the selkie-folk can remove their seal skins to transform fully into humans and come onto land. However, their return to the ocean is dependent on those skins.
The two aspects of the legend include both selkie men and women. For the men, it is said if a woman goes to the sea and shed seven tears into the water at high tide a selkie-man will come for her. If a girl went missing from the shore or while out at sea, it would be said her selkie lover had taken her into the water to be with him.
The more commonly known tale is of the selkie-women. They are said to come ashore and dance in the moonlight. If they are disturbed they will grab their skins and flee back into the water, for if a man gains possession of their seal skin the selkie will be unable to return to the water. There are multiple tales of men stealing a selkie-woman’s skin and thus force her to be his wife. The common myth has one of their children discovering the skin and returning it to the mother. The selkie then returns to the ocean, and in some versions of the tale she can no longer come ashore and watches over her children from afar after that.
There are many fantasy novels that explore this concept, but for this I am going to recommend the movie Song of the Sea. It is a lovely piece of stylized art and includes multiples pieces of Irish mythology!
Now for changelings. This concept is another of my favorites and I may just have to explore it in one of the novels I have planned. As I mentioned in my first book post last month I read the graphic novel Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge.
The European changeling legend is believed to have been a way to explain the medieval mystery of babies abruptly getting sick and dying. Without modern medicinal understanding to aid and save the baby, to the medieval mind it seemed unfathomable that a healthy baby could get sick and die, and so the changeling legend came about. In this myth, fairies would steal away a human child and replace it with one of their own. A lot of stories have it being a fairy baby, but in some of the older legends what the fairy left could be a child, or even an adult, and just appear very small by human standards. Some believed certain tests would prompt the fairies to snatch back the one they left and return the baby, or that simply leaving the changeling out in the forest would cause it to swapped back.
It's a sad story, but the myth behind it is the origin of many fun stories where the changeling is a true thing, not just a sick baby. Jim Henson’s Labyrinth could be called a changeling story, in that Sarah hears a goblin laughing and shaking the blankets in Toby’s crib when she discovers her brother was taken.
In the Moorchild by Eloise McGraw, the fairy child sets out to return the human child to its family. In Estranged the fairy child wants to find a place he belongs, similar to the Devil of the Cradle short story by the Tale Foundry on Youtube (that short changeling story is a real gem, attempts at Irish accents aside!).
hear about any Selkie or Changeling stories you’ve seen, read, or listened to! Halloween is over, when offerings were once left out for the fey folk, but in this season of change between summer and winter, it’s easy to imagine a hint of magic on that chilly breeze. Enjoy your holidays, everyone! I’ll write about another myth we all know and love for December!