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  • Writer's pictureSusan Sowerby

Selkies of the Hebrides

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

So, what are Selkies? 

Mythical creatures of the Hebrides, not your classical mermaid!

A Scottish friend introduced me to Selkies some years ago.  At age 18, I took it into my head to write and illustrate a children’s story about the grey seals which inhabit the Hebridean islands off the rugged west coast of Scotland. It was called Elmo and the seals. My friend couldn’t believe I’d never been there because I’d described the place in perfect detail. She excitedly told me all about the legends of the grey seals which she said were very strong in the Highlands and Islands.

The myth of the Selkies is described below in an excerpt from my novel Saltwater in the Soul which describes

“As it goes, the old Highlanders say that on St Anthony’s day something strange happens. Some seals are not really seals, they’re Selkies, and at that time they come up out of the water and assume human form. The men are dark and wild looking, and the women are said to be very beautiful.

Apparently, Scottish men were delighted if lucky enough to steal a “seal wife,” yet to keep her, they were forced to hide her sealskin. At the same time, they could never destroy it, or she would die. The risk remained that if she ever found it, she would remember her origins, be overcome by a longing for the sea and vanish forever into the water, forsaking him and his children. As far as the seal men go, they had a reputation for seducing hapless maidens, then returning to the sea incognito, leaving illegitimate progeny behind.”

Five years later, I found myself living on the Isle of Erraid on the Scottish west coast, which is exactly like the very place I’d described in my story. The tiny, windy, but very magical Erraid had become an extension of the famous Findhorn Community. It is also the site of the old classic book, Kidnapped, by Robert Louie Stevenson and the real life setting for Saltwater in the Soul.

As it happened I was one of the group of Findhorn gardeners who volunteered to go there to prepare Erraid's garden for the arrival of other members, so I can offer you my personal glimpses of earlier days at this world renowned community.

In true, in Findhorn style, we planted vege gardens and met the locals as well as the local ghost in cottage number eight. There were ten on Erraid which had been created by the lighthouse builders who lived there. Our head gardener, another Aussie, decided to sleep in the haunted number eight alone when the rest of us refused of that honor.

He really didn’t think he’d see a ghost, but one actually did appear. Dressed in turn of the century clothes, she stood by his bed and asked, What will you do if it’s windy? He thought it was an odd thing to say because it was always windy on Erraid!

Nevertheless, that week morphed into a freak storm. It wreaked havoc, smashed and blew over the ‘Dazzling and Tremendous’ which was the name given we'd to our makeshift outdoor dunny. Actually, the title was the first line of a poem written on the door by someone enamored of the sunrise.

That storm delivered seventeen feet of snow to the east coast of Scotland., so we were trapped on Erraid and couldn’t get back to Findhorn for a couple of weeks. A train on its way to Inverness was also lost under the snow for a few days, though this didn’t bother the Scots on board. They simply drank up the whisky and partied till they were found.

Image created by Alice Reagan for 'Faces of Findhorn' a book by the community.

#saltwaterseries #selkies #Hebrides

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