the seal woman legend
“The Seal Woman Legend”
Selkies are humans who took their own lives by drowning in the sea.
According to legend, once a year, on the Eve of Three Kings, the selkies gather on the shore of Mikladalur. They shed their sealskins, become human again, and dance and play the night away on the shore and in their cave.
A young man from Mikladalur—so the story goes—had gotten the wind of this, that the selkies gathered on the Eve of Three Kings in a cave near the village. And so he went down to the cave that night to see if the story was true.
He hid behind a rock on the shore. After the sun set, he saw many a seal swimming toward the cave. And as soon they came ashore, they shed their skins and left them on the flat rocky beach and walked away like real humans.
From his hiding place behind a rock, the young man enjoyed the sight. Suddenly he spots an exceptionally beautiful woman shed her skin and immediately he grows fond of her. Therefore, he took great care to see where she left her skin, close by where he stood. He snuck out of his hiding place, took the skin and returned to his place behind the rock.
The selkies danced the night away, but with the first light of dawn, they put on their sealskins.
But the selkie he had spotted did not find her skin, though she looked and looked. She started to moan and cry loudly because the night had now passed and the sun was almost risen. But before the sun rose out of the sea, she caught the scent of the skin hidden by the young man. She approached him, and with great agitation she begged him to return the skin to her. But he would not listen to her and strode up the hill to his house, and she could do nothing but follow him after the skin, he carried.
The young man took the selkie as his wife, and they lived well together. But he had to take great care to keep her away from the skin. He locked it securely up in a chest and kept the key tied to his belt at all times.
One day the man went out fishing. As he sat hauling in a fish, his hand brushed against his belt where the key normally hung. Shocked, he did not notice before that very moment that he had forgotten his key at home, and he shouted out in agony, “Today I become a wifeless man!”
All the men drew in their lines and rowed back to Mikladalur as fast as possible. When the man came home, he realised his wife was gone but saw their children sitting on the kitchen bench, silent. Making sure the children would not get hurt while home alone, the selkie had put out the fire and locked away all the knives and other sharp objects.
Having done this, she had hurried down to the shore, put on her skin and thrown herself into the sea.
She had found the key when her husband had gone fishing, opened the chest and seen the skin. And she could not stop herself. Hence the proverb: “He cannot control himself more than a seal who sees its hide.”
As soon as she jumped into the waves, the bull who had been her mate swam up beside her and together they swam away. All these years he had waited close to the shore for his mate.
Whenever the children she had with the man from Mikladalur went down to the shore, they saw a seal cow close by, staring at them, and everybody thought she had to be their mother.
And so many years passed and nothing worthy of note happened to the farmer of South Farm and the selkie’s children.
But then, one day, the men of Mikladalur made plans to enter a cave to hunt seals. The night before, the selkie came to the farmer in his dreams. She told him that if he were to join the hunt, he must not kill the bull in front of the cave, for he was her husband. And they had to show mercy to the two cubs who lay innermost in the cave, for they were her children. She event told him what they looked like.
But the farmer paid no heed to the dream, and along with the rest of the men of Mikladalur, he killed every seal in the cave.
As his share, the farmer received the bull and the front and rear flippers of the cubs. The bull’s head and the flippers were cooked for supper that evening. When the meat was drawn out of the pot, loud crashing and banging was heard, and the seal woman entered the room as a terrifying troll. She sniffed at the pot and cried menacingly:
“Here lies the head of my mate, the hand of Hárekur and the foot of Fríðrikkur. You have had your revenge – and now revenge shall be visited upon the men of Mikladalur. Some will drown at sea, others will fall from the cliffs, and so it shall continue until as many have perished as can link arms around the whole island of Kalsoy”.
Having had her say, she left in great clamour and a roar, never to be seen again.
And, unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear news of misfortune in Mikladalur, that men who have gone bird hunting have stumbled and fallen to their death from the cliffs.