Volume 2 Issue 68 | October 24, 2009 |


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The Selkie Wife

Jock Guthrie lived alone on a small farm that stood above the sea in the Highlands of Scotland. He dug and he sowed and he laboured all the hours of daylight to make the two ends meet; yet he remained just as poor as a corrie crisosag-- a wizened old beetle. He never even had time to take a wife.

"Och, there's nae enough food to keep a body. I canna manage twa of them,' he would say.

It was not that he was a mean soul, or that he did not wish for company. But finer feelings were hard to nurture in the stony soil of Highland farming and Jock was a bluff, straightforward fellow who did not have much time for romancing.

One warm evening in late summer, Jock went down the cliff path to the seashore to take a clearer look at the weather. The distant sunset glowed a pinkish orange and the sea reflected the colours in its calm surface.

Jock sat upon a dry rock, musing, his chin cupped in his horny hands, gazing out to sea. Suddenly, in the midst of his thoughts, he was surprised to hear snatches of song, girlish laugher and low cheery voices. The sounds seemed to be coming from the seaward side of the rocks, at the far end of the shore.

That was odd. It was a lonely deserted spot where not a living soul was seen from one year to the next, where naught but timid rabbits scuttled over the pale sand. So now Jock approached the bay with rising curiosity. He clambered up the landward side of the rocks and peered cautiously over to the strand beyond.

The sight that met his gaze made him catch his breath in sheer astonishment. For there below him on a rocky shelf, just above the water's edge, he saw a group of young men and maidens as naked as the sun-splashed rocks. How handsome they were! Never in all his years had he cast eyes on such lovely faces, such smooth skins and such graceful limbs.

'Selkies! That's what they are,' he murmured to himself.
He'd heard stories of the selkies or seal folk who sometimes came ashore, cast aside their seal skins and played their happy games.

'Aye, I ken who y'are,' thought Jock, seeing their skins upon a nearby rock. 'And what if I take a skin for masel'?' he thought. 'It'd keep ma bed warm or be a plaid for ma back.'

Thereupon, he climbed down the rocks without being seen, dashed across the sand and snatched up a silvery skin before any of the selkies could move.

What a commotion arose when they saw him! Each lovely creature made a rush for the rock to seize a skin; then, diving in frantic haste into the sea, they swam away as fast as they were able, pulling on their seal skins as they went.

In the meantime, Jock made good his escape with the selkie skin underneath his arm. He climbed back over the rocks and crossed the dry sand towards the cliff path. However, he had not gone far when he heard footsteps padding after him over the sand and the sound of a maid softly weeping. As he turned, he saw a lovely girl holding out her hands towards him; big crystal tears were tumbling down her smooth white cheeks.

'Bide awhile, eester, I beg o'ye,' she cried. 'Hae pity on a poor wee lassie and gie me back ma selkie skin.'

Jock's heart was moved by her sobbing pleas. Yet even more his heart was pierced by a strange feeling he had never had before. Could it be that Jock the lonely farmer, who had spurned all womenfolk before, was now in love? His heart certainly felt mighty queer and he knew that he did not want to lose his new-found lassie. Not for anything.


Selkies (also known as silkies or selchies) are creatures found in Faroese, Icelandic, Irish, and Scottishmythology. They can transform themselves from seals to humans. The legend apparently originated on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, where selch or selk(ie) is the Scots word for seal (from Old English seolh). Source: Wikipedia