Monday, March 22, 2010

Mermaid or Selkie...What's in a Name?

I broke out my handy dandy book, The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, by John and Caitlin Matthews, and the first magical creature I turned to was Selkie. The second one was Mermaid. Kind of weird since they both involve magical sea creatures, so I decided this was fate prodding me in the Selkie/Mermaid direction.

So, tell me, which sounds more romantic? Selkie or Mermaid? Which would you prefer to find on a rock in the middle of the sea? Which would you feel safer with or want to be romantically inclined with?

According to Wikipedia (, a Selkie is a seal like creature with the ability to shed its seal shape and take human form when it comes to land. They are typically depicted in romantic stories where the human isn’t aware that their lover is a Selkie, but when they wake their lover is gone. There is also the legend of a human hiding the Selkie’s skin so that the Selkie cannot return to the sea and turn back into seal form. To further complicate things, Selkiescan have contact with one person for only a short period of time before it becomes necessary for them to return to the sea. After that, they cannot have human contact for seven years. With one exception, a human may betray them by stealing their Selkie skin and hiding or burning it (this just seems exceptionally cruel to me), thereby forcing the Selkie to remain here on earth since they cannot return to the sea without their skin.

Call me crazy, but I immediately thought of the Charmed episode, A Witch’s Tail, where the Mermaid was given one month by the sea hag, an evil witch, to find true love. Of course, the sea hag had ulterior motives. Don’t they always! LOL If the Mermaid couldn’t get her lover to admit his true love for her within one month, then she would have to give the sea hag her immortality. Maybe that’s a little farfetched in the comparison between Selkies and the Charmed episode, but both have a short period of time unless: 1) the Selkie’s,/i> skin is hidden from them; or 2) the Mermaid is able to find true love and her lover admits it. My opinion, the Selkie version isn’t all that romantic. Sounds a little too much like kidnapping to me.

also brought to mind the 1984 movie, Splash, with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. Daryl Hannah plays a mermaid in this movie, but she’s also able to shed her tail for various periods of time while on land. And in Splash, the Mermaid and human fell in love, so it had its romantic theme. Kind of like a Selkie, right? ;-) Okay, maybe another long stretch, but my brain saw the similarity with the way she was able to take human form on land. Seeing this movie as an impressionable kid, I loved the romantic mermaid aspect of it.

I didn’t forget Ariel and Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid, just chose not to discuss it since it was so similar to the Charmed version in The Witch’s Tail.

Okay, none of these movies/shows have anything do with Selkies really, but rather Mermaids, right? Or, maybe…well, let’s see what The Element Encylopedia of Magical Creatures, by John & Caitlin Matthews, has to say about Mermaids. In folklore, Mermaids have a dark side and were kind of scary actually, nothing at all like the above romantic elements. Mermaids were responsible for luring young men to their death. The appearance of a Mermaid presaged storms and disasters, not only bringing about misfortunes, but also provoking them. Legend has them enthusiastically seeking human lives by either drowning or consuming men. Yowza! Talk about a black widows death ala Mermaid style. Suddenly, instead of having the beautiful Ariel image in my head, I'm picturing a sea hag type monster with piranha teeth. It was said, Mermaids were born without a soul and the only way they could obtain a soul was by marrying a human.

These aspects of Mermaid folklore had very little deviations from The Celts, Irish, Scotts, British, Dutch, and Asian regions. In fact, the character of a Mermaid differs very little between the nations of the world, signifying that belief in these odd creatures has been around for an extremely long time and that they are all similar and frightening. And to tie in Mermaids with Selkies, one of the many regional names of a Mermaid is Selkie. Neat, huh? I thought so anyway. =)

(Note: All photos were snagged from Google Images. No copyright infringement was intended, but photos were used as visual aides.)


  1. Hey, Gracen! Interesting post! I love anything to do with mermaids. Beauty with a dark side...gotta love that! ;)

  2. Thanks, Nichelle. I found the lore interesting, especially since it's not how I grew up thinking of mermaids. But, yeah, I like this spin on the mermaids, makes them much more interesting in my opinion.

  3. Hi, Odd that I came across this by chance whilst googling for something else, as I did the line illustrations for John and Catlin's 'The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures' , reading your comments, I thought I'd share a link below to a page on my website which may be of interest as it features images and information on Slkies, Mermaids and other aquatic entities
    Best Wishes :)