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The Hidden Folk: Stories of Fairies,... Dwarves, Selkies, and Other Secret Beings

Tales of Scottish Folklore


The grey seals who crowd the rocky skerries of the
northern isles were called the Selkie Folk, who would
assume this human form on Midsummer Eve to dance on the shore without their furs. The old superstitions about them were specific. If a mortal found a seal skin soon alter the period of transformation from seal to human, they would have power over that seal-person.

The folk around Loch Duich, in Ross and Cromarty, still tell the sad story of the three brothers who, one night, watched a group of seals come ashore, doff their pelts and gambol on the moonlit beach. The brothers were particularly taken by three seal-maidens and stole their skins. So when the seal-people returned to the water’s edge, the three maidens were forced to stay behind. Seeing the distress of one of the seal-maidens the youngest brother gave back her skin and she slipped
gracefully beneath the waves. His two brothers kept the
other seal-maidens and married them.

A few nights later, the seal-people returned and the two brothers locked their wives away in case they were called back. The youngest brother watched the seal-
people dance on the beach and mourned for the loss
of his own seal-love.

Then, the story goes, the seal leader, father of the seal-
maiden the youngest brother had loved, gave permission for him to marry his daughter and they lived a life of complete happiness on shore. But the other two brothers only knew unhappiness. One seal-wife found her skin and returned to the depths; and warned by this the eldest brother burned his wife’s skin to stop her from going back. Alas, in a terrible house fire which followed the skin burning the seal-wife perished.

Seal-men were also believed to come on land to marry mortal women. The offspring of such unions were said to have webbed toes and fingers, or scales on the soles of their feet. Certain clans in Scotland were thought to be descendants of the seal-folk. Several of the Mackays of Sutherland were known as ‘the descendants of the seal’, particularly the family of the lairds of Borgie. The same was said of the MacCodruns of North Uist and the McPhees of Colonsay.

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