“The Selkies-Between Two Worlds” (76 x 56 cm)
Irish Seal Sanctuary, Courtown, Co. Wexford
In Irish folklore, there are many stories about creatures who can transform themselves from seals to humans. These beings are called selkies, silkies, selchies, roane, or simply seal people. The seals would come up onto rocks or beaches and take off their skins, revealing the humans underneath. There is no agreement among the stories of how often they could make this transformation. Some say it was once a year on Midsummer’s Eve, while others say it could be every ninth night. Once ashore, the selkies were said to dance and sing in the moonlight. Although most mythological sea creatures were considered hostile or even evil, selkies were considered to be gentle beings, perhaps because of seals’ kind-looking eyes. Selkies are also seen in Scottish, Icelandic, and Scandinavian mythologies.
The origin of selkies is variable, but it is often said that they were fallen angels like the fairies, except that they had fallen into the sea and became seals. Others insist that the selkie were once human beings who, for some grave offence, were doomed to take the form of a seal and live out the rest of their days in the sea. It is also said that selkies were actually the souls of those who had drowned. One night each year these lost souls were permitted to leave the sea and return to their original human form. Another possibility is that when Ireland became Christianised, selkies came to stand for humans in purgatory, caught between two worlds. (From Janna King, selkies in irish folklore)