The Selkie is found in stories from the Northern Isles and Scotland. Explore your own journey to return to your true identity in this powerful folktale from my book, Love Lies Beneath: How reclaiming my Soul through Story became the secret to healing my Heart.
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Woman of the Sea
Welcome to Love Lies Beneath. I’m Zette Harbour.
I’m glad to have you here. Do you feel like stress, fear, or pain take up way too much of your energy? Have you wondered if you’ll ever be free of that heaviness of your past? Do you long to feel as good on the inside as your life looks on the outside? In this podcast, you’ll discover the story of who you really are and how to set yourself free together.
We’re going to travel into those wild spaces of our inner landscapes and dive deeply into the rich soil of our lives. Reclaiming soul through story and healing. Our hearts. My book Love Lies Beneath is the. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast. So you don’t miss any of this enriching journey. And now let the adventure begin.
In Episode 22, I share the second folktale in Part II of my book. It’s called Woman of the Sea. It’s a version of a selkie story. Selkies are a kind of fairy. They live in the deep sea and you do see them, but when you do, they look like seals swimming in the ocean until they come out onto the land. And so many selkie stories tell what happens to them when they leave the safety and freedom of their home.
In this story, I feel and see and live into a story of being separated from my true nature, my true identity. And this story allows me to connect to my feelings of loss. And yearning and finally liberation, The loss is that moment or those moments in life that separate me from who I truly am. In my book, I describe it as the Original Self.
In becoming separated from my original self, I took on a different identity. It wasn’t exactly not me, but it wasn’t really the true me. So this story expresses that so perfectly, I’m going to read it for you now.
Woman of the Sea
Long ago on the Isle of Unst, there lived a young man, a farmer. One summer evening he was down walking by the shore. He had come down there to cool off after a long day in the hay fields and there was a breeze blowing off the ocean. He could see the full moon in the sky. Below the sand was shining golden in the moonlight.
He walked along and when he looked up, there right in front of him was a ring of fairy people dancing in a great circle and singing. He had never seen them like this before. But because it was midsummer, and a full moon, there they were, without their sealskins dancing for joy.
The young man moved quietly along the shore and he saw his shadow moving before him. He could see that not one of the fairy people cast a shadow on the ground. His own shadow moved before him and entered the ring before he did.
The fairy people, in an instant, broke the circle and ran for their sealskins. Soon, the air was full of the sounds of soft splashing and their cries as they ran for their skins and dove in the water.
But there was one of the fairy people, a young woman running back and forth along the shore, looking as if she had lost something. She ran to the edge of the water with her feet in the foam. She called out to her people to come back for her but it was too late. They were already gone.
The young man looked down and in his shadow, he saw a darker shape. It was her sealskin. And so he picked that up and he hid it behind a rock. Then he walked down to the edge of the water. There he looked at the young woman and he said, “Woman of the sea, why are you crying?”
She looked at him and for a moment he thought she might dive right into the water even without her sealskin. But instead she took a step closer to him.
“Sir, Sir, give it back to me. If you give it back, my people and I will give you the treasure of the sea.”
“I want no treasure of the sea except for you,” he said, “I want you to be my wife. It is by your own hearth that you shall sit beside on those long, cold dreary winter nights. Never again will you have to swim in that cold gray sea.”
She tried to explain to him about those fairy places, deep, deep in the sea where the water is warm as a river in summer, where neither snow nor darkness ever come.
But he wouldn’t hear her. He wrapped her in his cloak and picked her up. She wept the whole time as he carried her on his shoulder and went straight to the priest’s house where they were married. He carried her, still crying all the way, to his house. He brought her straight into the kitchen and set her right before the hearth.
She took one look at that glowing crimson peat in the fireplace and her eyes were transfixed. She stopped crying. It was the first thing that made her forget, for even a moment the sea that was her home. She never lost her wonder of it. In fact, she brought each of her three children to see it the first thing after they were born.
She was with the man for 14 years and she was a good wife to him. She baked his bread. She spun the wool of his Shetland sheep. And she loved her children. And he loved her. He never once named the sealskin to her, and she never named it to him.
He did see, one day as he was plowing on the headland above the bay, her standing out on the rocks. The waves were crashing around her and she was crying and sobbing to a great gray seal out in the water. But he didn’t say anything when he got home that night. You see, he didn’t wonder that she should miss the company of her own people.
And then one September evening, the air was warm and yellow with the dusk. The children were out running among the haystacks and their voices were carried into the kitchen where the woman was baking the bread.
Then she heard their voices change. She heard them shrieking and yelling and she ran out to see what it was. They came running up to her and they grabbed her hands.
“Oh, you must come and see it,” they said, “It’s like a cat. Only, it’s much softer than a cat and larger too.”
And they pulled her into the barn and there under last year’s hay, was buried her sealskin.
The children ran off back outside, and she could hear them playing among the haystacks. Their voices were twittering like little birds. She could hear the sounds of the swallows, as they settled down under the eaves for the night. The chickens were already in their roosts, and now and then one of them shifted. And she could smell that bread baking in the kitchen. She turned and took a step back toward the door to go into the house.
And then the wind came, wriggling around the haystacks carrying on it a sound she had heard so many times, she never seemed to hear it at all. It was the sound of the sea, the great waves crashing far out on the rocks, the little waves racing up on the shore and slipping back.
In an instant, she grabbed her sealskin and was running down the track toward the shore as fast as she could go. Her children were calling after her but she didn’t even hear them. She was gone before they knew what had happened.
Not long after this, the man returned from the hay fields and the children excitedly told him all that had happened. In the next instant, he too, was running down that track to the shore with all the strength and speed he could muster.
He got to the edge of the water, just in time to see his wife far out in the sea with that great grey seal beside her. He called her to stop, to come back.
Upon hearing his cry, the woman turned and looked back at the man. And then she said, “My Heart has always been in the sea.” Then she dove down into the ocean, and the great gray seal with her. She dove down deep into the fairy places.
The man waited a long, long time for his wife to come back. The villagers tell stories of seeing her children walking along the shore and there out in the water a seal following along, barking at them and tossing them jellyfish and pretty shells and other good things to eat. But their mother never did come back to the land ever.
Joy & Liberation
I invite you to spend time with this story with Kind Curiosity. Allow the Story Wisdom to soak into your skin. Feel yourself called to your own fairy depths. Discover your wild nature, your Original Self and the liberation and joy that that brings you. I also invite you to consider the richness of her time as the farmer’s wife.
We have that time in our own lives, where we have been dutiful and diligent, caring parents, a faithful caregiver. We have been productive and we have not fought the bonds that hold us, that prevent us from reconnecting to our own wild nature. So I want to leave you with this thought in the coming days, spend time listening to the voices of your children, your imaginal children, the children within your inner landscape, who are laughing and dancing and playing and who want to show you something amazing.
I’m Zette Harbour. This is Love Lies Beneath. I encourage you to subscribe to this podcast. There’s so much more to this adventure, and I invite you to explore with me and discover your wild, inner landscapes as you make your way home to your Original Self. You can find show notes, resources, and even schedule a virtual coffee date with me at the website, LoveLiesBeneath.com.
Go raibh míle maith agat!