The Selkie's Legacy

The ocean is a powerful, mysterious force.

And for as long as I can remember, I’ve felt her in my blood and soul. Former United States president John F. Kennedy predeterminedly described my intuitive knowing beautifully in his remarks at the dinner for the America’s Cup Crews on September 14, 1962:

I really don't know why … all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think … in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it’s an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We’re tied to the ocean.

His latter words send shivers down my spine, conjuring memories from long ago.

When I was a child, Mary, my grandmother, raised me on tales about the selkie, an Orcadian word for “seal.” Her woven yarns were variations of those hailing from the Orkney and Hebridean Isles of Scotland, as well as surrounding coastlines. I’m fully aware that they’re not true to original form, that I don’t reside in nor have I ever visited the United Kingdom. But she told me the selkie legends for a reason — in a different locale, on a different shore.

The selkie is a beautiful maiden with raven hair and deep brown eyes when on land; in water, a seal. She is the epitome of the ocean: wild, beautiful, fully herself. One day, a fisherman happens upon her dancing in the wake of the moon’s silver light. He falls in love with her. He steals her pelt, and in doing so, she is bound to him. Years later, her eldest child, a daughter, discovers the parcel and, without true knowledge of its significance, gives it to her mother as a gift. The selkie dons her skin — her very soul — and returns from whence she came.

According to my maternal Scots-Irish mythopoetic genealogy, I’m the descendant of a selkie and fisherman. The women before me chose between two paths: one moved through wind-swept sand dunes and rocky cliffs; the other flowed with the currents in the ocean’s depths. Both land and sea are in my blood and soul. I stand at the hearth of two worlds, a betwixt-and-between lighthouse. To deny one over the other would mean betraying parts of myself.

We need to appreciate and own all of ourselves, even those traits others tell us to hate, to tame, to put in a box. And therein lies the selkie’s gift — her deepest magic and legacy.