Who Were the “Little Mermaids” of Scotland?

Lydia Kendall

Of all the creatures of Scottish folklore, none attracts more attention than the selkie.

The word Selkie comes from the Scottish word Selch which means “seal”! Our gentle Selkies are mythical creatures who can transform themselves from seals to humans. So they aren’t exactly mermaids. Rumor has it that Selkies are sweet and kind instead of fatal and seductive like mermaids or sirens.

A Silkie tale would perhaps have a happy beginning, but let me tell you this, lassie, it wouldn’t end well. These pure gentle souls always have a “but”—a sad element to their stories…even in the well-known fairy tales! There would always be a pinch of melancholy in their lives. I can kind of relate to that, but that’s not our point 😉

Do Selkies have a gender? Well, there are male and female Silkies. In the water, they are male or female seals but outside of water, they are men or women.


What Is Their Difference From Mermaids?

Selkie by Nataša Ilinčić


Except for the fact that they are clearly different animals when being underwater, there is also a difference in their transformation. Mermaids have their fish tales both inside and outside the water. They can’t fully transform to fish or humans.

On the contrary, Silkies have their seal form while in the water and their fully human form outside the water! How do they do it? By shedding their seal skin when they are at land.


Why Leave the Water in the First Place?

“The Selkie Wife,” by artist Victor Ambrus.

Because we can’t forget about love! The Silkies would either fall in love with a human, or a human would fall for them. And I will explain what was going in both those cases…

Case Number One: A Selkie would fall for a human. In that case, she would throw away her seal skin and go live with the love of her life. Attention: A Silkie can’t live on the shore forever. Once she throws her seal skin, she has seven years to stay on land. After that, she would either die or return to her home. The Ocean. Remember when I said there is a pinch of sadness in their stories?

Case Number Two: A Human would fall for a Selkie. After all, Selkies were lovable, sweet, and kind.

How badly would a man want a Selkie? How far would he go to hurt her? Badly and passionately enough to steal her seal skin! In that case, the Selkies couldn’t return to their home, the ocean.

When a man had the Selkie’s seal skin, he owned her. He could marry her, have children with her, stay with her. Of course, I’m talking about the Selkie’s human form. Because when the Selkie was finally able to find her stolen sealskin, she would wear it and go back to the ocean. Even if she was deeply in love with her human husband, she would never be able to stay away from water forever. Even if that meant she would abandon her husband and children…

What is more, after this “theft” of sealskin, the Selkie wouldn’t be able to transform into a human ever again.

See the sad ending again?

But the remarkable thing is that Selkies had a deep love for life. They were fully aware of the consequences of their actions, yet love is love! They were willing to sacrifice everything they had in order to fully experience love, even if this meant that one day they would lose it all. If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what is.


The Scottish Version of “Little Mermaid”

Kópakonan: A statue of the Seal Woman was raised in Mikladagur on the Faroese island of Kalsoy in 2014


We’re talking about Scotland so, of course, there is a creepy fairy tale about mermaids. I could dare say many versions of this fairy tale, but I will present you with the creepiest. Don’t we all want a good mystery after all?

Here are the two best versions of the story:

Version 1: The Femme Fatale

A man was fishing at the shore when he saw a beautiful creature transforming from seal to woman. The man was enchanted by her natural beauty! He took her and her seal skin to his house. He made her his wife and hid her skin so that she could never go back to the ocean.

The years passed, and they had many children. One day one of their children found a sealskin while playing in the warehouse. The child went to show it to his mother…And that was it!

The Selkie hugged her children and said goodbye to them. She went to the shore and started her transformation. Her human husband came close to her as fast as he could when he heard the news. But it was too late. The transformation had already been completed.

Plot Twist

The Selkie, before she left the human world for good, said to him: “Farewell! And may all good attend you. I loved you very well when I resided upon earth, but I have always loved my first husband more.”

Her love for the sea and her sea-husband had prevailed.

Version 2: The Most Caring Wife In The Whole World

A Selkie fell in love with a man…so she left her seal skin and went to marry him. During a terrible storm, her husband was trapped in his boat, struggling not to drown…the Selkie loved him so much that she took her seal form again and rescued him!

How touching is that? She knew she would never be able to be human again and live with her love, but she chose that in order to save his life!

There are no words here, my bonnies…Only tissues!


Written by Lydia Kendall

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