Article from the Sumer Mermaid Issue #59
Photography by The Witching Hour Photography
Model Tatiana Pimentel
The woman glanced in the mirror and wondered who the tired person staring back at her was. When did those creases in her brow deepen? How did her eyes lose their shine? She smoothed back stray gray strands of hair that seemed to only spring back up in defiance.
Her husband came up behind her and ran his fingers through her hair. “Not the same girl I saw dancing in the moonlight so many years ago.” His voice was tainted with disappointment as his gaze met her reflection. “I remember how silky it was once upon a time. The color of chestnuts.”
She dared not say the cruel thoughts that rustled restlessly in her mind. She had learned it best to let such feelings go. So she pushed aside the anger that flashed red, forcing it to reside along with the other emotions that she believed no longer existed for her: hope for the chance to make her mark in the world; love from a husband who seemed embarrassed to be seen with her; or joy for a life that she considered monotonous at best. “Tell me again about the night we met,” she said instead.
“It was thirty years ago, on a night much like this,” he said as he led her to the front door of their cottage. He opened the door and pointed to the blue moon that rose high above the trees and spilled its milky glow across the landscape. “I saw you on the beach dancing in the moonlight, and I knew I had to have you.”
As hard as she tried, she couldn’t conjure the memory nor understand how she fell for such a cruel man. “And that is why we’re going tonight? To celebrate our meeting under a blue moon?” she asked.
“Something like that,” he said, throwing a bag over his shoulder as he led his wife out the door.
It was a rare thing for her to be allowed out of the cottage and rarer still to be allowed to go to the ocean. All she knew is that when she heard the thrashing of waves and felt the wind against her face, she felt alive. It burned—beginning at her toes and working its way to the top of her head. She opened her arms to the sky as the waves crashed at her feet and allowed the salty brine to caress her lips.
“Dance,” her husband said. “Let me see you dance like you did when I first saw you here so long ago.”
She turned and met his gaze. “Will you not dance with me?” she asked.
He reached his hand into the bag he had placed in the sand. “I will dance with you if you promise to wear the gift I have for you.”
He had never given her a gift before, so she was puzzled by this sudden generosity. “What is it?”
He held out a brown, densely furred skin and a rope. “It’s a coat to keep you warm.”
There are times in one’s life when the universe sends a warning that is so clear, one can do nothing but listen. For some, the universe speaks through prophetic dreams that may be so dark and unacceptable, the dreamer is haunted for the rest of their lives. For others, it is a gnawing in the pit of their stomach—not allowing one to eat or sleep until every one
of their loved ones is contacted and accounted for. For the woman, it was a tightening in her chest that rose to her throat, restricting her intake of breath. “Why a rope?” was all she could manage to say.
The cruel man chuckled. “Don’t you recognize it? It’s how I captured you so many years ago at this very spot.” He pointed to where the sand lay in drifts near dense gorse and tufts of grass. “I was watching as you peeled yourself from your skin and danced wildly under the moonlight. You were luscious and nubile, and I knew you had to be mine.” He held up the seal skin. “I thought that if you put this back on for a moment and then danced for a time under this same blue moon, that maybe you’d become young again. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” He smirked. “Of course, you’ll have to wear the rope. I wouldn’t want to lose you to the sea.”
In bursts of blue and green and silver streaks, the woman’s memories flooded back. Memories of her life in the sea. She had been wild once; she had been a beautiful mystery spoken of in whispers by fisherman and maidens who longed for adventure; she was the noble queen of her people; she was a selkie who, under the spell of moonlight, had become careless with her sealskin. And the man who stood before her was her captor who, in hiding her skin from her, had extinguished her light until she was just a mere shadow of her former self.
Because the man was arrogant, he expected the selkie he had imprisoned for so many years to comply with his wishes, so he was shocked when she cried out. Her cry was that of a siren, piercing the sky and causing the ocean to swell. And with the rise of water came a multitude of others of her kind, who peeled themselves from their sealskins and encircled their queen. The selkies turned on the man, who dropped the sealskin and tried his best to escape. But they encroached on him with eyes that flashed of revenge. His own cries of fear fell upon deaf ears as they backed him into the folds of the sea.
The selkies presented their queen with her crown of precious shells, and in her awakening she relished the exhilarating rush of saltwater against her skin and fell in love with moonglow on her face, the coolness of the sand underfoot. Her transformation as they danced that night was not one of eternal youth but of a luminous spirit that brightened her eyes and caused her hair to shimmer under moonglow.
As she danced, she found hope once more: for the chance to make her mark in the world, for love from her people who embraced and accepted her just as she was, and for a life filled with the joyous promise of possibility.
Selkies in Folklore
Of all the sea fairies, the selkies—or seal fairies—of Scotland, Scandinavia, and Ireland are by far the gentlest of legendary creatures. In the myths, selkies were sea fairies who appeared as seals. They shed their sealskins on special nights when the moon was full to dance under its silvery glow. If someone was to take their seal coat, the selkie was bound to them. Many a selkie married and even had children. It is said that selkies were loving wives and mothers to their children, but once a selkie recovered her sealskin, she immediately returned to the sea. Some tales depict a selkie’s half human children finding the selkie’s lost or hidden skin and returning it without realizing the consequences.
There is debate about the origin of the selkie legends. Some say they started when Spaniards who had shipwrecked along the coast of the northern Atlantic came ashore with their dark hair reminding the inhabitants of seals. Another tale says that they saw the Finns or Sami people traveling in kayaks wearing sealskin coats. There have even been suggestions that selkies were fallen angels or condemned souls. But like many myths from all cultures, tales of the selkies were most likely created as a way of explaining the unexplainable.
Male selkies were known to be very good-looking and sought after by women who were disappointed in their lives. If a woman had a husband who’d become unbearable or had been out too long at sea, all she needed to do was shed seven tears into the sea to beckon a selkie man to her. He could be with her for only a short time, however, before returning to his watery home, unable to revisit her until seven years had passed.