The Selkie swims ashore at night, sheds her seal skin, hides it, and delights in her human form. In Celtic lore, she is the wild feminine soul, a creature of land and sea, innocent and beautiful, who cannot thrive in domesticity.
In folklore, the seal-folk are discovered by humans. Their natural, joyous spirit, grace, and affection invite contact. Humans are drawn to them, but if they touch, parting is unbearable. Many a young man, desperate to maintain the life-giving embrace of nature, steals a Selkie’s seal skin, locking her into a human form. Helpless, she is led into domesticity and motherhood. Isolated from the sea, in a role alien to her nature, the Selkie diminishes until her seal-skin is reclaimed. Called home to the sea, she leaves all behind and is restored to her authentic being.
Theft of a Selkie’s skin is a kind of archetypal initiation we all may face. Our naive spirits are all too often robbed or captured through lack of foresight. We lose touch with our wild spirit as we accept our assigned social roles, accommodate marital expectations, and forget what we once loved. Drained and disaffected, midlife may cast us into our inner wilderness to renew and restore our original being.
We lose our connection to life-giving instincts slowly. Attending the family alma mater, selecting a sensible career, and sacrificing our wildness to corporate culture can leave our souls withered. Deprived of the water of life, we may abandon everything once we find our true skin and smell the brine carried on the east wind.
In the ancient stories, seal-folk were male and female, and either might find themselves trapped through naïve curiosity. For young men and women, innocence is unrewarded in the adult world and often leads us into harsh agreements that force us to abandon our intuition and accept domestication. We turn from our inner world and stare only at the culture. Deep desire is replaced by snacking on what has been advertised. Our uncouth delight is curated into meticulous etiquette.
When we neglect our animal side, the unconscious howls at us. Injured animals surface in our dreams, along with roaring vague creatures that chase us and savage impulses prompting us to bite and claw. If we linger too long in alien domesticity, emptiness, exhaustion, and neglect may drive us to chew our way out of our current situation. But actions of last resort might be avoided by learning to listen to the wild one within.
Carving out time in nature, setting unyielding boundaries, and questioning societal expectations are vital to protecting our true nature. If we are sons and daughters of the open water, we need time off, solitude, and uninterrupted periods of self-reflection. Art, music, and poetry can call forward our animal nature, granting us deep relief.
Listen to your seal-song and answer it.
HERE’S THE DREAM WE ANALYZE:
“I requested to present to local government an opportunity to help people out with repair and replacement of septic tanks if they couldn’t afford it, including replacement of caps to prevent toddlers from falling in and drowning. The Chief Executive, an inexperienced and clueless fellow, introduced me to their new consultant, who looked just like the guy who played Prospero in my senior year production of The Tempest; I played Caliban. The guy was good-looking but a terrible actor who never studied and couldn’t seem to memorize his lines. As the consultant to our local government, he informed me that to make any assistance possible for people in need, I’d have to first make a public presentation pledging I would worship Thanatos and Eros and that I would only award assistance to those who also swore their religious allegiance to Thanatos and Eros. I was outraged and stomped out. My friend, who is in the same field and with whom I often collaborate, sat in the audience calmly taking notes. I asked her if she would do it, and she said she didn’t see any problem with it, which I thought was completely out of character, as she is a very principled woman who stands up to anything unethical. I woke up angry and a little confused.”
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