As the last page of David Thomson’s “The People of the Sea” draws nearer, I realize I’ve been completely confused. Selkie is not the name of magical shapeshifting creatures, it is simply the old Scottish name for Seal. Every Seal to the Irish, Scotts or people of Iceland might change themselves into a person. Every Seal is a shapeshifter.
These stories harken back to a time when the boundaries between people and other creatures were woven with thread, rather than built with stone and mortar – bonds not barriers. Every creature might grapple with this fabric and find a way to start a new life.
An old man might win a Seal bride. A young woman might find love amongst the waves. A family might create a dynasty of friendship and abundance by doing right by their Ocean bound cousins. The world was a slipperier place then. You might easily find yourself in someone else’s world.
When I read the old stories about the Selkie, I’m amazed by the space in everyone’s lives. Without cars, only the occasional bus, with the seasons to determine the pace, there was more room for the unknowable to carve new channels in peoples lives. Certainly there was more room for the haunting stories of the Selkie to take root.
We have purposefully erased such mystery from our modern lives, hiding our Selkie skins so deep in the closets of our minds they might never be retrieved. When we do come across such things accidentally we might be blind to their sacred dimension at best – terrified at worst.
Maybe thats why the spirits have been cautioning me to slow down lately. Each spirit, be they in the upper or lower world has the same message, “slow down and listen.” When I ask what I’m supposed to be listening for they say “every living thing.” Open your heart and listen, as always.
Listening was how Thomson’s folk survived each day, ensuring there would be food on the table today and tomorrow. They were cautious, but prone to accidental adventure. I think they knew well that we live in a world that is always ready to remix the colors of its pallet, find a new way to combine and create. If one is to transform their life they must be ready to let go of caution and slip into the mysterious world of the Selkie.
I am listening for change.