It’s an old Irish folk tale. The stories back then could be pretty rough and I don’t think they would be appropriate for children.
I’m familiar with the tale. While a little grown up in theme, I think the parent is over reacting. However, she should talk it over with school and school should be respectful.
Selkie is simply the Orcadian dialect word for “seal”.
So, selkies are a very common sight across Orkney. Heads bobbing above the waves, they are often seen by the shore, watching inquisitively with uncannily human eyes.
To the onshore observer it is not hard to see how the legends surrounding the selkie-folk the seal people sprang into life.
Orkney has many tales concerning this shape-shifting race.
Unlike the Finfolk, who retained their malicious tendencies throughout the years, the selkie-folk have come to be regarded as gentle creatures, with the ability to transform from seals into beautiful, lithe humans. This, however, is a far cry from the original folklore a topic dealt with further here.
In the surviving folklore, there is no agreement as to how often the selkie-folk were able to carry out the transformation. Some tales say it was once a year, usually Midsummer’s Eve, while others state it could be every ninth night or every seventh stream.
Regardless of how often they were able to transform, the folklore tells us that once in human form, the selkie-folk would dance on lonely stretches of moonlit shore, or bask in the sun on outlying skerries.
The selkie skin
A common element in all the selkie-folk tales, and perhaps the most important, is the fact that in order to shapeshift they had to cast off their sealskins. Within these magical skins lay the power to return to seal form, and therefore the sea.
If this sealskin was lost, or stolen, the creature was doomed to remain in human form until it could be recovered. Because of this, if disturbed while on shore, the selkie-folk would hastily snatch up their skins before rushing back to the safety of the sea.
The selkie-men were renowned for their many encounters with human females married and unmarried.
A selkie-man in human form was said to be a handsome creature, with almost magical seductive powers over mortal women. According to tradition, they had no qualms about casting off their sealskins, stashing them carefully, and heading inland to seek out unsatisfied women.
Should such a mortal woman wish to make contact with a selkie-man, there was a specific rite she had to follow. At high tide, she should make her way to the shore, where she had to shed seven tears into the sea.
The selkie-man would then come ashore and, after removing his magical sealskin, seek out unlawful love.
In the words of the 19th century Orkney folklorist, Walter Traill Dennison, these selkie males:
“. . . often made havoc among thoughtless girls, and sometimes intruded into the sanctity of married life.”
If a girl went missing while out on the ebb, or at sea, it was inevitably said that her selkie lover had taken her to his watery domain assuming, of course, she had not attracted the eye of a Finman.
But while the males of the selkie race were irresistible to the island women, selkie-women were no less alluring to the eyes of earth-born men. The most common theme in selkie folklore is one in which a cunning young man acquires, either by trickery or theft, a selkie-girls sealskin.
This prevents her from returning to the sea, leaving the seal-maiden with no option but to marry her captor.
The tales generally end sadly, when the skin is returned, usually by one of the selkie-wife’s children. In some accounts, her children go with her to the sea, while others have them remaining with their mortal father.
The Silkie Wife:
Those in Shetland and Orkney Islands who know no better, are persuaded that the seals, or silkies, as they call them, can doff their coverings at times, and disport themselves as men and women. A fisher once turning a ridge of rock, discovered a beautiful bit of green turf adjoining the shingle, sheltered by rocks on the landward side, and over this turf and shingle two beautiful women chasing each other. Just at the man’s feet lay two seal-skins, one of which he took up to examine it. The women, catching sight of him, screamed out, and ran to get possession of the skins. One seized the article on the ground, donned it in a thrice, and plunged into the sea; the other wrung her hands, cried, and begged the fisher to restore her property; but he wanted a wife, and would not throw away the chance. He wooed her so earnestly and lovingly, that she put on some woman’s clothing which he brought her from his cottage, followed him home, and became his wife.
Some years later, when their home was enlivened by the presence of two children, the husband awaking one night, heard voices in conversation from the kitchen. Stealing softly to the room door, he heard his wife talking in a low tone with some one outside the window. The interview was just at an end, and he had only time to ensconce himself in bed, when his wife was stealing across the room. He was greatly disturbed, but determined to do or say nothing till he should acquire further knowledge. Next evening, as he was returning home by the strand, he spied a male and female phoca sprawling on a rock a few yards out at sea. The rougher animal, raising himself on his tail and fins, thus addressed the astonished man in the dialect spoken in these islands:—”You deprived me of her whom I was to make my companion; and it was only yesternight that I discovered her outer garment, the loss of which obliged her to be your wife.
I bear no malice, as you were kind to her in your own, fashion; besides, my heart is too full of joy to hold any malice. Look on your wife for the last time.” The other seal glanced at him with all the shyness and sorrow she could force into her now uncouth features; but when the bereaved’ husband rushed toward the rock to secure his lost treasure, she and her companion were in the water on the other side of it in a moment, and the poor fisherman was obliged to return sadly to his motherless children and desolate home.
For a creative retelling of the silkie (selkie) legend, I highly recommend the charming film mentioned by Alexandra, The Secret of Roan Inish
I love the ancient tales, they are so full of drama, love, jealousy, magic, and spirit. There were no movies, television, or recorded music so the stories and songs had to capture the ear of everyone gathered near the hearth, both young and old.
Another tale involving the sea, love, hate, and God's creatures has been sung by a number of celtic artists:
the author and some of her writings for young readers.