This haunting melody is from the Patrick MacDonald
collection (1784). In the Scottish hierarchy of nature, seals
are almost equal in rank to humans. The "Selkie" myths
tell of seals taking human form for short visits on land.
Seals are a very common sight across the islands.
Heads bobbing above the surface of the waves, they are most often
seen watching inquisitively with uncannily human eyes.
has many tales concerning the selkie, a magical race of creatures.
Selkies often came to be regarded as gentle shape shifters with
the ability to transform from seals into beautiful, lithe humans.
Throughout the surviving folklore there is no general agreement
as to how often this magical transformation could take place.
In some tales it was once a year, usually on Midsummer's Eve,
whereas in others it could be 'every ninth night' or 'every seventh
However often they were able to transform, the folklore does tell
us that once in human form the selkie folk would dance merrily
on lonely stretches of moonlit shore or bask in the sun on outlying
rocks or skerries.
A common thread in many Selkie folk tales, and perhaps the most
important, is the fact that when the selkies assume human form
they cast off their sealskins. Within these magical skins lay
the power to return to seal form, and therefore the sea.
If one of the selkie folk lost their sealskin, they were doomed
to remain in human form until the skin was recovered. Because
of this, if
disturbed during one of their midnight shore dances, the selkie
would hastily snatch up their skins and rush back to the safety
Seals are familiar sights along Scotland's coastlines.
The most numerous species there is the common seal, also called
the harbor seal. Like most seals, common seals spend much of their
time basking on rocks and beaches. In 1905 a Shetland Island birder
wrote of these naps, "Such great yawns, such stretchings, heavings
and throwings back of the head ... How intensely he enjoys his