The Seal’s Skin

Icelandic Folktale

For introduction see Selkies: Norse Mermaids.

sealOnce in the east of Mýrdalur a man went along the cliffs on the seashore early in the morning. He came to a mouth of a cave and heard the sound of merrymaking and dancing inside. Nearby he saw many seals’ skins. He took one of the skins, brought it home and locked it in a chest. In the daytime he came again to the cave. There sat a young and pretty woman who was naked and cried desperately. She was the seal whose skin the man had taken. He let her dress herself, comforted her and brought her home with him. She has become attached to him, but did not get on with others. She often sat and looked at the sea.

Some time later the man married her. They lived in harmony and had children. The farmer kept the seal’s skin locked up in the chest and had the key with him wherever he went. Many years later he once went outdoors and left the key at home, under his pillow. Others say that the farmer went to celebrate Christmas with his men, but his wife was ill and could not go with them. While he changed his clothes, he left the key in a pocket of his everyday wear. When he came back home, the chest was open, and both the woman and the skin disappeared.

She had taken the key, looked into the chest out of curiosity and found the skin there. She could not resist the temptation, bade farewell to her children, put on the skin and plunged into the sea. And before she plunged into the sea, they say, she whispered:

Where have I to flee?
I’ve seven kids in the sea
And seven kids on dry land.

They say the man grieved much for that. Afterwards, when he went fishing, a seal often swam round his boat, and it seemed that tears ran from her eyes. Ever since that man always had good catch and was lucky.

When their children went to the shore for a walk, people often saw a seal that swam in the sea not far from them, both when they were on land and near water, and threw motley fish and nice sea shells to them. But their mother never came back.

© The Viking Rune, translation from Icelandic

Photo courtesy Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence.

8 comments… add one
  • Brandy

    According to dna I am from the shapeshifting seals “silkies” mermaids. However they say this is merely a myth. Thank you for sharing this story.

  • Robin O'Connell

    Hello, thank you for sharing this fascinating tale. I am currently working on a research project into selkies and was hoping to cite this as one of my sources. It mentions this is a translation – do you have a reference for the original text? That would be immensely helpful. Thank you. Looking forward to hearing from you

  • Sophia Dala

    Can i share this story?

    • Viking Rune

      Yes you can, but please quote the source.

  • Gary Davies

    I am hoping i can have permission to share this with my pagan group?

  • Chris Brewer

    May I have permission to reprint your story, The Seal’s Skin, an Icelandic Folktale, to share with my thirds graders during our folktale study? Thank you so much for considering this!

    • Viking Rune

      Feel free to do so, Chris.

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