Shapeshifter has become a very important archetype to me, one that has made itself one of the backbones of my class, She Came Into Focus. The idea of shifting into different forms is an ancient kind of energetic alchemy and one that I think appeals to all of us on some level.
One of my favorite shapeshifters is beautiful Selkie. Unfortunately, selkie folklore is usual tragic in nature, centering around themes of dissatisfaction, longing and loss. But looking at these tales, I feel that there’s something deeply empowering in the Selkie archetype.
All the selkies are considered beautiful and enchanting- humans are always caught under their spell. Male selkies are crafty creatures, looking for human women with longing and sadness in their hearts. Married or not, they are all fair game. And indeed, some of the human women in these stories actively pursue a tryst with a male selkie by shedding seven tears into the sea. These roguish selkies were smart, hiding their skins where no one could find them, always ready to escape back to the sea, sometimes taking their human lovers with them.
Yet the female selkies, though equally magnetic when it came to attracting human lovers, were often not so lucky. Human men would often find these skins and hide them away, preventing their selkie maidens from returning to the sea, their home, and forcing them to marry and remain in the human world.
I think these stories speak so strongly to the wild soul of women and how often we hold back in order to fit in with our culture, family and even mates. That sealskin is both our protection and the symbol of our wildness. We are drawn to it, drawn to its transformative power.
I also believe there’s a natural curiosity and longing in women to reach out and behold the different aspects of our souls – yet we are afraid and we don’t often live in cultures that support this kind of shapeshifting. (Heaven forbid we don’t fit into a box that can be easily labeled!) If we think we don’t have the power to do it ourselves, we are willing to summon a selkie man to spirit us away. And if we are capable, we may too easily give away our sealskin.
This story speaks to me for many reasons – one of the strongest connections I have with it is my propensity to give my sealskin to men who lock it away in their trunks. I forget my safety. I forget my home. I forget my transformative power.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in the past year or so is to trust and cherish my sealskin – to allow myself to put it on and shed it, as I need to, letting these other aspects of myself emerge and withdraw, ebbing and flowing like the selkie’s sea.