One of my favorite mythological figures is the Selkie found in Irish and Scottish folklore. Selkies are seals who can shed their skins and become human. If they put their seal pelt back on, it allows them to return to water. Typically in the story someone steals the female Selkie’s coat which means she can never return to sea. Sometimes it is her lover. In other versions, it is her child. Yet as soon as she is able to retrieve her pelt she returns to the sea.
I find the myth haunting and sad yet love Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ psychoanalytic analysis of it in her book “Women Who Run with the Wolves.” She discusses the myth as a lesson to all of us to never lose contact with what our soul most needs. In the case of the Selkie, the Selkie most longs for the sea. Estes talks about the myth as a reminder of all the things that can rob us from what connects us to our innermost nature and needs. In the story, the thief is reflected in the character of a lover or child but anything in life can chip away at our soul’s needs: work demands, the chaos of modern life, thinking we don’t deserve to take care of ourselves, etc.
I used to give this story to women in my therapy practice many of whom had very loving husbands and children but who were stressed out and at risk of losing themselves. Their families weren’t maliciously stealing what was most precious and vital to them; in some ways their families were giving things most precious and vital. However, the reality is relationships (even the very best ones) require us to lose parts of ourselves at times. We invest, give, merge and devote our lives to the other. And this is a good thing; not bad. But we must also have that time at sea in order to stay balanced and true to ourselves.
The best scenario of the Selkie mythology is when she can live both on land and at sea with no one stealing her pelt (or she misplacing it). And as I literarily swam back into the sea today after a hiatus on land, I realize we all have a seal skin – a soul skin – that must be kept in a special place. Men and women alike need their seal skin/soul skin. We must protect it and can’t forget where we have placed it for the sea is a heavenly place.