About Orkney
 About the Site
 Search Site 
  The Selkie-folk

The children of the selkie-folk

"An evil spirit your beauty haunts me still.
Wherewith, alas! I have been long possessed."
Michael Drayton

Selkie Hand: Illustration by Sigurd TowrieGiven the selkie-men's insatiable appetite for mortal women, children said to the result of a union between mortal and selkie were common in Orcadian folk-tales. The story of the Goodman o' Wastness and his seven selkie children is a typical example of this genre.

However, the phenomenon was not simply restricted to fireside yarns and, until fairly recently, some Orcadian families still claimed descent from the selkie-folk.

One allegedly true story, documented by the 19th century Orkney folklorist, Walter Traill Dennison, centres around one family from the North Isles of Orkney whose children were all born with "selkiepaws" — webbed feet and fingers.

At each birth, the midwife desperately clipped away these webs, but to no avail. The web always grew back:

". . . and many a clipping Ursilla clipped, to keep the fins from growing again; and the fins, not being able to grow in their natural way, grew into a horny crust on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. And this horny substance can be seen in many of Ursilla's descendants to this day."

Dennison witnessed this condition. In his notes regarding the subject he states categorically:

"whatever may be thought of this tale, its last sentence is quite true."

To read Walter Traill Dennison's full account of this story, click here.

Section Contents

Back a page