Scottish Folklore, the Selkie and the story of our logo
The Selkie and the story of the Intrepidus Outdoors logo
At Intrepidus Outdoors we provide real adventurous experiences in wild nature. In order for us to effectively manage the very present risks that our staff and clients face, our managers and guides are highly experienced and competent professionals. However, our team also embody the Intrepid philosophy to always aspire to increase their knowledge, understanding and abilities in their environment, while training hard to ensure that progress is a reality. We all have an enormous amount of respect for individuals who have dedicated their lives to understanding their environment, in terms of knowledge and skill, and this is amplified for those people who have the ability to thrive in oceans, mountainous regions and waterways.
At Intrepidus Outdoors we have a Selkie as our logo, this blog post will explain why!
The Selkie – An introduction
The selkie is a mythological being found amongst the folklore of Scotland. Selkies are shapeshifters, transforming between seal and human form by shedding and replacing their skin. In their human form, selkie folk are always referred to as being incredibly attractive. They are graceful, kind natured and amorous, resulting in any humans coming across them falling desperately in love.
Tales of Selkies are predominantly found in the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, though they are not restricted to Scotland. Selkies also appear in the folklore of Ireland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and seal tales are also present in the folklore of the Inuit as well as the Chinook people of the West coast of America, where the Columbia river meets the sea.
The communities from which the tales originate are dependent on the sea for their livelihood. Living in close proximity to the sea, such communities are well aware of it’s ability to be a wild, tempestuous and an unpredictable force. The selkie is a symbol of it’s calm and bountiful temperament who often appear to saves the lives of child or fisherman who have fallen into the sea.
The tales themselves always depict selkies in the same light and are common in theme. Selkies love to come ashore, shed their skin and bask in the sunlight, or sing and dance by the light of the moon. Without their skin, they cannot return to the sea.
A Selkie Tale
The sea king and queen once lived happily with their many beautiful children. The children would spend all day frolicking amongst the coral gardens and lush meadows on the sea bed and their lives were full of singing and laughter.
One fateful day the sea queen fell ill. Nothing her king or the other sea folk could do would save her and, only weeks later, she died. The sea king and his children were bereft. The children missed their mother’s comforting arms and her gentle voice singing them to sleep at night. No longer could singing or laughter be heard in the coral caves and gardens.
Despite his sorrow, the king felt it was his duty to remarry and provide the children with a new mother. The sea witch, an ugly individual, due to many years of bitter jealousy of others, quite fancied the opportunity to become queen and rule over all those who had cause her such strife. She took advantage of the situation and convinced the sea king to marry her. However her jealousy over others continued and she now targeted her ill feelings at the sea children, who despite their sorrow were still more beautiful than the queen could ever be, for they were graceful and kind of heart.
The sea witch cast a spell on the kings children, turning them into seals, cursing them to never again be able to live in the kingdom, but to swim as seals forever more in the ocean, apart from the one day a year that they could shed their skin and take their true form on land.
The king, in his fury, banished the sea witch to a cave in the darkest depths of the ocean but no one could reverse the magic that had been done. And so the seals swim, and can often be found frolicking and singing near to the coast, amongst the shallows as was the nature of the sea-children.
One day, many years later, a tired young fisherman was heading home along the coastal path to his two young children. He was recently widowed and was struggling to bring up his children alone. The fisherman had to go to sea to try and earn money to keep his family and had no choice but to leave the children at home alone when he did so. While rounding the headland he happened upon a seal skin, discarded on the rocks. The fisherman felt the fine, silky pelt of the skin and thought what a fine price it would fetch, enough to allow him to employ an old maid to look after his young children while he was at sea. He took the pelt home with him and locked it safely in his wooden chest, hiding the key in the eaves, until the time came that he could take it to market.
That night the wind howled and the waves crashed upon the shore in an almighty storm. The fisherman was huddled with his two young children beside the fire telling a story to settle them when they heard a feint knock at the door. On opening the door, the fisherman was faced with the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on. She had an old hessian sack wrapped around her naked body and her hair was wild and knotted with seaweed. She collapsed, sobbing, through the door and near enough passed out with exhaustion. The young fisherman wrapped the selkie girl in blankets and laid her down near the fire, thinking she must have come from a wreck at sea.
On waking the next morning, the fisherman and his two children found the selkie girl sitting by the fire, cooking porridge. She was incredibly grateful to the fisherman for inviting her into his home but could not tell him from where she had come, just that she had nowhere to go. The fisherman, who was so enchanted by the young woman’s beauty, insisted she stay until she was quite herself again. And so she stayed, for without her sealskin, the selkie could not return to the sea.
And so the days and weeks passed, the young woman kept the house, cooked the meals and cared for the fisherman’s children. In the evenings the fisherman would tell stories and the young woman would sing to the children. The selkie grew fond of the fisherman’s children, they reminded her of her own brothers and sisters and laughter returned to her life once more.
The fisherman fell deeper in love with the young woman every day until one day he asked her to marry him. Although she longed for the sea, the selkie had no way of returning without her skin (which, enchanted by the selkie, the fisherman had completely forgotten about, locked safe in his chest!) and she had found some happiness with the fisherman and his family, so she agreed. They were married and had children of their own and lived together in the little cottage for several years.
One winter’s morning, when the wind and the waves had been building all night and it was sure that a storm was coming, the fisherman readied himself for a day on the boat. The selkie couldn’t believe her husband was heading out but he would not listen to her pleas, insisting he knew how to read the weather after so many years on the sea and that there was no danger, the storm was passing further south.
The fisherman set off and the winds did grow stronger, and the waves more voracious. As the little cottage was battered by the storm, a sudden icy blast shook the roof and a small rusty key dropped from the eaves, where it had been hidden some years earlier. This very blast also chilled the bones of the selkie, convincing her something terrible had befallen her husband. She was set into some sort of trance, faced with images of her husband being thrown from his boat as it was torn apart by the storm, into the mercy of the storm fuelled sea.
The children meanwhile were delighted with the gift that had fallen from the eaves and examined the key carefully, imagining doorways to magical worlds and chests full of treasure. At this thought, the eldest girl grabbed the key and dashed across the room to the old chest. She placed the key in the lock and as she turned it, the lock clicked. Her brothers and sister rushed to join her and with excitement in their eyes, the children slowly lifted the lid which creaked open.
Whether it was the noise of the key turning in the lock, the creak of the lid opening or the familiar old smell of her skin, the selkie girl snapped out of her trance, turning to see her children pulling her long lost skin out of the chest. She knew in that instant the fate that had befallen her husband and dashed across the room, taking her old familiar skin in her hands. With nothing more than a quick kiss on each child’s head, the selkie was out of the door and running to the shore. She threw off her clothes and put on the skin, diving into the water she had once called home. She swam out in the storm and found her husband, clinging to a broken barrel amongst the waves. She returned him to the shore near the cottage, where, the next morning, he was found, unconscious but alive.
The selkie however could never return to land, for the constraints of the witches spell had been broken, she had remained on land longer than the day she was allowed, and she would remain a seal forever more.
Foundations of selkie tales
The Sami people, who once inhabited parts of Scandinavia split into two groups, the mountain and sea Sami. The mountain Sami are most commonly known for herding reindeer whereas the sea Sami were fishermen and, in a similar fashion to the Inuit, would voyage far and wide in kayaks made from seal skin.
The Sea Sami of Scandinavia were skilled kayak hunters. Their efficiency, precision in a boat and knowledge of the ocean and coast line was unrivalled. It is thought that children as young as five could capsize their kayaks and then right the boat again with just their hands and a flick of the hips.
These Sami kayakers would wear skin clothing to protect them from the rain and the waves and, it is told, that on long voyages they would stitch themselves into their kayaks for better protection when battling storms and big waves.
The seal skin kayaks will only remain buoyant until it is saturated and once this point is reached, the kayaks would be sitting deeper, often just under the surface of the sea. The kayakers would need to come ashore, shed their skins and dry out in the sun before setting off again. One can only imagine what that must have looked like to passers by…
Intrepidus Outdoors and the Selkie
We have chosen to adopt the image of the Selkie for our logo because we think that Selkie folklore alongside the Sami people, the likely foundation of these tales, is the perfect metaphor for a company motivated by sustainabaility and competency in nature. Our team aspire to have that intimate knowledge of the canyons, rivers and coastal regions that the Sami people had of their hunting grounds.
Who are we | Intrepidus Outdoors
MY Adventure and Intrepidus Outdoors are adventure tours and outdoor experience providers, both based in Edinburgh, Scotland. We specialise in private and open canyoning, coasteering, mountain biking and hill walking tours, and deliver these adventurous experiences across Scotland. We are also a provider of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Expeditions where we run bronze, silver and gold level awards for young people.
- Welcome to Edinburgh- A guide to the Scottish Capital here
- 6 steps to being happy like a Scot here
- You’ll never get bored in Edinburgh here
- 8 Scottish Wonders: here
- Best Budget Hotels and Hostels Edinburgh here
- Hen Party Adventures Edinburgh: here
- Stag Party Outdoor Adventures Edinburgh Essentials: here
- Best Restaurants in Edinburgh here
If you haven’t already seen it, check out the our Trip Advisor, Youtube channel, Visit Scotland page and blog to hear about how others found their outdoor adventures with us! Equally, if there is any gear that you would like us to review, drop us a DM.