My work is centred on making different ways to weave together story, image and nature connected practices. The purpose is to offer people a different lens through which to see themselves and their place within the world, and to find ways in which we might call upon our imagination, and different ways of knowing to sense into a future that is always emerging.
Throughout the month of May, my attention settled squarely upon a short Native American folktale, called ‘The Old Woman Who Weaves the World.’ On face value this short folktale can be viewed as an old creation myth but from another perspective this folktale can also be viewed as a medium for meaning making. As we too, like the central character, must attend to the endings and beginnings, and choose to pick up the often jumble of threads that make up the rich fabric of our lives.
In this context, ‘The Old Woman Who Weaves the World,’ can be perceived as a soulful story and a teaching tale, which flows to us today from a time when people listened directly to the earth. A time when the earth was viewed as a living story and held within a state of mutuality which reflected an older knowledge that from our birth, each of us, brings a thread of eternity into the limits of time and place.
Therein exists a perpetual human dilemma. We are born a creature of time and place, whilst at the same time we are also a child of the eternal and are continually being called to an unknown future. It is with these ideas of a fluid yet eternal self-moving through the fabric of time and place that my thoughts began to turn towards June where the next folktale had already taken up residency in my imagination. This time the origin of the folktale is Scotland and is called, ‘The Selkie.’
Over the last few weeks, I have mulled over the elements of this story, often whilst I am walking along the country lanes that surround my house. As, I work the story or the story works me, I am finding that beneath the initial literal meaning there also exists a deeper more poetic and soulful intent. This connection to a world within a world helps me to remember that nothing can really be taken at face value. As the old saying goes, there are always two sides to the same story, and perhaps it is during times of significant change that these older stories can help everyone, young and old to hold the ends and the beginnings together.
The story of the ‘Selkie’ is as old as the hills and again speaks of a time when the separation between humans and the rest of the world was not so defined as it is today. It originated in a world where each took their rightful place and knew their own unique purpose in the world. This situation created a delicate harmony or balance between the different folks who inhabited land, sea, and sky.
The Selkie imaginatively and quite evocatively tells of a moment when that delicate balance was broken by actions taken upon another who was less powerful than them. It tells of how we can each make mistakes in the choices that we make, and even if we make those choices to satisfy our own needs, we must also be respectful of the needs of others.
It is a story that also tells what can happen when we lose access to our true nature, how we each have our own song, and for either to be denied to us for whatever reason, is a renunciation of who we are and how we choose to live our lives. In many ways it is a classic story of loss, love, change and transformation. Of difficult choices and the bittersweet melody which accompanies our passage through life. It is also a story of our connection to nature. In this case a deeply held affinity with the sea.
This is a story which mirrors the choices we each must make to live out our calling and share our unique gifts in a world which often denies the mysterious and magical, in favour of the rational and the literal.
Here, I offer you my short re-telling of the Selkie which will undoubtedly vary to others you may have read or heard. But this is how I have chosen to tell the story as this is how the story speaks to me. You may choose to tell the story differently and this is perfectly OK, for we each have our own story to tell, and way to tell it.
The image of a Selkie is also known as, silkies, selchies, or roane. In times past Selkie’s would be collectively known as Seal people, and you can find many stories of their existence scattered throughout Irish, Scottish, Icelandic, and Scandinavian mythology and folklore. There is one particular story that is of Celtic origin and this one featuring a Scottish fisherman, and it is this one that I have chosen to share with you.
One night, a lone fisherman was making his way home, and as he travelled along the coast to his surprise, he spotted a group of women dancing under the soft shadow of moonlight. Now, this fisherman had travelled this way for a long time and never before had he seen such a thing. Getting closer, he made sure not to disturb the dancing women, by hiding his presence using an old thicket of Hawthorne trees.
Watching the flowing movement the fisherman recalled that as a boy his father had told him a tale of the seal people who would slip out of their fur skins in order to take on human form, and then when they wished to return to the sea, they would slip their fur skins back on, and return to their true seal form.
Now, this fisherman although a good and kindly man, lived a hard life, and was lonely and longed for a wife and children. So, as he stood in the shadows and watched the selkie women dance, a kind of madness took over him, and he chose to take one of the fur skins, knowing that the selkie woman from where it came, would be forced to stay with him and become his wife.
The time came for the selkie women to return to the sea and as each selkie woman took up their fur skin in order to return to the sea, there was one selkie woman left without her fur skin. Fearful and alone as her sisters swam away into the inky blue night, the fisherman stepped out of his hiding place, and to her horror the selkie woman saw that her beautiful grey fur skin was being firmly held in the hand of the fisherman.
Although the selkie woman pleaded with the fisherman, to return what was hers and not his to keep, the fisherman was intent to soothe his aching heart and need for a wife, and refused to give the fur skin back to her. The selkie woman knew that nothing more could be done for she was truly stuck in a world not of her making, and in her human form she chose to become the fisherman’s wife.
Some years passed and the selkie woman, as wife to the fisherman, gave birth to a son and a daughter, and both had webs between their fingers and toes. Whilst the children grew stronger and older the selkie woman grew more wistful and longed for the sea and her selkie family. One day, the children excitedly came running to her and held within their hands what they saw as a piece of old grey fur. Little did they know that they were holding in their hands, their mother’s true nature.
Their mother took one look at what was in their hands and wept with joy to have her fur skin back. She told her children the story of the selkie people and how she yearned to return to the sea. Then with a sad heart she warned them both that she had no choice but to leave them that very night and make her return to reclaim the true nature that was hers.
That very night after the fisherman had fallen asleep, the selkie woman took her fur skin and her children and went to stand at the water’s edge. There she hugged her children and told them that if they came and stood by the waters edge at night then she would appear and sing to them her song, which they would hear as they were half-selkie themselves. Then the selkie woman gracefully slipped into the water as her children watched her go. When they were sure she was gone they took each other’s hand and headed home to the warmth of the fire still burning in the hearth, and the small offering of bread and milk left by their mother.
In the morning, the fisherman was saddened to hear his children tell him that their mother had returned to the sea. He missed her very much, but in his heart, he knew that this day would come. He knew that the selkie woman who he had taken as his wife that her true place was in the sea where she could fulfil her true nature, and he had prevented her return for long enough. His children kept him company for the rest of his life, except for the nights when their mother’s song called them to come to her and together, they would swim through the waves.
Life is complex and no story is ever quite the same.
If you choose to sit with a story for a while, it might be this short folk tale or another story of your life but if you allow a story to sit with you, very soon it will begin to work its magic. Images that had been formed long ago will slowly dissolve back into the ground and new figures will begin to appear.
By really listening to the old stories of reversals, transgressions, change and transformation, and sincerely inviting them to be our teachers and guides, we find that we are afforded with an opportunity to build a new mythology from which new narratives may spring.
In doing so we each are developing an inner creative process which is transformative, as it enables us to see ourselves anew, and maybe like the selkie woman we too will remember our true nature. That we also have the ability to move at will between the worlds we love, as we so choose. All we need to do is call upon our imagination and let our soulful, and heartfelt stories guide us there.
I specialise in weaving together, stories, images & nature connection practices to help people access their true nature, strengthen their creative fluency and increase their sense of wellness, and wellbeing in the world.