• Pridie Tiernan

FOLKTRAILS #4: STREAMS, RIVERS AND SELKIES IN THE SEA

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Welcome to my little November lockdown project where, each week, I post about a particular tree, plant, place, element of the outdoors etc that is accessible to everyone during our time outside over the coming month. I'll be talking about some of the fascinating folklore associated with each week's chosen element, will recommend and link you to a particular story, and I'll also share some of our favourite outdoor storying ideas and activities for you to try out when you next slip outside for some much needed fresh air and exercise!


It's basically all about encouraging you to create a 'folktrail ' for yourselves - a kind of story-orientated walk - for you to enjoy when you are next outdoors!


For adults, this might take the form of enjoying listening to the story while sat under the relevant tree - relaxing and meditating on all you might draw from the story and pondering which bits feel most relevant to life that day or the world at large. (I'm hoping that it will also inspire you to listen to a few more folklore podcasts, to return home and cook up some story-informed feast or even perhaps become as obsessed as I am about subjects such as tree lore, natural navigation and the healing power of plants!) For kids and families, my plan is to provide you with a focus for your walks that can feed your love of story, inspire your outdoor play, fill you with curious facts and encourage some new and unique outdoor adventures for everyone!


THIS WEEK'S FOCUS - STREAMS, RIVERS & SEA


I feel like we ought to finish with some water-based escapism! Not only has it been really wet this last week, but I'm seriously wishing that I could visit the sea! There are a number of streams and rivers nearby where I can get my wild water fix but it's the freedom of the sea I crave this week as we enter Week 4 of the November lockdown! I don't know about you but I'd like nothing better than to slip into a sealskin and swim off into the distance...


There are many, many mythical water creatures that I could talk about here, but I'm going to mention them later in the blog and instead start us off with a Selkie sea story as an introduction to the weird and wonderful world of underwater folklore!


If you are living next to sea during this lockdown then you'll probably already be familiar with this sort of story. These sea tales are pretty spine-tingling and perfect for those moments where you just want to close your eyes and imagine a world where magical things can happen.

Selkie legends are told all along the Western coast of Scotland and as far down as Ireland. They are part seal, part human - their animal self when in the water, their human self on land having removed their Selkie skin. If an ordinary mortal spots one it is said they they will inevitably fall in love...


Interestingly (and I always love this bit) academics actually believe that these stories are a very old form of oral history because, for thousands of years the Sea Sami, now extinct, were kayaking down to Scotland from the remote Arctic to hunt and fish in sealskin canoes. These sealskin canoes lie just below the surface of the water so you can imagine how easy it would be for a person on the shore to see the top half of a man and what appears to be the shape of a long tail wavering underneath. Perhaps, Selkies are real though - there are several families from the Scottish Isles who claim direct descent from sea people...I'll leave you to decide!



STORY #4: THE GREAT SELKIE OF SULE SKERRY


In this week's blog, I'm sharing a tale told my the brilliant storyteller Jason Buck.


Click here to watch Jason tell his tale on Youtube or pop the headphones on (and keep the phone screen open so the video doesn't stop playing) and listen to this while you walk outside. He even sings you a song at the end!



OTHER MYTHICAL WATER BEINGS

This really is an enormous topic and one that I certainly can't do justice to in such a small blog post. I'll start small and provide you with a little glimpse into this complex world of underwater creatures, just so you know what to look out for when you're outdoors this week!


Lakes

Ashrays - According to Scottish mythology, Ashrays or Water Lovers, are completely translucent water creatures that are often mistaken for sea ghosts. They are nocturnal and melt in the sun.

Grindylows - water demons that have extremely long fingers and drag children into the deep.

Lady of the Lake - a mythological aquatic spirit that hangs around in bodies of water and gift people swords and such like.


Rivers

Kelpies - appears near rivers in foggy weather, and if you are silly enough to ride on her back you won't get off again. The horse jumps back into the river and drowns you.

Fosse grim - a Scandinavian water spirit that plays a violin and tricks you into the water with its song.

Melusine - a feminine freshwater spirit who sometimes has wings. Bottom half is like a serpent.

Water nymphs (Naiads) - female nature entities that have to stick to a particular location. They tend to hang out in fountains, wells, springs, brooks, rivers, marshes, ponds and lagoons. Can sometimes beguile humans and drag them down to the watery depths.


Swamps

Bunyips - most likely to spot one of these in Australia.They cry and night and pinch women to eat when they are hungry.


Sea

Nereids - Greek mythology, generally friendly folk, helped sailors.

Uncegila - a mighty water snake in Native American (Lakota) mythology. She pollutes rivers so watch out for her in the city!

Vodianoi - water spirits in Slavic mythology that live in palaces made from sunken ships. Generally old men with long green beards, covered in hairs, scales and slime - so yuk!


If you're keen to know more then check out my source at: https://www.lenntech.com/water-mythology.htm#ixzz6eLhecmzc


Outdoor storying ideas for adults


Listen to the story above: on your walk this week spend some time considering why this story has stuck around for centuries. Could it be connecting to something fundamental in the human psyche that also feels relevant to today?

  • Visit your local body of water and spend some time sitting or walking beside it. I really recommend listening out for bird and animal life that you might not have noticed before. Or, if you feel like some music to accompany you, look up the album 'Spell Songs' and the song 'Selkie Boy'. They are all exquisitely beautiful tracks but this one will compliment Jason's story perfectly.

  • Why not try out some Wild Swimming? Loads of people swear by it at the moment! Here's an article about why freezing water is so good for you. You never know, it might just convince you to dive in!

  • If it's tricky for you to get out the moment (isolation, poorliness), have a watch of award-winning filmmaker Nina Constable's beautiful 'Doorstep Discoveries' series can be found here and her 'Autumn Special' episode features a spot of wild swimming!

  • I love listening to Sian Esther Powell and her Celtic Myths and Legends Podcast - listen to her episode on Northern Lights, Storm Kelpies and Green Maidens for some tall tales and further info on watery mythical beings!

  • Not being able to travel and explore during lockdown (and this year as a whole), has been frustrating for many of us. The Fairie Folk podcast is one way to momentarily escape when we're suffering from lockdown-induced cabin fever! Take a trip up to the North York Moors via the episode 'The Helpful Hob and the Mysterious Merman' and find out whether the Skinningrove merman was really all that he seemed...!



Outdoor storying ideas for kids


  • Watch the film Song of the Sea with the kids. It's an absolutely stunning film about a 10-year-old Irish boy who discovers that his mute sister Saoirse is a selkie who has to free faerie creatures from the Celtic goddess Macha.

  • Water creature identification: on your next walk, see if anyone can catch a glimpse of an ashray, a grindylow or a water nymph! You'll be surprised at what the wee ones see!

  • Art: Create a water offering for the mythological spirits. We love to craft little boats carrying flowers and other little leafy gifts to the underwater folk. The Eden Rivers Trust have some great ideas for this (scroll down to find boats in particular!)

  • Bath time: after a big, wet muddy play outside, head in for a bath with the merfolk. I stick lots of different fabrics in the water with the girls and they spend ages devising their very own merfolk tails!

  • Little ones might like to listen to more water based stories and lots can be found on Storynory.


Let's share these adventures!

One thing that this year has really done for us is to create powerfully supportive online communities and I'm keen to keep sharing all the incredible adventures that people are having - even when those adventures are a little more local! So make sure you tag @thewildofthewords on Instagram and Facebook. At the end of November, we'll choose a winning picture and create an extra special tailor-made personal podcast focusing on a story selected especially for our winner and including tips on a wide range of fantastic outdoor activities that can be connected to the tale in question!


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