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‘I am a man, upo the lan,
An I am a silkie in the sea;
And when I’m far and far frae lan,
My dwelling is in Sule Skerrie.’

(from) Childe Ballad 113 - The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry Trad.

Basic Information

A selkie (also silkie) is what might otherwise be called a "wereseal" - a shapeshifter with the ability to switch between the form of a seal and that of a human (although in most legends which is the default form is up for debate). Their transformation appears to be fully controlled and voluntary and in some tales is organised by donning or removing a magical seal skin. Unlike many lycanthropes they seem not to have any great hostility towards humanity (although seal hunting is apt to cause a certain amount of conflict) and frequently seem to intermarry. This can be somewhat hampered by those legends which suggest that a selkie cannot live past midnight out of the water - although in these tales it is sometimes possible for the selkie to become human, and in one a human woman becomes a selkie instead by putting on a seal coat inherited from her great-grandmother (suggesting that one of her ancestors came the other way). These are often conflated with mermaid-bride myths with the (usually female) selkie being compelled by the theft of her seal-skin.

Selkie seem most common around the northern ocean and North Sea coasts - both in Europe and in Amerindian cultures. Presumably there might well be similar forms of related shapeshifters amongst sealions, walruses and the like and some may also occur around the southern oceans.


Childe 113 - The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry
The Maiden and the Selkie - Heather Dale's setting of a Selkie Bride(groom) myth.

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • You could have a whole village of selkies - even if they all need to be at sea by midnight that needn't necessarily be a problem.
    • Great false positive - PCs expect some dark secret (like deep ones or something) and instead get a community of mostly harmless fisherfolk.
  • If the "dead by midnight" thing can be cleared up, Selkies become a fairly easily playable species and the ability to change into a seal isn't exactly game breaking.
  • Even into fairly recent times, seamen recruited from remote Scottish and island communities might turn out to be something other than human.
  • The selkie are traditionally depicted as fairly innocuous as shapeshifters go … probably because few of the northern seals are much of a threat to humans even in the water and are downright comic out of it. Someone who shapeshifts into a southern leopard seal on the other hand… not to mention if there happen to be elephant seal or walrus shapeshifters…
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