SELKSKIN ~ what's in a NAME?
In this post I will discuss the story of the Selkies as I like to tell it, the Black Irish history, and why I named my friend and business Selkskin.
Selkskin, the name of this cherished business/being of mine, comes from the stories of the Black Irish. Have you ever seen the movie: The Secret of Roan Inish? It is a fantastic movie about a girl and her lineage of seal women, selchies or selkies. Selkies are seals in the water and women on land.
The story for me goes that one day an Irish man was coming home from work in his boat. On the jetty that climbed into the sea, he saw a beautiful naked woman. She was a magnet with pearl skin, long dark hair the color of seaweed away from the light and green eyes. She was stunning and he wanted her to be his. She accepted his offer to be his wife and went to live with him. They were married, had many gorgeous and strong children, and were happy for a time.
She had one possession. Her seal skin. She is, in fact a Selkie, a seal woman. Her husband tucked her skins away in the attic and they went about their human life.
One day when the man was coming home from work, rowing along, there was a seal circling him. She was nudging his boat and making sounds as though she were trying to speak to him. He moved around her as best he could and found himself wondering what had possessed the animal.
As he moved closer to the shore he saw movement on the beach, it looked like children playing he thought. My children, my sacred and precious ones. His heart was full of pride and gratitude.
Once he was in range of their faces he saw that it was his children. And yet they were not playing, they were crying and calling out to him. Startled with the instincts of a parent who needs nothing and is at the mercy of their children, he quickly increased his pace. He reached the shore and yanked his boat to safety. He was moving with such swiftness the boat almost flipped and he ran from is as it was slowly lapped by the waves and gently pulled closer and closer to the ocean.
This slow pulling of his boat was like a mirror to his heart. As he scanned the faces of his family it was clear the body that was missing was his wife, the Selkie. He felt his heart pulled under.
She, like his boat, had again become a part of the sea.
From what I understand the Moorish first came to Ireland when they were kicked out of Spain. When the Moorish with their beautiful dark brown hair mixed with the fair Irish a new kind of Irish/Moorish people were born. Babies were born with pale skin, dark brown hair, and green eyes (like my lovely mother) and this was new. The term darkie was used as a derogative term and people were treated like crap for being darker. Isn't it amazing how we as humans can find a way to make each other slaves, demean each other and put each other down no matter the circumstance? The poor from Spain and the Irish have been penalized, civilized, and stripped of their culture like so many if you learn the history. People have survived so much it truly blows my mind. I recognize I come from such a privileged time and place. I don’t mean to sound like an ignorant yuppie brat – the privilege of my life is a gift.
When I was growing up on the Vineyard there were always seals. They would be there by the boat in Woods Hole when we’d be boarding the Steam Ship Authority to go home. Seals have always been coming home for me. When I was in college I got into learning more about my Irish history. I got really excited when I learned about Selkies. I wanted so much to wake up and to be free from ignorance and suffering. The Selkie in me knew she was forever free.
This story is sad to many! Indeed. For this family to not be together, to have the mother leave because her true nature could not be contained in human flesh is very sad! And yet, I take something different away from this story.
Once I made the connection of my Selkies on the rocks at home, the Selkie in me, and this history I felt they had always been with me. They are there in my mind, on the rocks just out at sea beyond where the boat is docked, beckoning me home; beckoning me to come closer to myself every day, as Pema Chodron says.
While we have human bodies and they are precious, we are much more. I believe there is a spirit, an animation that makes us all truly necessary and important to be HERE, right now. We are not mistakes and so many of us, including myself, struggle with sometimes. We question our self-worth whether rationally, subconsciously, or we overtly put ourselves down. I want to stop doing this. I want to value myself and this story connects me, even just through my own need and interpretation, to a feeling that I come from somewhere and I have gifts that matter and are needed.
Blackstar and the music of Talib Kwali and Mos Def also taught me this. I remember listening to an album where they said positive changes comes when people remember that they are valuable. I knew this was truth and it still beats steady in me.
This story reminds me that I come from the land and the sea. I come from a family that has a strong and real lineage. I come from Mr. and Mrs. John Kelley who came over to NY in the late 1840’s from Country Cork, Ireland. They fished. They had children and moved to Maine. He fought in a war. I have roots. They are mine and I am proud of them even though sometimes they tug at my heart, are embarrassing, and they hurt. I am a tiny piece and there is such a bigger world that is real. People suffer and emotions feel throb and yet there is a vastness, a magic that I believe in. The magic that can’t be explained or bought fuels me and keeps me asking to thrive. I want more than to merely survive.
This story and my lineage remind me I don’t need to culturally appropriate any other spiritual tradition to fill the void. I as an America sometimes have felt lost and empty with only consumerism to consume me. We are taught that we have to assimilate and become an ideal. I say we don’t, I say we get to be ourselves fully, without apology, even when it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient. When we love each other, we stick with each as well unfold as we truly are.
This story reminds me that I come from somewhere and I have inherent value. I don’t believe life force, G~d some say, the universe makes mistakes. My best friend Rebecca says, throw your faith at it. I say I want to remember to trust this life and know that everything unfolds exactly as it should.
This supports me in my work and personal joinery with nutritional therapy. We don’t talk about the words therapy as a part of my field a lot. What this means to me is that addressing how we eat is about much more than food. My brother in life and kindred spirit Cristobal Roberto has recently reminded me that it is nourishment and healthy eating habits in relationship to spiritual fulfillment, exercise and moving the bod, and rest that all come together to cook us and to support a shift in health. Vitality comes from a person that is nourished on all levels.
For me health is interconnected and the story of the Selkies, the Irish Seal Women, reminds me to go the roots. An imbalance can be addressed partially if we only look at the surface and the symptoms as their own island. In other words we can only heal so much by licking the surface of a wound. With myself and you I want to address concerns and things I need to shed at the root. What is truly aggravating the things I would change in my life? What are the things/people/experiences/foods/practices that make me sing from the top of mountains and from the shore of a sunny sea? What makes me feel alive? That’s what I want to find.