Power Of Myth

Entry by: Sémaigho

23rd March 2018
Where I come from.
The small sleek craft bobbed to the rhythm of the turning tide. Brigid watched the men load the provisions onto the currach. The two men would row the boat with its pitch covered canvas to the small island. The crew were locals she had grown up with on the island, and they engaged with a brother’s familiarity. Loading complete they helped her to the small stern seat, out of the way of oars and flying brine.
‘One small step for Brigid, one giant leap for mankind,’ the boatman joked, trying to sound like the voice from the moon landing the year before.
She might have married an island man if things were different. However, they clung to superstitious ways, all based on the belief that Brigid’s great-grandmother was a selkie. The story of how the seal shed its coat and took on a human form survived the generations.
The story detailed her Great-grandfather fishing and each day a seal swam behind him back to the shore. It was a pleasant distraction for the fisherman who had lost his young wife three months previously. They had enjoyed only one year of married life and no children had yet arrived. Seals often follow fishing boats; sometimes they even help themselves to a fish from the lines. But that was different. The seal followed him in a consistent fashion and showed no interest in food.
It was the summer solstice as the sun set on a balmy evening. Her great-grandfather returned from his day’s fishing and secured the boat above the breaking waves. When he turned around to throw a mackerel to the seal, a woman stood there and she carried her sealskin. Some strange sense deprived him of shock or fear because he knew he had been chosen by a selkie.
‘Dia dhuit.’ Micháel Bán greeted her in his Irish tongue. The Irish welcome means ‘God be with you,' but he wasn’t sure if God was with such changelings. She smiled, waiting to follow him. He put his wooden framed fishing lines on top of the fish basket and hoisted it on his shoulder, turning for home.
‘Fág sin mar atá sé,’ he said, resigning to ‘what’s for you, won’t pass you.’ He knew there was no point resisting the power of fate. The selkie followed at a short distance, her sealskin a glint of silver scales reflecting reds from the setting sun.
When the story was told to Brigid as a child, by her mother, she never mentioned such things as courtship or marriage.
‘For seven years they lived happily, and were blessed with two children,’ was all she said. Brigid’s father said nothing because it involved his side of the family.
‘That storm came from nowhere,’ her mother said.
She referred to a day Brigid’s great-grandfather fished his familiar ground south west of the island. His selkie wife could sense weather changes unlike another person. The storm came sudden. She watched the black clouds roll by as the wind rose. By the time it howled over her thatched roof she was on the rocks below, looking out to sea. She sensed the danger and fetched her sealskin from beneath the bed in the attic. Her heart weighed as heavy as the box of lead weights by the door as she pulled the skin about her body. From once she entered the water she could never return to dry land again. But it must be done; Micháel was the breadwinner with two children to rear. She kissed the children as they lay asleep in their beds and left them in the care of Micháel’s mother who had come to live with them.
As soon as she slid beneath the salty brine, she felt a peace that relieved her of earthly cares. Some familiar sense took her straight onto the bearing of the currach. The man rowed hard in a rising swell but made little progress, being constantly tossed off course. She swam beneath the water rising at the bow. Unseen by her man, she steadied the boat and helped propel it forward on the correct course. When they rounded the sheltered side of the island she slid beneath the waves unseen. From there, it was easy work for a man raised to the sea; steering a course through the breaking waves on the shore until he felt the sand beneath.
From that day, whenever the two children of Micháel Bán went to the strand to play, a lone seal watched over them.
‘That tale grew from two children that got friendly with a seal,’ others said.
These people paid no heed to tradition and reckoned Micháel Bán had married a woman from a distant island after his wife died. They recalled how she grew restless for her own people and would climb the steep hill to the back of the lighthouse looking west to her childhood home.
‘The woman returned to her own place leaving him to rear two children. There was some loss came over her.’ The loss inferred related to the mind.
Whatever the truth, it is the power of myth holds sway, and the reason nobody down Brigid’s family line had ever married an islander. She found happiness with Manus, a mountain man, when she left home to work on the mainland. Her mother no longer talked about the past, on Brigid’s monthly visits.
Still, her eyes always turned to the rocky headland where the lone sentinel seal waited, whenever she arrived to her island home.