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THE SEAL-FOLK
quietly in front of him on his way to an inner apartment,
and returned a moment or two later in the guise of a
pleasant, well-favoured man, who made the shipwrecked
islander doubly welcome on his sister's account.
The distinction of being regarded as the Children of the
King of Lochlann, fo geasaihh — under enchantment — was
also shared bv the swans. Traditions not dissimilar to those
connected with seals that have discarded their seal-skins and
assumed human shape, are told to this day in the Orkneys
and Shetlands, and also in the Western Isles, of swans that
by lonely mountain tarns have been known to abandon their
feathery coverings when taking on the human form.
In the folk-lore of Caithness, seals are said to be fallen
angels, and therefore as kindred with the Merry Dancers,
or Northern Lights — the Aurora Borealis. And the Celtic
concept of their being the Children of the King of Lochlann,
under spell, has its parallel in Caithness and in the Northern
Isles, where they are thought to be Finns, who have voyaged
across the North Sea from Norway in the form of seals.
Mermaid Traditions.
The manner in which the seal-women of the Western Isles
and of Ireland and the lady-trows of the Northern Isles
immediately returned to the sea, on recovering their hidden
skins, recalls similar traditions of the maighdean-mara or
mermaid, a creature of the sea, half-woman and half-fish,
with long, dishevelled hair which she sometimes might be
seen combing at dawn or dusk, while seated on a rock
offshore. Mermaids have been known to put off the fish-like
covering of their lower limbs; and, if the finder of such
covering can keep it hidden, the owner is unable to return
to her life in the sea. Both in Ireland and in the Scottish
Highlands and Islands, folk-tales are told of how ordinary
men have detained mermaids by hiding their covering, have
married them, and have had large families by them.
Eventually some member of the family, discovering the
mother's covering, brings it to her in surprise, thus enabling
her to desert her human home for the sea. Such mermaids
are said to spend much of their time in pursuing vessels, just
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