Long before the Little Mermaid, there were the Selkies.
Selkies are seals who are able to step out of their skin and become human whenever they want (but usually to dance). And unlike Disney’s Ariele who, after falling in love with a human, must fight her own kind to join her prince – a Selkie is loyal to her tribe and is only truly happy, wild and free, in her own (seal) skin.
Unsurprisingly, such enchanted creatures are always hunted. In fact, throughout Irish and Scottish folklore are many tales of Selkies, tangled in the nets of fisherman, captured, and even destroyed.
Like the fisherman who steals a Selkie maiden’s skin, after finding her naked, dancing in the full moon’s light. The rest of her tribe got back into their skin and fled, sensing the danger. Without her skin, the Selkie was left no choice than to go home with the fisherman, who made her this deal: if she married him and stayed for 7 years, he’d return her skin if she still wanted it.*
With no other choice, she agrees. And together, they have a daughter, whom she loves with all her heart. The Selkie woman does her best to pass on to her daughter the ways of the tribe, all the while, yearning for her own return.
After seven years, the Selkie woman confronts her husband and asks for her skin. But he refuses. Says he doesn’t even know where it is. Now, you may have seen that coming, but the Selkie woman did not … and she falls into a deep and dark depression.
The daughter is beyond worried for her mother and goes looking for the missing skin. Hidden amongst other old artifacts, she finds it tattered and destroyed. She shows her mother. The light goes out. All hope is lost.
Determined to save her mother, the daughter seeks the help of a recluse old woman who (of course!) lives in a cave. Many villagers are scared of the old woman but the little girl knew different. The old woman tells the daughter, she can only help her mother if it is her mother who comes and asks for the help. The little girl hurries home with the news – but it appears she’s too late. The daughter sinks to her knees and cries out for her momma … and it’s in that moment, the Selkie woman hears Her Call.
For the love of her daughter, she wills herself AWAKE. Summoning every ounce of energy she has left, she goes to see the old woman and asks for her help. The old woman can’t save her and instead, shares with her the tools to save her own skin – and ultimately, save her Self.
The old woman’s instructions are both specific and vague. She must start early in the morning, before the sun ever rises … climb soaring and jagged mountains … chant specific chants … and face the demons wanting to scare her off her own scent. She must be intensely committed, for as long as it takes, if she’s any chance in reclaiming her skin. Her final instruction is this:
When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.
I suppose you want to know the ending of the story, eh? Well here’s the thing – it’s not over. And for some, it’s only just started. Because this is OUR story and we’re right now living it.
We all want to believe that if we play by the rules, do everything we’re ‘supposed’ to do, the world will simply hand us back our native skin. But instead we find ourselves stuck, feeling unhappy and out of place – because there is no such deal.
You know, I asked all the teachers who have contributed to the third issue of the Ashtanga Dispatch magazine what brought them to yoga. And every single one said the same thing: They heard The Call. In different voices and forms and during different times of their lives – each one heard that distinct call to better know themselves, to know God, and to look for what is real.
Of course, I don’t know about you but I remember the moment I heard mine. It was a turning point, and I’ll tell you now – it wasn’t pretty. It felt like I might break and instead, I made a break. I heard something deep, call my name. And in that moment, I decided that I deserved better. I deserved my Self. And I wouldn’t stop until I found her.
Oh, I’ve had my fair share of mountains to climb (with more ahead, I’m sure) and my own scary demons to face (some I’m still having to confront). But I know you have too. Yet, urged on by generations before us and looked to by those after, we are not alone. And we need to keep going for as long as it takes, following our instincts into the wild. All the while, trusting more and more, that when the time comes, we’ll know what to do.
You see, this yoga of ours isn’t just a practice – it’s a hunt. And we are the HUNTERS. Now go find your skin!
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*Story of the Selkie woman adapted from the book, If Women Rose Rooted, by Sharon Blackie.