Breakout session 1: The Selkie Song

Juliet Marillier – The Selkie Song

Elemental lore and creatures
In folklore and mythology, each element – earth, air, fire, water- has its share of uncanny beings.

Elements in a subsistence culture
People were dependent on the elements for survival
– flood, fire, landslide or storm could wipe out a settlement, sink a fishing fleet, destroy a crop or herd
– people relied on, and were closely attuned to, the seasonal cycle
– religions beliefs and rituals reflected the importance of the elements
– common beliefs about the uncanny were often related to the elements or season too, and might be used to explain occurrences such as drownings or disappearances

while descriptions of creatures were oral based and often changed from village to village, person to person, that does not mean that you can make up anything you want to go with a particular name.   There is some flexibility, but within some bounds (as there will be some reader expectations)

Elements in pagan ritual
Ritual beings with casting a circle and greeting the quarters (north, east, south, west)
– each quarter is traditionally associated with an element.
– generally these are:
north – earth
east – air
south – fire
west – water
– Southern hemisphere pagans may reverse earth and fire

Element of Earth
The element of earth (north) includes not only stone and earth but the plants that grow in earth
Earth is associated with depth, endurance, wisdom, stillness, rest
The body; birth, and death
Some being associated with the element of earth are:
Dwarf, giant, troll, goblin, gnome, ogre, leprechaun, elf, brollachan, brownie, dragon, banshee, Green Man, Hag, trow, Washer at the Ford

Element of Air
in ritual, the element of air is connected with the east
Characteristicof air are clarity, lightness, purity.  The intellect, the imagination, words and song.
Some being associated wit hthe element of air are:
Fairy, sylph, dragon, angel, fairy, ghost

Element of Fire
The element of fire is connect with the south
Some beings associated with fire are:
Dragon, salamander, djinn, efreet, will o the wisp, wyvern, phoenix,

Element of Water
The element of water is connected with the west.
Qualities – fluidity, changeability, nurturing, cleansing.  Natural ebb and flow within the body;purification.  Association with death, because the sun sets in the west.
Merfolk, selkie, siren, kelpie, water hourse, naiad (river), nereid (sea), urisk, undine

Selkie stories
– selkie partner must live at least part of life in the ocean or he / she will pine away
– human partner cannot live in the ocean

Shape shifter, fey or bewitched
the ways your character may be come uncanny
1. magic (beast in Beauty and the Beast)
2. born that way – a fey being may belong to a non-human species eg basilisk, naiad, goblin.  this makes the relationship a stretch although it does happen in folklore
3. shape shifting: the character can move between human form and another form under certain conditions, allowing for a sexual / romantic relationship with a human
Never use magic to get out of plot holes / trouble as this is weak writing

there’s a natural tension in the human / fey relationship which makes for great storytelling
biological challenges can be overcome, but make the relationship believable and keep things consistent and logical within your world
Kylie Chan’s White Tiger contains a great example of an intense cross-species romance that works.  In Kylie’s novel the romantic couple have a lot of tension but don’t consummate (she is human he is a god)

Consider these:
should be logical and consistent within their framework of your world
don’t change the rules midstream to achieve that happy ending
the speech patterns and vocabulary of your fey protagonist might reflect the element he or she represents
psychology –
he or she won’t see the world a human would.  make his or her behaviour reflect this.  a creature of fire may fear water.  a dryad might be terrified of fire.

Goblins, phoenix, fae, the Hag (Baba Yaga – was she young once?)
plenty of options to explore for you novel / setting

2 thoughts on “Breakout session 1: The Selkie Song

  1. she was actually the presenter. It was a really interesting panel (with group exercises), although I did get sick of her calling everything non human ‘fey folk’

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