Once upon a time, there was the sea and the ones that the sea loved most. Sleek, plump, creatures. Black, brown, pied, white, silver, and tender. Bright-eyed, fiercely whiskered, gifted with piercing call.
This last group you have heard of before, I’m sure – the women (and men, but mostly the stories are about women) with the ability to step out of the sea and out of their skins, take on the shape of a human and walk on land.
They can and do fall in in love, can and do make a home, can and do sometimes make children as well. And there are two ways the stories go at this point.
The first, and sadly more common, is this: The selkie forgets her seal skin, her medicine coat. Maybe she gives it to her husband to prove to him how good or trustworthy or in love with him she is. And then in a fit of rage one day, years later, he casts it on the fire. Or, in a moment of deep insecurity, he buries it in the earth where it cannot be found. Or maybe she secrets it away, stuffs it in the back of the closet, places it at the bottom of the junk drawer telling herself it will be safe there, no one will think to look there, no one, including herself.
No skin means no returning to the wide, dark deep.
No going home.
No returning means that woman dries up, dries out, lives a hollowed out half-life.
And while the husband in these versions of the tale is no doubt in error, one wonders about the decision in the first place…the choice to hand over the thing that is most precious to you, to someone else for safekeeping, the choice to make someone else responsible for – or to hide away from responsibility altogether when it comes to – what is most precious to you. Who would ever do such a thing?
Only all of us.
A better (to my mind) twist to the story: Some women keep their skins themselves. They wrap them in salty kelp to keep them moist and supple. They place them in cedar boxes and clay bowls and give them pride of place on the mantle, refusing to hide them away. These women too, make homes, and dinners, and lives.
And every now and then, when the clouds move a certain way or the wind calls out from the West, they open their cedar boxes, dip their hands into those clay bowls, and carry their velvet furs to the water’s edge, step into the salty brine, and swim.
They go deep.
For however long they need to. Knowing fully well that the pot waiting for soup and the chickens waiting for food, and the garden waiting for tending will all be there when they return. And return they will, and they will be able to make the soup and feed the chickens and tend the garden more fully and well because going to the sea doesn’t make them forget who they are and what they love – as the rumors sometimes say.
Indeed, going to the sea is the very thing that allows them to remember. When we remember who we are we also remember who and what and where we love…and we return to those people and creatures and places. We make a life that is full and deep.
This is the other story, other possibilities…maybe it is yours?
Or maybe it is time to make it yours. Time to admit that half lives don’t work, to identify the places where you find your true self and find ways to return to them. I think as we pad into the New Year, this is especially important.
There have always been people and forces that would have us give over our velvet skins…but there are more now, they are coming at us from newer angles.
Trade in your antlers for the metaverse.
Hand us your fox tail (promise, we will keep it safe) and in return, you can interact with people all day long while never stepping foot outside of your house.
Give us your wolf call and tangled forest den and in return here is a perfectly white, perfectly clean room that looks great on Insta. You’ll be the envy of your friends! All you need to do is give us your wild heart and animal breath – let us handle the rest.
Or, at the very least hide those things away. Put them up. Don’t engage. Don’t opine. Don’t take a stand for or against anything much. Check out and perhaps we will ignore you…for now. Everyone else is satisfied with this hollowed out half-life.
Why can’t you be?
And Miracles, I say this with a ride or die seriousness because that’s where we are: don’t be satisfied with it.
For one thing, your Ancestors will raise hell around you. They did not wade through violence, displacement, disease, and back-breaking work so that you would let a series of 1’s and 0’s tell you what is possible and best and necessary for your life. I promise you they didn’t, but don’t take my word for it: ask them yourself.
Maybe you have started down that road. There’s no shame. It is a potent enchantment for sure, the idea that we are connected when we really haven’t seen anyone lately, the idea that we are conversing on a site that gives you 180 characters to work with. Maybe you think the way that technology has taken root in our lives is bad or maybe you think it’s neutral. What I am more interested in is that you don’t think it is real…because it isn’t, not real the way that the sea and clouds and trees and fur are real. It’s not.
Here are some ways to do that – my blueprint for kicking off the year by remembering yourself, if you will.
Retrieve your skin. Take back your antlers, fox tail, wolf-call, or tangled forest den. If you hid it away, search it out. If you gave it away, steal it back (I recommend enlisting the aid of master-thief Hermes, in this endeavor).
By hook or by crook, retrieve your skin.
Make a place for your wild self. Do not wait for someone to give it to you or give you permission, you make it. Holy cedar box, red clay vessel lined in fur, the crystal bowl your granny gave you that you never knew what to do with it so it’s been collecting dust…THIS is what you do with it, THIS is why she gave it to you.
Do not hide your animal self.
We are in a time when we need to let our hooves and toes and paws and claws sink deep into the sweet mud of the world. How else are you going to get close to God but by covering yourself in immanent Creation? Put the box, the clay, the crystal bowl on the mantle, in the center of your dining room table. Feed it tequila and roses and candlelight and chile and chocolate.
Wear your skin. Crown yourself with those antlers as you huff out frosty breath over the green. Swish your fox tail and relish in its musk. Call out your wolf cry, return to your forest tangle of a den. Find your home, be it sea or air or high desert mountain.
As for me, I’m a girl of forest and spring. I go to them and listen to them, and then if I am lucky and blessed, I carry a little bit of their limestone sharpness back in my words and my rituals and my teachings. Where is the place that refuses to let you forget yourself? That’s where you go. Go there and then bring it home. That’s the work.
Stop seeing the world as a thing to be fixed. Nature (including you) is not a problem to be solved. Start listening to it instead, start loving it better because when you listen to the places you love and that love you back, you listen with animal ears and you see with animal eyes. You are here for the real. You are here for a full life, no half measures, and hollowed out efforts. Refuse anything and anyone that tells you otherwise. Banish anything less.
This is the story in my jaws as I lope into the New Year under this New Moon, may it bring some good to you.
Sometimes we make the best beginning through a bit of ceremony, and so if you are ready to return to self, here is a sacred bath recipe for you.
Ceremony: Return to Self, Sacred Bath
Before you immerse yourself in the water, before you remember, you might need to remove and forget a few bits of nonsense. So fill your hands with flakes of salt that crackle and pour some holy oil over them – olive or jojoba or your own ritual blend. Rub your hands together to remind yourself that life embraces friction…its what gives us an edge. Start at your neck and work your way down your body, rubbing the salt and oil down and off your flesh, seasoning yourself as you prepare to remember. Then sink into your hot bath and remember who you are. Or, dive into the ocean, step into the hot spring, rush into the river and let the slap of the cold or the punch of the hot wake you up and return you home.
After your ablution, oil yourself again or work with a lotion or a cream you love to seal your remembering. Put on clean clothes. Make sure you include fur, antler, fox tail, or wolf cry as you dress. Brush the tangles from your hair. Be real. And Be blessed and a blessing in turn.