The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near


John Stewart and the Selkie


Those selkie girls, they like to climb
Up onto the rocks to take the air
Peel off their seal skins and recline
As human girls in the warmth of the sun;
But if a human from from the land comes near
They’re seals again and off they swim.

John Stewart knew that this was so,
Had watched them from his boat out in the bay
But never could get close enough before they’d go.

One day he hid himself among the heather
Above the rocks washed by the highest tides
Where he knew the selkie girls would gather.

Spreading their skins upon the rocks above
They sat and sunned themselves above the spray
Or cooled themselves in pools the selkies love.


He waited until they slid into the water
Then crept out to take the skin  of one he’d noticed
Above the others for her grace and beauty
Knowing that if he had her skin he’d also have her.

When he was seen the girls came out and scrambled
Onto the rocks to put their seal skins on
And swim back out into deeper waters.
But one remained, frantic, for the skin she’d shed,

Which he had folded away secretly.
He said to her ‘Come home with me
To be my wife and I will love you
For now you cannot go back to the sea’.

For nine years she lived with him
And bore him two girls and a boy
But gazing over the waves from the rocky shore
Her thoughts strayed often to her selkie kin.


One day she looked up and saw a leak
Dripping through the thatch of their cottage
And climbed up into the roofspace to check.

Then she saw it, lined in the thatch,
The skin she had shed nine years before,
Dry and wrinkled now, but intact.

Her husband was away at sea and she
Felt the swell of the waves, and the taste
Of the the tear on her cheek was salty.

So she took the skin and called to her children,
For the last time, her heart breaking,
Fed them, bade them be good, and kissed them

Went to the beach and put on the skin,
Felt a shiver as the chill waves touched it
And swam, as a seal, back to the ocean.



It seemed so long ago, but also no more than a moment, since that day she passed through. It is like that for gods. Time is both Eternity and instantaneous; Space is both Infinity and as close as breath. But things had been ebbing away then. That fading that is one of the waves of her being, one of the drifts of her thought: that time when the Grey Mare was led into the stable. When she wore a dark shroud ….. Wasn’t that someone else?

So long ago compared to now. Apple blossom gleams in the morning sunshine. A drifting mist of early dawn clears slowly as the day warms. As it clears, she rides her white steed through the gate of dawn.

In a forest – its floor a mist of bluebells – her birds stir. Their song covers the last echoes of winter, brings the burgeoning of spring and the promise of summer.

As she rides she listens. She hears the song of the birds even as she calls upon them to sing. The awakening land responds as her senses sharpen to the breeze, the sun, the green leaves of her flowering trees. Who does she seek? What else does she listen for?

The songs her people sing for her, as she rides for them.

Rigantona of the days before,
Rhiannon of the days that come after,
Great Queen, your people do you homage
As you come again amongst us and your land awakens.


Rigantona, we strew rose petals about your altar
For your coming from the Otherworld.


Ursilla and the Selkie

Ursilla was not happily married. And what she could not get from her husband, she sought elsewhere. No other man on the island would do. So she looked to the Selkie folk.

She went early one morning, to sit on a rock at the high-tide mark, and when the tide was washing against the rock, she shed seven tears and let them fall into the sea. This is what you must do if you wish to speak with the Selkie folk. Then, out of the grey light of the dawn over the sea, she saw the Selkie coming towards her through the waves. She spoke to him of her desire, her tongue freed by his unearthly beauty and his own direct manner.

He said he would visit her at the Seventh Stream of the spring tide, and he would come in human form. She came at the appointed time and he was there on the rocks before her with the waves washing at his heels. She went with him under the cliffs, hand in hand, her cold, hard beauty softening as they went and he gazed upon her with his eyes like wells of clear spring water.

It is said that, later, she had a child with webbed feet, though this is not confirmed. Nothing ever is where the Selkie folk are concerned. Did Ursilla walk, hand in hand, with a Selkie in human form? Did a seal man come from the sea to her? Certainly she sat on that rock and shed those tears. Certainly a seal’s head bobbed out of the water as she did so. But there the certainty ends. For that is how it is with the Selkie folk.

(A version of a folk tale from Orkney.)



A faint rainbow that is there - and not there
A faërie thing fading
Out of the visible air.


A Dream

This from the Archive of the Pagan Movement Ethos Group by Tony Kelly

The wood was vast and there was no sky overhead. The trees were immensely tall and very old, and belonged to the forest. They were separate trees and communicated as trees do, but they were also part of the pulse of the woodland. There was something intense about them, not human, very, very old, and the moisture on them and the tree mosses belonged to the forest. It would be perilous to interfere with them, yet it would be sacrilegious too. You couldn't help loving them because they were magic, but loving them because they were trees and because they belonged to the forest.

The light was darkened as it is in the greenwood and there were paths. But it was very quiet, and peaceful, and strangely menacing, and lovable. It wasn't the sort of place you'd want to be alone in. And it wasn't the sort of place you'd want to leave. It's the sort of place that, if Brirn had appeared with horns and cloven feet and the magic pipes, you wouldn't be too surprised.

And there was something alluring, and bewitching, and magic about it. The trees and everything growing in the greenwood was alive and it was aware, but it wasn't human awareness. It was the diffused mind of the woodland, as much one tree as another, and as much all of them, but not divided. A presence. Thinking. Brooding. Aware of the people in its midst. It was vast, but deep and quiet, immensely powerful, but passive. It was green thinks, and it belonged to all that grows in the greenwood, and all the plants that come from her womb. And green thinks are not like red thinks. They're old, and they were old when red thinks were young. Old memories, an aching sadness, and separation, but so long ago. But here in the greenwood, we were in the presence of green thinks, in its own land, on sacred ground, and the faerie mind was more powerful than the human, beckoning, but menacing, threatening, but loving.

So old, so very long ago.....

Illustration of BRIRN from The Waxing Moon published by The Pagan Movement in 1977