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Selkies: The Seal-Folk of the Celtic Seas

One of the most captivating and enchanting myths of Celtic and specifically, Scottish and Irish folklore, is the tale of the Selkies. These are not your average sea creatures. Selkies are beings who live as seals in the sea but have the ability to shed their skin and become human on land.

  • The Dual Life of a Selkie:
    Selkies are often visualized basking on the rocky shores, particularly during the moonlit nights. Their lives are a delicate balance between their true seal form and the human guise they can assume. While in their human form, if a Selkie’s seal skin is hidden or stolen, they are bound to the land and cannot return to the sea until it’s retrieved.

Passage: “In the shimmering moonlight, where the sea kisses the shore, the Selkie sheds her skin, transitioning from the realm of waves to the world of man.”

  • Tales of Love and Longing:
    Many tales revolve around the love between Selkies and humans. A common theme involves a man stealing a female Selkie’s skin, forcing her to become his wife. While she may live with him and bear his children, she will always yearn for the sea. If she ever discovers and retrieves her hidden skin, she will immediately return to the ocean, often leaving her family behind. Similarly, male Selkies are known to be irresistible to human women, with tales of them fathering children before disappearing back to the sea.

Passage: “Bound by stolen skin and vows, her heart remained adrift, forever echoing the song of the waves.”

  • Symbolism and Interpretation:
    The Selkie myths, filled with melancholy and longing, often serve as metaphors for unfulfilled love, freedom, and the inherent wild nature in all of us. They represent a duality that many of us feel: the pull between two worlds or two desires, the struggle between duty and passion.

Passage: “In the Selkie’s song, a melody of both joy and sorrow, we hear the eternal human struggle of desire against duty.”

  • Presence in Modern Culture:
    The allure of the Selkie myth persists today. Movies like “Song of the Sea” and “The Secret of Roan Inish,” as well as numerous songs and novels, have been inspired by these enchanting seal-folk. Their stories resonate with contemporary audiences, reminding us of the wild, untamed essence that lies within and the sacrifices made in the name of love.

In the tapestry of Celtic myths, the Selkie tales occupy a poignant space, a reminder of love’s power, the price of freedom, and the mysteries of the vast, untamed sea.

Japanese Gods and Goddesses: A Tapestry of Ancient Legends and Myths

Japan’s mythological tapestry is woven with tales that date back to the very beginnings of time. With a pantheon of gods and goddesses, its myths are rooted in the ancient Kojiki and Nihon Shoki texts, which offer insights into the creation of the islands of Japan and the celestial beings that watched over them.

Japanese mythology and the Shinto religion feature a pantheon of kami (gods and spirits) who are significant in various legends, myths, and religious practices.

Japanese gods

  1. Izanagi:
    • Title/Role: God of creation and life.
    • Description: Together with his wife, Izanami, they birthed the islands of Japan and its many gods. After a tragic separation from Izanami, he performed the first purification ritual, birthing several other deities in the process.
  2. Susano-o:
    • Title/Role: Storm God and the god of the seas.
    • Description: Brother to Amaterasu, he’s best known for his tempestuous nature and for slaying the eight-headed dragon, Yamata-no-Orochi, saving the deity Kushinada-hime.
  3. Hachiman:
    • Title/Role: God of war and warriors.
    • Description: Originally an agricultural god, he became associated with warriors and is often recognized as the divine protector of Japan and the Japanese people.
  4. Tsukuyomi:
    • Title/Role: Moon God.
    • Description: Brother to Amaterasu and Susano-o. He’s known for killing the food goddess Uke Mochi, which created a rift between him and Amaterasu.
  5. Raijin (and Fujin):
    • Title/Role: God of thunder (and wind, in Fujin’s case).
    • Description: Often depicted with fierce and fearsome features, Raijin is known for the drums he carries, which create the sound of thunder. Fujin, his companion, carries a bag of winds.
  6. Inari:
    • Title/Role: Kami of rice, fertility, and prosperity.
    • Description: While sometimes referred to as female, Inari can be represented as both male and female or even androgynous. Foxes are considered messengers of Inari and are thus sacred to his shrines.
  7. Ebisu:
    • Title/Role: God of fishermen and luck.
    • Description: Often depicted with a fishing rod in one hand and a fish in the other, he’s one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan.
  8. Daikokuten:
    • Title/Role: God of wealth, commerce, and trade.
    • Description: Another of the Seven Lucky Gods, he’s often portrayed holding a magic mallet and standing or sitting on bales of rice.
  9. Ninigi-no-Mikoto:
    • Title/Role: Grandson of Amaterasu.
    • Description: He’s known for his descent to the earthly realm, establishing the lineage of the Japanese Emperors.
  10. Omoikane:
    • Title/Role: God of wisdom and intelligence.
    • Description: Often called upon to think and ponder during divine assemblies. He embodies wisdom and is skilled in making decisions.

Japanese goddesses

  1. Amaterasu:
    • Title/Role: Sun Goddess; ruler of the heavens.
    • Description: One of the central figures in Japanese mythology, she is the deity from whom the Japanese imperial family claims descent. She’s associated with the sun and the universe. The most important shrine dedicated to her is the Grand Shrine of Ise.
  2. Uzume (Ame-no-Uzume):
    • Title/Role: Goddess of dawn, mirth, and revelry.
    • Description: Best known for her lively dance that lured Amaterasu out of the cave, restoring light to the world.
  3. Izanami:
    • Title/Role: Creation Goddess; mother of the islands of Japan and many deities.
    • Description: Together with her consort Izanagi, they created the islands of Japan and gave birth to many of the country’s gods and goddesses. She died after giving birth to the fire god Kagutsuchi and resides in the underworld.
  4. Konohanasakuya-hime:
    • Title/Role: Cherry blossom princess; goddess of Mount Fuji, flowers, and volcanoes.
    • Description: She symbolizes life’s fleeting nature. She’s also the deity of safe childbirth, given her own experience of proving her fidelity and the divine nature of her offspring.
  5. Inari:
    • Title/Role: Goddess of rice, fertility, tea, sake, and agriculture.
    • Description: Often represented as a fox, or with fox messengers, she is one of the most revered deities in Japan with numerous shrines, like the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, dedicated to her.
  6. Sarasvati (Benzaiten):
    • Title/Role: Goddess of everything that flows – water, music, words, speech, eloquence, and learning.
    • Description: Originating from the Hindu goddess Saraswati, she was adapted and incorporated into Buddhism and then Shinto. She is one of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese belief.
  7. Toyotama-hime (Luminous Pearl Princess):
    • Title/Role: Sea goddess.
    • Description: Daughter of the sea deity Watatsumi, she married a hunter named Hoori and gave birth to a son, but then transformed into a dragon or a wani (crocodile) and returned to the sea.

Major Deities and Characters

  1. Amaterasu – The sun goddess and perhaps the most significant deity in the Shinto pantheon. She’s known for hiding in a cave, thereby plunging the world into darkness, only to be lured out by the dance of the goddess Uzume.
  2. Susanoo – The storm god, and brother to Amaterasu. He’s famed for his tempestuous nature and the tale where he slayed the eight-headed serpent, Yamata-no-Orochi.
  3. Izanagi and Izanami – The primordial couple responsible for creating the islands of Japan. Their story involves themes of life, death, and rebirth.
  4. Tsukuyomi – The moon god, and another sibling to Amaterasu. His most famed tale involves his clash with the food goddess, Uke Mochi, resulting in his separation from the sun.
  5. Raijin and Fujin – The gods of lightning and wind respectively, often depicted together. Their fearsome visages are popular in art and culture.

Japanese Myths and Stories

Japanese mythology is a treasure trove of tales about gods, goddesses, and supernatural beings. Let’s explore more of these stories:

  1. The Creation of Japan – A tale from the Kojiki that narrates how Izanagi and Izanami, using a heavenly jeweled spear, churned the ocean, leading to the birth of the Japanese islands. “From the brine thus dripped, a deity there emerged, and this deity was named Onogoro-shima” – Kojiki
  2. The Descent of Amaterasu – After a conflict with her brother Susanoo, the sun goddess Amaterasu retreated to a cave, plunging the world into darkness. To lure her out, the other gods held a party outside the cave and the goddess Ame-no-Uzume performed a humorous dance, making the gods laugh loudly. Curious, Amaterasu peeked out, and seeing her reflection in a mirror, came out of the cave, restoring light to the world. “All the Heavenly Deities thereupon assembled in a divine assembly, and devised a way to lead her out.” – Kojiki
  3. Susanoo and the Dragon – Susanoo encounters a grieving family whose daughters were devoured by the serpent, Yamata-no-Orochi. Susanoo vowed to slay the beast, setting forth a cunning plan using sake to intoxicate the creature.” Then he made a fence in preparation for the serpent, and he caused to be distilled some eight-fold refined liquor, and to be put into eight tubs.” – Kojiki
  4. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (The Tale of Princess Kaguya):
    • Summary: An old bamboo cutter finds a tiny, radiant princess inside a shining stalk of bamboo. He and his wife raise this child, named Kaguya-hime. As she grows, her beauty becomes legendary, attracting numerous wealthy suitors. However, she rejects them all, revealing her celestial origins and eventually returning to the moon, leaving her earthly parents heartbroken.
    • Excerpt: “When I thought of telling you beforehand, my heart ached and ached with the pain, but I put it off and said nothing about it to the last. Now I find I must go back to the silver-crested summits of the moon this very night…”
    • Appearance in Media: Studio Ghibli’s “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is an animated retelling of this story.
  5. Urashima Tarō:
    • Summary: A fisherman named Urashima Tarō saves a turtle and is rewarded with a visit to the Dragon Palace (Ryūgū-jō) beneath the sea. He spends what seems like days with the beautiful princess Otohime, but upon returning to his village, he realizes that many years have passed on land. He opens a mysterious box given to him by Otohime, and ages rapidly.
    • Excerpt: “This is a treasure box called ‘tamate-bako’, and it will protect you from harm, but you must not open it…”
    • Appearance in Media: The story has inspired several films, TV dramas, and even episodes in anime like “Pokémon”.
  6. Momotarō (Peach Boy):
    • Summary: An elderly couple discovers a large peach floating in the river. Upon opening it, they find a boy inside who claims to have been sent by heaven to be their son. They name him Momotarō. When he grows up, he leaves to fight a band of ogres on a distant island and returns victorious with their treasures.
    • Excerpt: “I have been sent to be your child. Please take care of me.”
    • Appearance in Media: “Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei” is a famous wartime film where Momotarō and his animal friends invade the island of ogres, representing the Allies.
  7. The White Hare of Inaba:
    • Summary: A hare tricks some sharks into forming a bridge to cross the sea but is tricked in return and loses its fur. A kind prince, Ōnamuji (later known as Ōkuninushi), helps the hare regain its fur, and in gratitude, the hare predicts he will marry Princess Yagami.
    • Excerpt: “Little hare, little hare, what has befallen thee that thou art so red and bloody?…”
    • Appearance in Media: The myth has been referenced in video games like “Ōkami” and the manga “Inaba Rabbits”.
  8. Kintarō:
    • Summary: Kintarō is a child of superhuman strength, raised by a mountain hag on Mount Ashigara. He becomes friends with animals and challenges them to sumo matches. As an adult, he’s renamed Sakata no Kintoki and becomes a legendary warrior.
    • Excerpt: “With this strength, I shall protect the innocent and serve justice!”
    • Appearance in Media: Kintarō has appeared in countless manga, anime, and video games. He’s often portrayed wielding an ax.
  9. Izanagi and Izanami:
    • Summary: The two deities, Izanagi and Izanami, were tasked with creating the islands of Japan. Using a jeweled spear, they stirred the ocean and created the islands. Later, they birthed many gods, but tragedy struck when Izanami died during childbirth. Grief-stricken, Izanagi went to the underworld to retrieve her, but was horrified to see her decaying form. Pursued by the hag of the underworld and other spirits, he barely escaped and sealed the entrance.
  10. Amaterasu and the Cave:
    • Summary: After a conflict with her brother Susanoo, the sun goddess Amaterasu retreated to a cave, plunging the world into darkness. To lure her out, the other gods held a party outside the cave and the goddess Ame-no-Uzume performed a humorous dance, making the gods laugh loudly. Curious, Amaterasu peeked out, and seeing her reflection in a mirror, came out of the cave, restoring light to the world.
  11. The Grateful Crane:
    • Summary: A man saves a crane caught in a trap. Later, a mysterious woman arrives at his home, claiming to be a weaver. She weaves beautiful cloth on the condition that he never watches her work. The cloth sells for a high price, but curiosity gets the better of the man. He peeks and discovers the woman is the crane he saved, plucking her own feathers to weave the cloth. Realizing he’s seen her, she transforms back into a crane and flies away.
  12. The Tale of Okuninushi:
    • Summary: Okuninushi was a descendant of Susanoo. In one tale, he helped a white hare, as mentioned before. In another, he was in love with Princess Suseri-Hime, the daughter of Susanoo. Despite her father’s opposition, they married. Later, Okuninushi established the land of Japan and built the Izumo Shrine, after which he handed control to the heavenly gods and became a ruler of the unseen world.
  13. Tamamo-no-Mae:
    • Summary: An intelligent woman named Tamamo-no-Mae was a favorite courtesan in the imperial court. However, she was eventually revealed to be a nine-tailed fox using magic to appear human. She had been draining the life force of the emperor. Once exposed, she transformed back into her fox form, and after a fierce battle, was killed.
  14. Konohanasakuya-hime:
    • Summary: The blossom-princess and symbol of delicate earthly life, she is the wife of the god Ninigi. She became pregnant in just one night, causing suspicion in Ninigi. To prove her fidelity, she set a doorless hut on fire, declaring that the child would not be harmed if she had been faithful. She emerged unscathed, and her child was later deemed divine.

Influence in Modern Culture:

Japanese myths and their deities continue to play an integral role in popular culture. They inspire anime, movies, and books. Amaterasu, for instance, is a central figure in the video game Okami. Studio Ghibli’s films often draw upon themes from Shintoism and traditional myths, weaving them into tales for new generations. On Netflix, series like Noragami and Kamisama Kiss depict gods navigating the modern world, while keeping ties to their ancient origins.

Whether it’s the haunting tales of vengeful spirits or the inspiring stories of deities bringing forth life and light, Japanese mythology offers a vast and rich tapestry that bridges the ancient and the contemporary.

Japanese gods and goddesses in Anime and Manga

Anime is a medium where the intricate web of Japanese myth, folklore, and contemporary themes often intertwine. Here’s a deeper exploration of how some renowned Japanese deities make appearances or influence storylines in anime:

  1. Amaterasu:
    • Okami-san and Her Seven Companions (Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi): The protagonist, Ryouko Ookami, draws inspiration from Amaterasu. Not only is her name a play on the word for “wolf”, but her strong and radiant character mirrors the sun goddess’s attributes.
    • Naruto: Amaterasu is a Mangekyou Sharingan technique used by Itachi and Sasuke Uchiha. It manifests as black flames which burn anything within the user’s field of vision.
  2. Susanoo:
    • Naruto: Susanoo is another advanced technique in the Uchiha clan’s arsenal. Those who awaken this ability can summon a giant, ethereal warrior to protect them and attack on their behalf.
    • Blue Seed: The antagonist, Susanoo, attempts to reclaim the world from humans, bearing a stormy personality much like the deity.
  3. Izanagi and Izanami:
    • Naruto: These names are given to a pair of powerful techniques wielded by members of the Uchiha clan. Izanagi allows the user to rewrite reality for a short time, while Izanami can decide a person’s fate.
    • Persona 4 The Animation: Izanagi is the Persona of the protagonist, Yu Narukami, and plays a central role in the storyline.
  4. Tsukuyomi:
    • Naruto: Tsukuyomi is an extremely powerful genjutsu (illusion technique) used by Itachi Uchiha. It’s reputed for its ability to manipulate time and torture the victim within a span of seconds in their perception.
    • Cardcaptor Sakura: Yue, one of the guardians, has an attack named “Tsukuyomi”, a homage to the moon god.
  5. Raijin and Fujin:
    • Yu Yu Hakusho: Two demon brothers named Risho and Jin, who serve under the demon Suzaku, exhibit powers that mirror Raijin and Fujin, controlling earth and wind respectively.
    • Final Fantasy: While not strictly an anime, the influence of Raijin and Fujin is evident in the various adaptations, including games and films, where they appear as recurring characters or summonable entities.
  6. General Influence:
    • Noragami: This anime revolves around the lesser god Yato, who wishes to be revered like the major deities. The narrative often touches upon Shinto beliefs, practices, and the Celestial Plain where gods like Amaterasu reside.
    • Kamisama Kiss (Kamisama Hajimemashita): This story of a human girl turned deity touches upon aspects of Shinto rituals, gods, and familiar spirits reminiscent of the celestial beings from the myths.

Celtic Mythology: The Enchanting Lore of Ancient Celts

Celtic mythology is a rich tapestry of heroes, gods, magical creatures, and tales of honor, courage, love, and betrayal. Emerging from the British Isles’ ancient Celtic tribes, these myths were orally passed down over generations before finally being penned in various manuscripts. The Celts, comprising tribes with a shared language, culture, and religion, spread across Europe from their homeland in Central Europe to modern-day Spain, UK, and Ireland.

These myths and legends serve as a spiritual compass for the Celts, providing not only entertainment but moral guidance, historical accounts, and explanations of the world’s mysteries. Their legacy resonates in modern culture, with countless adaptations in books, movies, and TV shows. Whether it’s the mystical land of Avalon, the fierce Morrigan, or the noble King Arthur, Celtic myths have transcended time, continuing to enchant and inspire.

Major Celtic Gods and Characters:

  • The Dagda: Chief among the gods, The Dagda is a father figure and protector of the tribe, known for his immense power and wisdom.
  • Brigid: The goddess of poetry, crafts, prophecy, and healing. Brigid is a triple deity, symbolizing her vast power and influence.
  • Morrigan: A war goddess who could shape-shift into a crow, representing fate, especially in war and death.
  • Lugh: The sun god, renowned for his expertise in many crafts and arts, often linked with heroic deeds and skills.
  • Cú Chulainn: A legendary hero known for his tremendous battle prowess, often compared to the Greek’s Hercules.

Influence in Modern Culture

Celtic myths have inspired various modern narratives and adaptations. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth borrows heavily from Celtic lore, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon” retells the Arthurian legends from a Celtic and feminist perspective. Furthermore, Netflix series like “Cursed” dive into Arthurian legends, presenting them with fresh twists.

Specific Celtic Myths and Legends

  • The Cattle Raid of Cooley:
    Young warrior Cú Chulainn stands alone against the armies of Connacht to protect the prized brown bull of Cooley. As he channels his “ríastrad” or warp-spasm, he becomes an unbeatable force. But with great power comes great consequence, and the aftermath of the battle leaves a lasting impact.
    Passage: “Though he was but a boy, his spear was steady and his aim true. He faced the armies, not as a mere mortal, but as a force of nature, driven by honor and destiny.”
  • The Children of Lir:
    Betrayed by their stepmother, the four children of King Lir are transformed into swans. They drift through waters for 900 years, maintaining their hope, unity, and beautiful singing voices, before a chance at redemption appears.
    Passage: “Bound by the curse, they sang melodies of old times, of homes long lost but never forgotten. Their haunting tunes echoed across the waters, a testament to enduring love and resilience.”
  • The Legend of King Arthur:
    King Arthur, with his loyal Knights of the Round Table, seeks to establish a realm of justice and peace. But internal betrayals, quests like the search for the Holy Grail, and his tragic relationship with Guinevere and Lancelot lead to the kingdom’s downfall.
    Passage from Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur”: “Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place… many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic jacet Arthurus, Rex quondam, Rexque futurus (Here lies Arthur, the once and future king).”
  • Tristan and Isolde:
    Bound by a love potion, Tristan and Isolde engage in a passionate yet illicit love affair. Their tragic story of love, honor, and duty culminates in heart-wrenching sacrifice.
    Passage: “In every stolen glance and secret embrace, they found a love that was both their joy and doom. Destiny, it seemed, had its own designs.”
  • The Quest for the Cauldron of Rebirth:
    The magical cauldron can resurrect the dead. As various factions vie for it, stories of bravery, treachery, and the moral dilemma of cheating death unfold.
    Passage: “The cauldron gleamed with an otherworldly light, promising life beyond life. But at what cost?”
  • Tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann:
    This encompasses a myriad of stories detailing the lives, loves, battles, and adventures of the Celtic pantheon. From the Morrigan’s prophecies to the Dagda’s magical harp, each tale is a rich narrative.
    Passage from “The Second Battle of Mag Tuired”: “The land itself seemed to breathe in anticipation. Gods and mortals, magic and might, all collided in a dance as old as time.”

Celtic myths are full of universal themes, like love and loss, valor and treachery, hope and despair. These tales, rooted in ancient times, still hold a mirror to our own lives, proving the timeless nature of these stories.

Celtic Mythology: Deepening Our Understanding

As we continue to navigate the vast sea of Celtic myths and legends, we unearth even more treasures – tales of heroic deeds, ethereal beings, and the eternal dance of balance and chaos.

  • The Tale of Taliesin:
    The legendary bard Taliesin wasn’t born a poet; his life began as Gwion Bach, a servant to the enchantress Ceridwen. After accidentally imbibing three drops from her potion of knowledge and wisdom, Gwion transforms, experiencing multiple rebirths, until he emerges as Taliesin, the greatest of all bards.
    Passage: “In every life, he carried the weight of wisdom, the echo of ancient songs, and the spirit of the universe, crafting tales that would transcend time.”
  • Oisín and the Land of Eternal Youth:
    Oisín, a great warrior poet, falls in love with Niamh, a fairy maiden. She takes him to Tír na nÓg (Land of Youth). Time flows differently there, and when he decides to visit his homeland after what feels like three years, he realizes centuries have passed in the mortal world.
    Passage: “Time, with its relentless march, waits for none. Yet, in the embrace of love and magic, Oisín found a fleeting eternity.”
  • The Salmon of Knowledge:
    Finn MacCool gains wisdom not through years, but by consuming the Salmon of Knowledge. The fish, having eaten the hazelnuts falling into the Well of Wisdom, became the embodiment of all knowledge.
    Passage: “Every bite revealed secrets, whispers of the universe, and the tapestry of life. Finn’s eyes, once that of a youth, now held the cosmos.”
  • The Morrígan:
    A triad of war goddesses often appearing as the crow or raven, The Morrígan’s presence signals impending battle, doom, or victory. She can be both the harbinger of death and the protector of warriors.
    Passage: “Where crows gather, so does she. In the shadow of her wings, fate is sealed.”
  • Banshee (Bean Sídhe):
    A spirit, often visualized as a wailing woman, the banshee’s cries foretell death. While many fear her, some interpretations view her as a guardian spirit mourning the inevitable loss.
    Passage: “In the stillness of night, her lament rises — a song of endings, of love lost, and memories that remain.”
  • The Green Man:
    A symbol of rebirth and the cycle of growth each spring, his face, made of leaves and vines, appears in many architectural designs. He reminds us of nature’s eternal cycle and our connection to the Earth.
    Passage: “In every bud and every new dawn, he emerges, a testament to life’s ever-turning wheel.”
  • Lugh, The Shining One:
    God of sun, light, and harvest, Lugh is a multi-skilled deity. The festival Lughnasadh, celebrating the beginning of the harvest season, is named in his honor.
    Passage: “With light as his sword and sun as his shield, Lugh danced across horizons, bringing life to the land.”
  • Selkies, (Irish Mermaids): renowned in Celtic, particularly Scottish and Irish folklore, are mythical beings who dwell as seals in the ocean but can shed their skin to assume human form on land. Numerous tales depict the tragic love between Selkies and humans, often centered around stolen Selkie skins, binding them to land and resulting in melancholic tales of unfulfilled love and yearning for the sea. Representing the duality of human nature and the eternal conflict between duty and desire, these legends have inspired modern movies, songs, and novels, emphasizing love’s power, the essence of freedom, and the vast mysteries of the ocean.

An intricate weave of magic, nature, and humanity forms the fabric of these Celtic myths. Their messages, as resonant today as they were in ages past, invite us to find magic in our world and understand the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

PS. My mermaid fantasy series is set in Ireland and completely based on Celtic mythology!