Saturday, April 25, 2015

Part 2 of How NOT to Get a Wife: Stealing Skins

Myths of very different cultures contain the theme of the human male acquiring a wife of non-human origin by stealing her property and then withholding information from her. Three folktales from Chad, Sweden and Scotland all share these elements:
  • An human man.
  • A wild animal who becomes a woman after shedding her skin.
  • The man steals the skin of the animal-woman.
  • Unable to return to her animal form, she stays and becomes the man's wife.
  • The animal-wife eventually finds the stolen skin and leaves the marriage.

Region: Lake Chad
A hunter found an elephant skin near Lake Chad and hid it. Soon he came across a big young woman crying that she had lost her 'clothes'. Neglecting to mention the hidden skin, the hunter promised her new clothes and offered marriage. They had many large children.

One day, when the family ran out of grain, the wife saw her elephant skin, which had previously been concealed at the bottom at the grain store. She put her skin back on and went back to live in the wild. Her human sons were the progenitors of a clan that used the elephant as its totem.1
Region: Sweden
A peasant witnessed three swans turn into women upon shedding their feather garments on the seashore in Blekinge. After playing in the sea, the maidens donned their feathers again and flew away.
The young peasant told his mother about this. She instructed him to steal the feather garb of the youngest swan-maiden whom he fancied. Two of the swans could return to their original forms and fly away, but the youngest remained behind. The peasant took her home and married her.
After 7 years after marriage, the man showed the stolen feathers to his wife. On retrieving her garment, she changed back into a swan and flew away, leaving her husband behind.2
Region: Scotland
A fisherman named Rory MacCodrun lived on the island of Berneray. One day, he saw a group of young people playing near the shore. When he saw rolled-up skins hidden under nearby rock, he realized that these were seal people. Rory decided to steal one of the skins as a keepsake.
After he returned home, a young woman came knocking, asking for his help, for she had lost her seal skin and could not return to the sea with her siblings. Rory neglected to mention that he had hidden her skin in the thatch of roof above the door. He offered her marriage instead. Having no other options, the seal woman accepted.
One day, the seal skin fell out of the roof. The seal woman put it on and returned to the sea, leaving her human children behind. The MacCodrun children grew up to become famed singers of sad sea songs.3
  1. Ruth Binney, Nature's Ways: Lore, Legend, Fact and Fiction, p37-38
  2. Herman Hofberg, The Swan Maiden. retrieved Jan 2015
  3. Andrew Wright, Seal Wife

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