Elves in Scotland: Sea Elves

By Thomas Crofton Croker

On the north coast of Scotland dwelt a man who got his living by fishing, and particularly by catching those singular creatures called seals, for the skins of which he was well paid. Yet most of these are neither seals nor fish, but are properly Elves.

One day, as the fisherman was returning from his business, he was called by a person who appeared to be a stranger, and who told him that he had been sent by one who wished to bargain with him for a number of seals’ skins, but that he must instantly accompany him. The fisherman, overjoyed at the prospect of a good job, consented, and mounting a horse which belonged to the stranger, he rode with him so swiftly that the wind, which was in their backs, seemed, from the rapidity of their motion, to blow in their faces.

They reached a frightful crag which projected into the sea, when the guide said they had now come to the place of their destination, and seizing the fisherman with more than human strength, threw himself with him into the sea. They sunk, and sunk, till they came at length to an open door at the bottom, through which they entered into a suite of rooms, all filled with seals, which, however, have the power of language, and possess human feelings; at length the fisherman, to his utmost surprise, found that, without being aware of it, he had himself been changed into a seal.

His guide produced an enormous knife, and he already thought that his end was come; when the latter quieted his fears, and asked him if he had never before seen the knife? He recognised it to be his own, with which he had that morning wounded a seal, which, however, had escaped. “That was my father,” said his guide; “he lies dangerously ill, and cannot recover without your assistance.”

He brought the terrified fisherman to the patient, who was lying, in great pain, in a bed: the man was obliged to dress the wound, and the seal immediately recovered. The mourning was now converted into general joy. The guide said to the fisherman, “I will myself bring you back to your family, but you must promise that you will not kill another seal as long as you live.”

Both swam towards the surface, and landed at a place where they found horses ready for them. The guide breathed on the fisherman, and both received the human form. At the door of his house he received a present so large as not to leave any cause of regret at having renounced his trade.

From Fairy legends and traditions of the South of Ireland, part III., by Thomas Crofton Croker.
London: John Murray, 1828.

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