Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Musical Interlude ~ Silkie


This song has moved into my head this week after reading a poem over at Oran's Well, called The Selkie Bride, by Brendan. His piece would be an excellent thing to read in conjunction to this tale of a sea-demon lover and an 'earthly nurse' who bears his child, rendered  by a young Joan Baez. The song was collected from Orkney by the American folk music scholar, Francis James Child in the late nineteenth century (Child ballad number 113.)

The full title is The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, Sule Skerry being a remote escarpment off the north coast of Scotland in the Orkneys.



11 comments:

  1. thank you for spreading the haunting mystery of yourself on the web....




    Aloha to you
    from Honolulu!


    Comfort Spiral

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  2. nice...i was going to say folksy and a little irish...not far...i listened before i read...very nice hedge...it would go well with his...

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  3. I love Joan Baez, Joy Ann, thanks for posting this.

    Pamela

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  4. I loved Brenadan's poem. Sounds like you did, too. :-)

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  5. Brendan's, I meant. Ugh, it's early.

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  6. Interesting song and poem that Brendan wrote. I had forgotten the memory of both how powerful Baez's voice is and the power of that first love moment.

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  7. Aw, thanks H. The story of the demon lover from the element of water works equally in either gender; I think raw wild pull of deep instinct which so fuses young lovers together is made even more irresistable when there's something wrong about it, evil, at least badness or damage in the Other. Nothing like Ms. or Mr. Wrong to make the bedsprings roar, eh? And always there's the soberer recognition of the impossibility of marrying water and land. That's got to be deeply ingrained in the Hebridean consciousness, where those islands have been forever hunted by the North Sea which is in turns halcyon-still and brutally pounding. I'd never heard the Baez version of the folksong. It's deep and aching and craggy and wild. - Brendan

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  8. p.s., the MacOrdrum I take as my screen surname is one of the seal-folk -- MacOdrum of Uist -- and is etymologically related to the Oran/Odhrain whose well throats my blog. So the persona, the mask I use is in part a selkie's skin. ("Brendan" is the voyager from the immrama tale-cycle of the early Irish middle ages.) Not that it matters except in my own trope-a-doping ... B.

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  9. Yes, all of the above Brendan. the alien come to walk among us, the force of nature incarnate that must be resisted, and I'm loving the 'trope-a-dope.' ;-) The song is like many ballads from out of our dim past--some sort of connection to things beyond the conscious understanding. It's also a very telling indictment to me of the post-pagan patriarchal view of the world. Baez has left out a verse, where the human woman cries "It was nae well' for the 'Great Silkie' to get her with child, and the silkie then responds with the purse of gold. For me the greatest tragedy of the many in the tale is that it feeds back into not just the sense of the inhuman in the sea, or the moral tabus against sex on the wild side, but into such a medieval, biblical misogyny that the only sense of validation for the earthly nurse is to be paid, and the only resolution of the ''wrong' is for another man to kill her lover and son. It removes all power from the female and makes her a reproductive pawn. But I digress...the song is haunting and beautiful regardless, and can be read many ways. (The tune, by the way is contemporary--Child only collected lyrics.)Here's the wiki link with all the info:
    The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry

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  10. Excellent point, H. If a man is lured by a woman selkie, he can claim bewitchment; if a woman is lured by a male selkie, she's still the witch, guilty of her own nature. I think the tale has older foundations than the Christian, though, as myth. Manannan was the sea god and had the power to do all sorts of sea-magic between the sexes. When it degraded into folklore, it married Christian culture and got the hard misogynistic bent. What's really interesting to me is that marine biologists believe that sea mammals like dolphins, seals, whales, walruses, etc., were animals who returned to the sea about 50 million years ago, perhaps to escape land predators. Its one of the rare cases of evolution BACK to the sea. Psychologists might call it regression: but the glory of myth allows it to become potent form of magic, the ability to resume the sea's nature in one's body. The selkie who comes out of the water, puts on a human skin and merges, for a time, with human society is the ennui of the 50 million-year-old tale to go home the other way. Maybe there is no going home, ever. - B.

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'Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance' ~Carl Sandburg