Mystical happenings in Iceland on the Three Kings DayNú Ninja Helga Mjöll
In Iceland we celebrate the 6th of January, but not because of the three kings. We call this day the Thirteenth because it is the 13th and last day of the yule celebrations. Apart from taking down the Christmas ornaments we make huge bon fires and celebrate with our community. In fact, more than anything we are celebrating elven culture and the hidden beings amongst us. Last year we published an article about the modern Icelandic celebrations. Highly recommend you check that out! Click here for that article.
This year we want to dive deeper into the folklore because there are several myths and legends associated with the tradition of the Thirteenth in Iceland.
One such legend is that on this day, animals can speak, and humans are able to understand them. But the legend goes that one must be careful not to eavesdrop on the cows’ conversations, they have a way of driving humans insane with their chat. Now, this must come as a big surprise. Cows are super cute and play all innocent, but on this day they wickedly try to make you lose your mind.
Seals in human form
North Atlantic nations like Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the Scottish isles tend to have folklore and myths about seals. Their eyes are so luring and give such magical vibes. Makes one think there is more to the seals than meets the eye (pun intended)
In Iceland on the evening of the Thirteenth, seals shed their skin, leave it in the shore and become human for a night. Their main purpose of doing that is to celebrate and dance all night, naked. Not sure if all seals have this ability, but those that can are called selkies, and according to Icelandic folktales they only transform three days a year: the Thirteenth, New Year’s Eve and on Midsummer night.
One myth tells about a man who witnessed selkie-ladies come ashore, shed their shin and dance naked in the black sand. Without them noticing he stole one of their skins from the shore. At dawn all of the selkies put on their skins and returned to sea, except one who could not find hers. She became trapped as a woman on land and the man forced her to marry him, withholding her skin. She had seven children with him in seven years. Finally, the man got careless about the key to where he hid the skin, and the wife found it when he was away from home.
The man found his selkie wife in the sea shore, whispering in agony about having seven children on land and seven in the sea. Then she put her old seal skin on and dove into the ocean, never to return as a human.
From that day the children never saw their mother again, but a friendly seal seemed to watch them closely when they played around the shore.
Cover picture is of a statue the Selkie woman from this myth in Mikladagur on the island of Kalsoy, Faroe Islands. The bronze and stainless steel statue was raised in 2014, is by the Faroese sculpture Hans Pauli Olsen and is 2.6 metres high. Photo is by Esbern Christiansen.