Miscellaneous Myths: Animal Brides

Anyone who’s dabbled in mythology and folklore is probably aware of the theme of the animal bride. And, yeah, it actually is kind of as weird as it sounds. For those of you who haven’t heard of this, the basic premise is that an animal (often a swan or a seal) will remove its skin, and transform into a beautiful woman, usually to bathe. This skin will be stolen by a passing dude, which basically binds the woman to him. She can’t return to her true form without it, so she marries him. When she finds where he hid the skin, she turns back and books it. There are a few takeaways from this story format: marrying an animal is probably not a good idea, don’t hold your wife hostage, etc. But even beyond the confines of this format, there’s a lot of stories about dudes marrying animals whether or not they realize it at the time. So today let’s talk about some animal bride stories, and all the fabulous ways mythical men have gotten themselves hitched one way or another. This is a Swedish fairy tale that follows the format very closely. Our protagonist is a humble peasant who occasionally goes out hunting for fun. But one day he sees three swans land by a lake, strip off their feathery skins and reveal themselves as three hot ladies. They bathe and cavort and such for a while before re-feathering themselves and flying away. But it’s love at first sight for our protagonist, who’s fallen head-over-heels for the youngest swan maiden, and he goes home pining. His mom notices something’s wrong, and when he tells her he’s too in love with this swan woman to do anything else his mom tells him how he can win her over. And by win her over, I mean functionally kidnap her. So following her instructions, our protagonist hides in a bush near the swans’ favorite lake. And when they land and de-feather themselves, he sneaks out and surreptitiously steals one of their feathery cloaks. After a while the other two fly away, but the third one can’t find her feathers and freaks out. Our hero white knights out of the bushes to see if she’s okay, give her a regular cloak and get her somewhere safe, keeping her feathery cloak nice and hidden the whole time so she doesn’t realize he has it. Soon enough, the two of them get married and live a wonderful happy life together for seven years, until our protagonist decides he should tell his wife the truth. He reveals to her that he stole her feather cloak all those years ago, but the minute she touches it, she transforms back into a swan and books it out the nearest window. Which, honestly, very measured response. A swan can mess you up if it wants to. But she doesn’t need to break his arm or anything, because he dies of grief within a year. Let that be a lesson folks: tricking a girl into marrying you by forcibly isolating her from her friends and loved ones will backfire and is also just a huge dick move. But not everyone learns the lessons of history. In the Faroe Islands, there’s a story of Kópakonan (the seal woman), a well-known folktale in the area. Seals are sometimes believed to be former humans who drowned themselves in the ocean. Once a year, they’re allowed to strip off their seal skins, resume their human forms and have a nice little party on the beach before going back home. Our story begins when a young farmer decides to see for himself if this story is true and he hides away on the beach to observe. He sees a huge number of seals approach the shore, strip off their seal skins, turn into people and get their party on. But he also notices one of the seals, a pretty young lady, drops her skin off near his hiding place. So while nobody’s looking, he slips out and steals it. Come the morning all the other selkies return to the ocean, but the young woman can’t find her skin. The farmer shows himself, revealing that he stole her skin and after he refuses to give it back, she has no choice but to follow him home, because where else is she gonna go? So he keeps her as a wife for several years and they have several children together, which, yes due to the fact that he kidnapped and coerced her into this relationship, IS extremely f*ked up when you think about it. And he also makes sure to keep her seal skin locked away in a chest that he has the only key to so she can’t get away. But one day while out fishing with his buddies, he abruptly realises he forgot the key at home. He rushes back but the seal woman is already gone, returned to the ocean and her seal boyfriend, because yeah, she had a life before some asshole decided to kidnap her. What a surprise. Several years pass and some of the men of the island decide to head into a deep cave to do some seal hunting there. That night, the farmer has a dream about his seal wife. In the dream, she tells him that during their hunt, they shouldn’t kill the large bull seal by the entrance or the two baby seals deeper in the cave, because those are her husband and sons. But the farmer, who we already know is a world-class dick, doesn’t heed her warnings, and they kill all the seals in the cave and the farmer gets the head of the bull seal and the flippers of the baby seals as trophies. Mmm. That’s how you know you’re the good guy – when you’re dismembering baby seals. But that night, as the farmer is cooking his former wife’s loved ones, she appears in the form of a terrifying troll and curses him and everyone else on the island. The curse being that people will randomly fall off cliffs and drown until there are enough dead people to link hands and form a chain around the island. Honestly, I get it. It’s like keying your ex’s car after they murder your whole family. So while this myth, a short and sweet Inuit story, definitely draws from the same inspirational core as the more well-known animal brides, it has the distinction of being very goofy in contrast with the others. So let’s take a look. Our story begins with a hunter who lives alone and just generally does his own thing. But one day he comes back to find that someone has tidied his house and cooked him dinner, like a wife. But he doesn’t have a wife. So he’s like, “okay…???” and carries on as usual. But his house keeps getting mysteriously tidier and his dinner keeps getting made, like he’s being haunted by a very meticulous ghost. So eventually he decides to get to the bottom of this and sets out to hunt before doubling back and sneakily keeping an eye on his house. As he watches, a fox pops up and runs into the house. Figuring it’s probably after his food, he follows it in and finds a beautiful woman hanging a fox skin on a clothesline. He’s like, “What?” and she’s like, “Hi, I’m your wife now. You like what I’ve done with the place?” Our hunter isn’t the type to look a gift fox in the mouth, so he’s pretty chill with this. And he and his new fox wife carry on for a while: him going out to hunt and her working as a housewife. It’s a pretty sweet dynamic. But one day the hunter idly notices that his house smells kind of stinky and when he asks his fox wife about it, she’s like, “HOW DARE YOU INSULT MY NATURAL MUSK!” puts her fox skin back on, and storms out, never to return. City folk like myself might not be aware that foxes, like skunks, have scent glands. I’m guessing the skunk wife marriages end a lot faster. So the moral of the story is, uh… *quickly flips through notes* Don’t marry animals? It’s probably the best takeaway. [Singing] You don’t even know who I am~ You left me a long time ago~ You don’t even know who I am~ So what do you care if I go~ *string snaps* Red: Oh, fu-
Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PS62iRXBeJc

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