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The Sorcerous Finfolk

In contrast to the relatively benign selkie-folk, the Orkney's Finfolk were a dark and gloomy race of sorcerers, feared and mistrusted by mortals.

The tales dealing with the Finfolk are intriguing, appearing to contain elements from a number of distinctly different sources. However, it seems most likely that our sea dwelling Finfolk were primarily based on the "Finns" of Norwegian tradition - the indigenous inhabitants of Northern Norway who were also known for their "magical powers".

Over time elements of various distinct tales became grafted to the exploits of these magicians - including, for example, a great number of elements acquired from the tales of the now forgotten Huldrefolk. The resultant confusion with other aspects of Norse and Orcadian myth leaves us the Finfolk and selkie folklore we have today.

In Orkney, the Finfolk retained the Norway Finns' reputation for being powerful sorcererors, although there are actually very few tales where they wield this supposed power.

But whatever the source of the legends, the Orcadian explanation for the name "Finfolk" was simple - they had fishlike fins. These fins were said to be cunningly disguised, so that when viewed by a mortal they looked like flowing articles of clothing.

Unlike the Selkie Folk who were restricted - according to some tales at least - in the times they could come ashore, the Finfolk were truly amphibious. They came and went as they pleased, venturing between their world and the mortal realm as they wished.

They led a nomadic lifestyle, spending the long Orkney winters in the luxury of Finfolkaheem, a majestic city, usually said to be at the bottom of the sea. In the summer, however, they returned to Orkney where they took up residence on the mystical island Hildaland - one of Orkney's magical vanishing islands. Tradition has it that Hildaland was later taken from the Finfolk and renamed Eynhallow.

The Finfolk shared one common trait with Orkney's land-dwelling hill-folk and trows. They had an unfortunate penchant for stealing away mortals.

They would spirit away their captives, taking them to their magical hidden homes where they generally remained captive for the rest of their days. These unfortunates were usually kidnapped in order to become the wife or husband of one of the Finfolk. As is detailed elsewhere, the Finwife had good reason for acquiring a mortal husband.

Beneath these legends relating to these sea-abductions it is clear how the malevolent influence of the Finfolk could have been used to explain away the many disappearances and deaths at sea. Imagine a grief stricken mother sat in a silent croft by a raging sea - would it not be better to hope that your lost son had been taken by the sea folk, perhaps to return again, alive and well, some day?

In common with many of Orkney's other supernatural inhabitants, the Finfolk's departure from the islands was blamed on the arrival of Christianity.

There were two distinct divisions within the ranks of the Finfolk - these were, unsurprisingly, the Finman and the Finwife. The tales of the Finmen generally make up the bulk of the folklore and are fairly standard in their descriptions of the gloomy creatures.

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