Not all the creatures that inhabited Iceland's shorelines and fjords in ancient times were evil. Some of them were benevolent creatures, powerful enough to rule or control nature. Among these creatures is the Selamóðir, known as Mother of Seals, a myth with very ancient roots in folk legends of many hunting cultures like the Sami, for whom meeting with a Selamóðir on the beach was seen as an omen, most often warning hunters and fishermen of a coming storm, so they could find refuge.

The Selamóðir is a species protector of harbor seals and grey seals of Iceland. Their general appearance es that is that of a seal, but its dimensions are all but normal. The Selamóðir are beasts of terrifying size, large like small elephants, with short legs that end in fins, and with skin that is leathery and of reddish-pink in color. When angered, their necks turn bright red and their eyes flash like burning coals, arching their back, that when underwater, look like an small islands. A tuft of hair, like brushwood or heather, grows between their eyes.

When seals are being hunted, by humans or any of the evil whales that populate the waters around Iceland, they call on the Selamóðir, and a Seal Mother appears out of nowhere to defend them. However, this magnificent beasts may also appear on their own accord to protect their children if they seem to be in any danger. To this effect, unlike most seals, the Selamóðir can also appear inland, inhabiting freshwater lakes, low salinity Fjords and the salty waters of the open sea.

Whatever you may think of the Seal mother, protector of seals or terror of hungry fishermen, encountering one is a monstrous sight. Seal mothers may be found wherever seals gather, and ferociously attack anything that approaches their charges.

One report, recorded at the end of the 18th Century, tells of a selamóðir charging out of the sea to scare off a group of seal hunters. The would-be seal hunters scattered at the sight of the beast, leaving the little seals alone and quite unharmed.

A selamóðir was also one of the three monsters inhabiting the Lagarfljót river. It slept under the waterfall, and was much feared until it was vanquished and transfixed to a rock.


-Jennings, A., Reeploeg, S. and Watt, A. eds., 2017. Northern Atlantic Islands and the Sea: Seascapes and Dreamscapes. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

-Jón Baldur Hlíðberg, Sigurður Ægisson. 2008. Meeting with Monsters: An Illustrated Guide to the Beasts of Iceland. JPV.

-Guðrún Bjarkadóttir. 2010. Icelandic mammal name: Their history and origins, Master Thesis. University of Iceland. Department of Icelandic Studies and Culture.

  • Facebook - White Circle