For the Inuit, there is a primal ocean Goddess, sometimes called Sedna, or Sanna.
Mistress of the Sea.
Mother of the Deep.
Then again, She can be – like all Gods – cruel…
Arnapkapfaaluk, the”Big Bad Woman”…
Or just powerfully ancient:
Regardless of her name, one thing is clear:
Life and Death are in the hands of Sedna, as surely as the food on the table…
As the bringer of Life, She brings nourishment.
As the Guardian of the Dead, she rules over Adlivun…
Either way, as Life or Death, one part of Sedna’s story is always the same:
She lost her fingers…
How Sedna lost her fingers depends on who is telling the story.
In one myth, the one that we’ll explore later, She’s a Giant, a Titan of Greek proportions, the Child of the Creator God Anguta.
In this version, Her insatiable hunger leads her to attack Her parents. In response, Anguta takes her out to sea in his kayak, and tosses Her overboard.
She clung desperately to the sides of the boat, and Anguta, Her father, responded by hacking off Her fingers with an axe.
Those fingers, in turn, became the seals, walruses and whales, while Sedna Herself sunk into the deep, deep waters, all the way down to Adluvin, the Underworld.
In another version, it isn’t Her hunger that is to blame; rather it is her unwillingness to partner.
Apparently, perhaps just to enrage Her father, She married a dog.
The outcome was the same; Sedna’s father took her out to sea, and when she clung to his Kayak, he hacked off her fingers…
In another variation, She is abducted by a Sky Bird Spirit in human form; this deal was brokered by her father in exchange for fish. To that end, the father drugged Sedna with a sleeping potion. However, when he realized that her suitor wasn’t a human, he attempted to rescue her.
In his rescue attempt, Sedna fell over the side of the Kayak, and clung on until her finger froze off.
Froze off into the seals, walruses, and whales…
Sedna is, at least in *this* part of the story, a victim.
She is mutilated, and gives birth to the mammals of the sea.
But after losing her fingers, She is resurrected as the Queen of the Underworld.
Sometimes even with a fish tail…
But in the end, all stories lead to one common fate:
Sedna’s fingers will be hacked (or frozen) off, leading to the creation of sea mammals, which in turn always leads to Sedna being…
Queen of the Dead.
How do you appease Her?
Shamans have been known to travel into the Deep; there they comb Sedna’s hair to please the Goddess, so She might yield the Table.
Common people would offer up worn-out harpoon-heads, broken knives, and morsels of meat into the ocean blue.
And even today, scientists are smart enough to appease the Goddess:
A trans-Neptunian dwarf planet, orbiting the sun in the space known as the Oort cloud, is tagged Sedna:
Yes, even scientists understand the importance of food on the Table…
Next Up: we’ll explore the dynamics of the Inuit Underworld, Adluvin, and explore Sedna’s role as Queen of the Dead…
References: Jarvis, Dale Gilbert (2018). “Exploring the Legend of Sedna”. Inside Labrador. Summer: 44–50
Osbourne, MaryJane. Romancing the Goddess. University of Illinois Press. 1998.