Sedna: The Inuit Sea Goddess

We are venturing Northwards this week to the frigid realms. Sedna is a central figure in Inuit mythology, cherished among the indigenous Inuit people inhabiting the Arctic regions of North America, including Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. This tale revolves around Sedna, a powerful and occasionally vengeful sea goddess, and holds a profound place in the Inuit belief system. Her narrative serves as a poignant explanation for the ebb and flow of marine life, embodying the deep spiritual connection between the Inuit culture and the boundless sea.

There are many versions of this myth but it goes something like this:

Sedna is often described as a beautiful young Inuit woman who lived with her father in their coastal home.

In the most well-known version of the story, Sedna’s father aspires for her to marry.  Despite numerous hunters seeking her hand, Sedna steadfastly declines their offers, seeking a prospect beyond the ordinary. One fateful day, a softly spoken suitor draped in furs arrives, extending a promise of an abundant life replete with much food and clothing. Intrigued by his promise, Sedna consents to the union and is soon traveling with her new husband to her new island home.

Sedna’s life takes a tragic turn when she arrives.  To her dismay, her new home is but a mere nest of sticks perched precariously on a desolate, rocky island. To make matters worse her husband then unveils his true form as a monstrous bird.

Sedna descends into despair.  Her husband’s catch consists solely of fish, leaving her cold, lonely and hungry.  Each day she wails and sobs for deliverance from her unhappy life.  One day her father hears her plaintive cries and sets out in his kayak to rescue her from the island.  As they paddle away from the island her husband sees her escaping and is consumed with rage.  He flies over the kayak beating his wings so hard that it raises a storm.  Sedna falls (or is pushed!) into the tumultuous sea but manages to grab the side of the kayak.  This enrages her husband further and he intensifies his beating wings.  Her Father fearing for his life with the ever-increasing storm decides Sedna must be sacrificed so he may survive.  He chops off her fingers so that she descends into the watery depths. As Sedna sinks her fingers transform into the various marine creatures of the Arctic, including seals, whales, and fish.

Sedna becomes the ruler of the ocean’s depths and all the creatures that dwell within it. She is both a provider and a punisher. In Inuit culture, it is believed that the success of a hunt and the availability of marine life for sustenance depend on Sedna’s benevolence. Hunters and fishermen must placate her through rituals and offerings, ensuring that they treat the sea and its creatures with respect.

The story of Sedna not only offers an explanation as to the origins of marine life to the indigenous people but also serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of mistreating or betraying family members. It underscores the importance of maintaining a harmonious relationship with nature and respecting the balance of the sea for survival in the harsh Arctic environment.

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