This Human Form Where I Was Born, I Now Repent

Since it’s been cold outside lately, I might as well look at some Inuit mythology. While of course there are many different Native American religions, it seems that one fairly common aspect is the presence of animal deities who are both individuals are representatives of a particular type of animal, and sometimes take human form as well. Inuit culture had a lot of focus on hunting, but hunters had a certain amount of respect for the animals they were hunting, and there were rules for doing so. Several gods were involved with the hunt, including one each ruling over wolves, caribou, and polar bears.

Amarok, a gigantic wolf who hunts alone and is apparently seen as both male and female at various times, would kill anyone who hunted at night.

Picture by Josh Vito
Tekkeitsertok, the master of caribou, was an important hunting god who was placated with sacrifices. Where was he when one of his subjects was being mocked for his shiny red nose?

Nanook was a polar bear, and in addition to determining whether people had success in hunting his kind, but also punished those who transgressed the laws of hunting.

Source: Happle Tea
Wikipedia mentions that the hide of a slain bear would be hung in an igloo, and the spirits of tools would enter the afterlife with the animal. I believe Nanook was also associated with the constellation Ursa Major, but I don’t know whether that was before or after Europeans introduced the Inuit to the idea that the star formation represented a bear. I’m not sure how Nanook would react to an offering of Coca-Cola.

Picture by Alexi Francis
Another significant goddess who wasn’t depicted as an animal, although apparently she sometimes took the form of a walrus and was definitely associated with animals, was the sea deity Sedna. There are a few different versions of her story, but they have some elements in common. The most interesting has it that her father forced her into an unhappy marriage with a bird-man. Upon finding out how miserable she was, her dad rescued her and took her away in a boat, but the bird-man pursued her and stirred up the waters. The father threw Sedna overboard in an attempt to placate the sea, cutting off her fingers when she tried to cling to the boat. Other versions make the father somewhat less mean by saying that her fingers froze off instead. Regardless, the fingers turned into seals and other sea creatures, which is a pretty neat trick.

Picture by Hrana Janto
It was Sedna who determined if animals would come to the surface, and she was as temperamental as the sea itself. A shamanic ritual involved combing the goddess’ hair, probably while in some sort of trance. She was also associated with the world of the dead, which is presumably why Sedna is the name of a planetoid in the far reaches of the solar system.

Sedna is sometimes said to have a companion in the form of the weather goddess Qailertetang, which could be related to why she wasn’t happy being married to a man.

Picture source

This entry was posted in Animals, Inuit, Monsters, Mythology, Native American, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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