An Ancient Bond with the Land

Arctic Whalers

Appeasing Sedna

The most powerful spiritual being known to the Inuit went by a variety of names, including Sedna. When she was a mortal girl, Sedna's father tried to kill her by chopping off her fingers as she clung to the side of the boat during a storm. She sank to the bottom of the sea, where she still lives. Her fingers became sea mammals: seals, walrus and whales.

Because she has no fingers, Sedna cannot comb her hair, and sea mammals get tangled up in it. When this happens, the hunting fails and people starve. The shaman or angogoq will then journey in a trance to the bottom of the sea and comb her hair, freeing the animals.

The shaman brings his drum and an assistant. They sit, and he drums. His soul goes out. He travels to the sea-bed. Some woman lives down there. She has food. She keeps the animals. Maybe she'll help them when the shaman has visited. He tells the wind's spirit, "The people are hungry! Tikigaq (a village in north Alaska) needs whale meat!"

Asatchaq, in Ancient Land: Sacred Whale, by Tom Lowenstein, p. 148

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