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The moon-god

All Inuits have a moon-god, sometimes called Aningan, except in Alaska where Sedna is unknown, who reigns in a solitary state as an uncontested master. He has as his sister, the sun-goddess, who plays an insignificant part and is not concerned with the affairs of men. Like Sedna these two were created by humans, and are social outcasts after having committed the greatest criminal of all, incest, he deliberately and she involuntarily. After recognizing her brother, she cuts off her breasts and throws them in his face saying, "Eat them, since you love me so!" Revolving around the tent she slowly rises into the air being pursued by her brother. Their torches become the sun and moon, although it is believed these heavenly bodies previously existed and the god and goddess just took possession of them.

The man in the moon possesses wider powers than Sedna and uses them less ferociously. He directs natural phenomena: tides, storms, eclipses, and earthquakes, and at his discretion the disposition of wild game and fowl. His abode, similar to Sedna's, has a great pool for sea-mammals, plus pigeon-hole for filing the souls of terrestrial animals. He warns the orphan who takes refuge with him not to forget to pay him homage in the future when there is a scarcity of food because he controls everything. He emphasizes this by enumerating, "I mean the whale, the white whale, walrus, caribou, every animal in the world." Also like Sedna, he watches over human behavior. Impurities go up to him, not down like to her, not as dirt but as pungent smoke, which hurts his eyes and angers him. His eyes are cleansed by miniature seas. The god lets bountiful food be in clean water symbolizing clear conscience of men. During bad hunting seasons, the Alaskan shaman does not go down to Sedna like his brothers in Canada and Greenland, but up to the moon accompanied by his subordinate spirits, the Tunrat, on a perilous journey.

The moon-god appears to have no malevolence toward men like Sedna has. The Iglulik say he wards off her anger although his powers decrease in areas where her presence is respected. He is admired as a great huntsman whose skills and luck are sought after.

In opposition to Sedna, he is a god of fertility. Pregnant Iglulik women are strictly forbidden to touch any part of the seal the animal of the goddess. The spirit of the moon sometimes takes women to his home to make them fertile. A woman dying during childbirth goes immediately to the Land of the Moon, not having to go to Adlivun. Women wanting to become pregnant pray to the moon, but those fearing pregnancy must avoid moonbeams.

The moon-god is protector of orphans and the disinherited. He makes the child-who-could-not-grow up vomit up the impurities that he has swallowed and turns him into a prodigious fighter. He will not allow an orphan to suffer; he abducts him, steals the stepmother's soul, and gives it to the orphan so he may destroy it. He looks after humanity, creatures, and the seas for their well being or destruction. But he is never feared by humanity because they eagerly look forward going to his pleasant realm of the Land of the Moon.

Sometimes the living are taken to his realm. They are snatched away, with or without their consent, and taken on a sledge pulled four black-headed dogs. There they are shown into the house where the god and goddess live along side each other in their own separate quarters. Intense brilliance and heat come from the sun-goddess' quarters. Beyond, in a great village, the souls of the dead engage in various sports, and come to welcome the living stranger; others are seated on a bench. The spirit of the moon displaying hospitality offers the stranger food, but the latter is justifiably afraid that if he accepts it he will not be able to return to his own kind again. The stranger goes into a peculiar fear of this ferocious companion of the spirit of the moon with a curved knife, the ulu, with which she will slit open his stomach, and devour his entrails once she has made him laugh. So the stranger prefers to take flight and return home where he must tell of his adventure or the spirit of the moon will withhold his soul and life. But the sojourn in the Land of Day on the moon seems so pleasant that those having hopes of reaching it hardly fear death. Suicide is a temptation which the spirit of the moon encourages. It is believed that the elect above live a life of hunting and endless sports, free from cold and hunger as they wait reincarnation, which is also a task of the spirit of the moon. During the times that he is not visible in the sky, he is busy bringing souls back to earth to begin a new life, sometimes initially in the guises of animals. A.G.H.


Grimal, Pierre, Larousse World Mythology, Secaucus, New Jersey, Chartwell Books, 1965, p. 444

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