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Sedna


Sedna is an Inuit mythical sea-goddess who is known by different names in various regions. The main story surrounding Sedna concern severed fingered which produce sea mammals. There are many versions of the story but most mention her refusal to marry so she became referred to as "She who refused to marry." In many tales she escapes from the ship that she is on after she refuses to marry after her fingers are severed, or she finally marries an animal or an object. She dwells on the sea bottom keeping strict guard over all that live there. Thus she fits both categories: the transgressors and that of the persecuted. She is not just rejected by the Inuits but by all societies who reject the single person, the celibate, as abnormal. According to some versions her monstrous unions produced the many races on earth.

The following Inuit tale of Sedina seems to be typical, another example of the Earth Mother. There once were two giants of unknown origin who lived by hunting and fishing, and bore a girl child. She rapidly grew up with a terrifying inclination for seizing onto flesh and eating it. Even for a giant child she had a huge appetite. One night she started eating her parent's limbs as they slept. When waking up horrified the seized their daughter and took her in an umiak (a large skin-covered boat for hunting whales) and took her far out to sea. There they began cutting her fingers off. As the fingers fell into the sea they changed into whales, seals, and shoals of fish. This caused her giants parents to be even more frightened, so they then threw their daughter into the sea and paddled home as fast as they could. In this tale the parents lived to be very old, and finally feel asleep and froze to death which was common among the Inuit people.

The demon-girl living under the sea did not die but became Sedna, the mother, a sea-goddess, of all sea creatures. She caused the storms and the migration of her myriads of children. The Inuit people do not believe they conceived Sedna, but believe that she was always there, a part of their world.

In most versions of the legend Sedna is depicted as ugly, such as a giant child. However, she acts neither arbitrarily nor directly, but is usually rooted to her stone dwelling. She is depicted as huge, voracious, and impotent with a wild temper. Her sinister appearance would scare away or kill any ordinary man. It is only the shaman who can withstand the sight of her. She keeps watch over her sea brood with her left eye as they swim beneath her lamp in a large pool or sea. Where her right eye should be, in some versions, there is black hair symbolizing the sins of men and resembling excrement.

Her companions and helpmates are a dwarf, frequently her father or sometimes a child, and an armless woman with whom she shares her husband, a scorpion. In some version her father only has one eye and one right arm with a three-fingered hand with which he seizes the dying; his appearance signals death.

Sedna does not look favorably upon humans. She punishes humans indirectly, but efficiently. Her withholding of wild game can bring on absolute famine. Such consequences are caused by infringements of Sedna's rules, nature's rules. This applies to women, especially those having miscarriages and secret abortions. The fault lies not in the act itself, but in the secrecy in which it was done. An impure woman affects those around her. Such rules also apply to the hunter; this is true of one who does not kill properly, but damages the animal. Some say she actually feels the physical pain when the sea-animal is separated from her body, thus the hunter contaminates himself and is liable for her scorn. In other versions of this legend the misfortunes which Sedna gives as her punishments are given by her father or other spirits.

Since Sedna is held stationary in the sea it is difficult for some to imagine how she could have control over terrestrial animal life. It is said she hated reindeer. In the language of spirits and shamans seals are called "gifts" (of Sedna) caribous are "fleas of the earth"; their pelts must be cured and their meat eaten at different times. A.G.H.


Sources:

Burland, Cottie. North American Indian Mythology. "Library of the World's Myths and Legends." {Revised by Marion Wood) New York. Peter Bedrick Books. 1965. p. 18
Grimal, Pierre, Larousse World Mythology, Secaucus, New Jersey, Chartwell Books, 1965, pp. 442-443


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