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Goddess Sedna

Sedna the Inuit Goddess of the Sea

Sedna lived with her mother and father in the arctic.  She was provided for by her father with food to eat and clothes to wear.

Sedna grew up and became a beautiful young woman and was pursued by many suitors.  Sedna would marry none of them and as punishment was forced by her father to marry a dog.

Sedna was very unhappy, which made her father feel sorry for forcing her to marry a dog and to free Sedna from the marriage he drowned her dog husband. .  Sedna by this time had children, but with her husband dead was unable to support her children and herself. Sedna sent her children away and went back to live with her father.

One day Sedna was visited by a man who promised to look after her in luxury.  Sedna agreed to marry the man who took her to his island home. There seems to be no reference to Sedna’s children after this.

This marriage too was not a happy one. Sedna discovered she had been tricked, by a man who was in fact a bird spirit, and her home was now among the bird people. Not in a luxury home that she had been promised but a birds nest on a cliff, with raw fish to eat for food. Sedna spent her time in sorrow and crying for her father.

Sedna’s father heard his daughter’s cries through the icy arctic winds and decided to visit her on the bird island.   He found her distraught and unhappy, he persuaded Sedna to leave with him. So when Sedna’s husband had gone out, Sedna sneaked away with her father in his kayak.  When the birdman came home to find Sedna gone he was angry and upset.   The birdman and his relatives went out in pursuit of Sedna and to bring her back to their island.  

When they found Sedna in her fathers boat the bird people flapped their wings to stir up a storm.   Fearful of losing his life, Sedna’s father tried to give his daughter back to her husband and threw Sedna into the sea.   Sedna, not wishing to go back to her husband and also worried that she would drown clung onto the sides of her father’s boat. 

Sedna’s father fearing Sedna would capsize the boat by clinging to it and drown him chopped at Sedna’s frozen fingers and hands with his oar effectively severing Sedna’s fingers.  Unable to hold onto the boat with no fingers Sedna sank to the bottom of the sea.  Her fingers were transformed into the different creatures of the sea and her legs became a fish tail and thus Sedna became the Goddess of the Sea.

Seeing that his pursuit had become futile, and his wife was now at the bottom of the sea, Sedna’s husband and his family flew away leaving Sedna’s father alone.  He managed to make his way to the shore but while he was asleep a huge wave overcame him and drowned him.

This is how Sedna came to live at the bottom of the sea. Sedna’s father also resides at the bottom of the sea along with her first husband the dog. Sedna’s father brings her the dead bodies of drowned sailors.

It is said that Sedna’s anger and fury at man is what causes the storms and violent seas in the arctic.  To sooth Sedna and to ensure she provides the animals for food for the Inuit, Shamans must visit Sedna’s home at the bottom of the sea. The route is very dangerous and many obstacles have to be overcome, including the dog, Sedna’s first husband, who guards a narrow passageway preventing anyone reaching Sedna’s icy home.

The following is a passage from Grey Eagle, A Native American Storyteller

"Sedna is cold and naked, since without fingers she can't sew herself clothes. She is covered with a tangle of hair that sometimes crawls with crabs she can't comb out. And it’s also said that broken taboos and sins against nature of the people who live in the above world collect on Sedna's body. When the accumulation is too great, Sedna sobs in sorrow. And all the sea creatures leave the shore, to gather by her door to comfort her. The people know then that Sedna is suffering, and their own suffering will soon come to pass as well. They know it's time to gather with their Shaman, and publicly confess their broken taboos, their sins.

The men, remembering the name of Sedna’s father, do a dance of contrition, and all the people send Sedna their prayers. Slowly dancing, they sing a song of remorse for the sins done by man to women, to earth, and to her children. And at last, their shaman purifies herself to take the dangerous journey to the underwater world where Sedna lives. She gathers fine sand with which she lovingly cleanses the filth from Sedna’s body. She sings while tenderly picking the crabs from Sedna’s hair. And she offers Sedna the confessions of those above, repeating their prayers of love and respect, their promises to change their life stories and to be kind to each other, and all other creatures.

Sedna is comforted, and sends a prayer to Creator, asking Creator to forgive the people for the ways they have become out of balance. Her sobbing is no longer heard in the waves, in the winds. The sea animals end their vigil, and swim away to offer themselves again as food. She is generous. Knowing this of Sedna, the Inuit are inspired to return Sedna’s gift by making better life stories, and by treating their relations with love and respect."

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