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The heART of Ritual


Dreaming the Dark: 'Sedna', the Siren and the Selkie (Part 4)

Art Credit: Sedna, by Anthony Galbraith

This fourth installment discusses Lilith as experienced by the indigenous peoples of the Arctic Circle. To the Inuits, she is known as 'Sedna'.

Irrelevant of the name each culture associates with this energy, all of the characters referred to in different cultures are psychopomps relating to the dark aspect of the shadow side. That is to say, they are characters that destroy (illusion), transform, are associated with the 'underworld', and are pretty much, the 'ferry-woman' or escort of this journey - a transition which in essence gifts infinite potential and growth once you face your own shadow aspects and fears. The initiation that is commonly referred to as the dark night of the Soul. I like to refer to grief work as trauma ‘composting’, because that is exactly what we do - it is only through the dying and decaying away of the old, and fully receiving the ‘medicine of the experience’ that the new can be born, and only through releasing and letting go of old pain, fears, and experiences can we be present and make space for new more loved filled adventures in life.

So let’s look at this within the context of the element of water, keeping in mind that this is a female element and principle that relates to the moon, subconscious self, emotional body, and more, and how we are taught to fear the deep! This particular story carries a motif that is found in several indigenous cultures worldwide, including Ireland.


Far to the north, in the stark, icy lands of tundra and solitude, where the northern lights shimmer their magic across the sky and where days and nights can last for months at a time, live the rugged and resourceful Inuit peoples. The word "Inuit" is often translated simply as "the People;" however the singular form, "inua," is the word for "soul" or "spirit," giving it a far richer meaning.

Living in such a challenging and unforgiving environment results in the Inuit coming to believe in some very challenging and unforgiving inua (or gods and goddesses), especially when it comes to keeping fed and prosperous. To make certain that their way of life continued, the Inuit wearily prayed to Sedna, Goddess of the animals of the Sea, who, as it turns out, is extremely 'temperamental, angry, and merciless' if not satisfied with the quality of worship given.

The Inuit were terrified of Sedna's wrath and she was greatly feared across the miles of ice and rock. Offerings were made to her in a sometimes-futile effort to temporarily win her over, and ensure there was plentiful hunting and fishing. But how did Sedna get such a reputation? Her legend explains a good deal:

Once, ages ago, in a remote Inuit community far up in the Arctic, there lived a young, bright woman named Sedna. She lived happily with her mother and father, both of whom she loved very much and from whom she learned all the ways of her people. For Sedna, life was a very content situation. Her father was a skilled hunter and so he provided very well for his family, bringing in seal meat and furs so that Sedna and her mother always had plenty of food and warm furs to wear. She liked the comfort of her parent's home and as she grew into her teenage years, she saw no reason to find a young man to live with; she outright refused to marry, much to parents' distress. She was attractive, smart and skilled, and many young Inuit men desired Sedna for a wife. Many of them came directly to ask her parents for permission to have her hand in marriage, but Sedna refused them all. Even when her parents put their feet down and insisted it was time for her to marry she refused to follow tradition and obey them.

This continued on for quite a long amount of time, until one day, a stranger from outside the community, a hunter, came to call on Sedna. This strange man promised Sedna that he would provide her with plenty of food to eat and furs for clothes and blankets and that he would give her every comfort that her parents did. And he was fairly good looking in Sedna's eyes. After some significant extended conversation, Sedna agreed to marry him. After they were married by the local elder shaman, he took her away from her parents and to his distant island. Sedna was beginning to believe that perhaps this whole "marriage" thing wasn't as bad as she thought it would be, until her new husband made a revelation. Once on his island, he revealed to her that he was not really a man at all, but a bird dressed up as a man; a kokksaut, or petrel (bird)-spirit who could transform himself into a bird or man any time he felt like doing so.

Sedna was at first dumbstruck, then became blood-boiling furious. Her "husband" had lied to her and tricked her into a life away from everyone and everything she knew. Yet she was trapped there and had to make the best of it, bird-man for a husband or not. To make things even worse, she soon found out that he was wasn't even a good hunter. Life went on however, even though Sedna was beyond unhappy.

In the meantime, Sedna's father, who had missed his daughter in a major way, decided to load up his kayak and paddle his way across the long distances to see Sedna in her new home on the kokksaut's island. When he arrived, he did not find what he expected to find; a happy young bride and her successful hunter-husband. Instead, he found his beautiful daughter weeping, red-eyed and sorrowful. She told her father the story about what had happened and how her husband had tricked her, lying to one and all, keeping her there on the lonely island. Sedna's father wasted no time; the two got into the kayak and he began paddling furiously for home while Sedna's husband was out fishing.

Returning and finding his wife missing, the petrel-man transformed into his bird form and took to the air to search for her. It didn't take long with a bird's-eye view. From the sky, the birdman's raspy cawing voice demanded that the father return his wife, but that only made the old man paddle faster. His anger reaching the end, the kokksaut began flapping his huge wings, summoning a monstrous storm over the waters. The waves began to reach massive sizes, the freezing water crashing down upon and around the tiny kayak, chilling both Sedna and her father to the bone despite their heavy clothing. The petrel-man's fury was beyond natural and it had the two in it's wild grip.

In complete horror and blind panic at having offended the bird-spirit, Sedna's father came to the bizarre conclusion that to save himself for stealing the spirit's wife (even if it was his daughter) he must give Sedna up as a sacrifice. So, hating himself, he grabbed his thrashing daughter around her waist and flung her into the raging sea. Gasping and sputtering in the freezing water and with complete desperation, Sedna grasped the slippery side of the kayak, pleading with her father, not quite believing that he would do such a thing to her. She held tight to the boat, but her father, now in complete insanity, took out his sharp ice-cutting ax and took off Sedna's fingers up to the first knuckles. Blood spraying everywhere, Sedna still would not give up and grasped the boat with her good hand. Again, her father, so eager to protect himself from the raging bird-spirit, mutilated and slashed and cut her other hand. At that last blow, Sedna weakened and slid beneath the waves, blood welling up on the water's surface.

Within seconds, the storm died down and the waves returned to normal; the bird-man had disappeared from sight. The old man, horrified at what he had done, made camp on an ice flow for the night, crying himself to sleep over the loss of his daughter in his seal-skin tent.

"From her fingers came life..."

Later that night, the father's tent was swept away by a rare, mysterious high tide that splashed over the ice flow, taking him down into the same cold depths that he had sent Sedna to, and he joined his daughter deep beneath the sea. However, Sedna was not dead; rather through the powers of the supernatural, she began to transform into something more than a mere human girl. Her mutilated fingers, which her father had cut off, became the fish, seals, walruses, and whales. Sedna sank to the bottom of the dark ocean and once there, became an extremely powerful spirit with the head and torso of a woman and the tail of a fish. Her home would forevermore be on the ocean floor, the realm of Adlivin, surrounded by the sea animals that her fingers had given life to. She built for herself an underwater house made from whale bones and stones and from then on controlled all of the animals of the sea.

Art Credit: unknown

The Inuit who have relied on these animals still try to maintain a good relationship with Sedna, so that she will continue to allow her animals to make themselves available to the hunters for the food their society needs. But Sedna is no easy goddess to gain the favor of; she remains bitter from her betrayals, both by her husband and by her own father, and so the Inuit have certain taboos that they must follow to keep the goddess happy. One of these taboos says that when a seal is killed by a hunter it must be given a drink of fresh water, not salt water, before the final blow of death.

It as said that if the hunters did not catch anything for a long time, the Inuit shaman would transform himself into a fish. In this new form, he or she would swim down to the very bottom of the ocean to give praise and sacrifice to Sedna. As a great favor to the goddess, the shaman would comb the tangles out of Sedna's hair and put it into braids, because after her fingers were lost, it made it impossible for her to do the task by herself. According to the legend, this whole ordeal makes Sedna happy and soothes her anger. Once made happy, she then would allow her animals to make themselves available to the hunters. The animals, sharing a special relationship with the humans, and with Sedna's blessings, did not mind giving themselves up to provide food, clothes, and shelter for the Inuit. Without proper sacrifice, however, Sedna would not be merciful to the Inuit, sending great waves to crash upon their shores and sink their kayaks, and might even send the creatures of the sea to attack the boats of the hunters when they are out to sea…

Sedna is widely worshipped among the Inuit peoples of the polar regions and has many forms and names: Ai-Willi-Ay-O or Aiviliajog; Kannakapfaluk, Arnakapfaluk ("Big Bad Woman") of the Copper Inuit; Idiragijenget for the Central Inuit. She is called Ikalu Nappa in Her form as half-woman, half-fish; Meghetaghna in Siberia; Nerchevik in Labrador; and Nerrivik ("Food Dish") or Nivikkaa ("Woman Thrown Backward Over The Edge") in Greenland. For the Iglulik Inuit of Baffin Island She is Uiniyumayuituq or Unigumisuitok, "The One Who Did Not Want a Husband."

Please take a moment to consider this legend and character within the context of Lilith, Morrigan, Kali, the Banshee and the other names associated with this energy. It may be dressed up like a Grimms fairytale told to keep children on the straight and narrow, or a murder ballad of olde, however this folk story is about the dark night of the soul, the journey into the deepest darkest crevices of BEing (aka the underworld), death/surrender, and coming out the other side, birthed new. This is the common theme throughout these Lilith stories.

A reminder too on how Sedna is associated with water (aka the emotional body and the element ruled by the moon). In psychology and dream analysis water refers to the subconscious and shadow aspects.

In closing, as a throwback to Part 1 where I mention that Lilith is referenced as a Siren and Selkie in Irish, Icelandic, Scottish, and Faroese folklore - the story of Sedna and the 'mermaid' myths fits with this perfectly. Consider even Disney's 'Ariel', the famous cartoon mermaid, dressed in green and with red hair...exactly how the more 'beautiful and acceptable' aspect of 'Lilith' is portrayed throughout historical documents. Ariel is a watered down tamed version of Lilith, the Selkie, Siren and Sedna, hidden in plain sight.

© 2017 The heART of Ritual. All rights reserved.

Art Credit: Unknown


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