I think over again my small adventures, my fears,
These small ones that seemed so big.
For all the vital things I had to get and to reach.
And yet there is only one great thing,
The only thing.
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.
— Inuit song
With Euphrosyne as our guide, we move deeper into the harvest and ancestor festival season. In many traditions in the Arctic regions — from Greenland, to Siberia, to the Arctic coasts of North America, today is celebrated as the birth of the Goddess Sedna, the Inuit Goddess of both the sea and the Underworld. In Greenland, She is known as Arnarquagsag and She is also called Nerivik in Alaska. It is in Sedna’s honor that one of the two recently discovered planets (some would call it a planetoid, not a true planet) beyond Pluto has been named.
Sedna is usually pictured in Inuit soapstone carvings as being fish from the waist down, and above the waist, She is a human with long, flowing hair. But Sedna is no mermaid. As Goddess of the ocean, She is capricious and dangerous. No longer youthful, She is the Old Woman of the sea. It is Her occasional anger with humans which brings about violent storms and destructive winds.
The legend of how Sedna became a sea Goddess is told throughout the Arctic. The story varies from one region to the next. However, in all versions, it is a tragic one in which, as a young human woman, She is betrayed, first by the man who tricked Her into marrying him, and then by Her own father, who chopped off Her fingers as She clung to his kayak when he threw Her into the sea to Her death.
But She did not die. Sedna sank to the bottom of the ocean and there became a powerful spirit who dwells on the ocean floor and who is not always very pleased with humanity.
As the sea Goddess, Sedna has dominion over Her creatures and controls the availability of seal, walrus, fish, whale, and other sea animals to Inuit hunters. It is Sedna who sets strict rules and taboos about the proper way to treat the animals of the hunt which the Inuit require for survival. This includes proper treatment of the animals’ spirit when killed for food. If She feels the rules have been broken, or if the humans have in some other way offended Her, She cuts off the supply of food.
When this happens the Inuit tribal shaman is required to take a shaman’s journey to the bottom of the ocean to speak to the Goddess. The shaman will often transform into a fish and then he or she will swim down to the bottom of the ocean to appease Sedna. Often, the shaman will comb the tangles out of Sedna’s hair and put it into braids, since, fingerless, She is unable to. As innocuous as this sounds, because Sedna is so volatile and often hostile, this is considered the most dangerous journey an Inuit shaman can ever be called upon to make.
Today, I invite you to consider both points of view. In what ways have the painful incidents in your life taught you about your own Divine nature? How has personal loss or suffering helped you set your own personal code of ethical conduct? In what ways can your anger be of benefit or harm?
And, from the shaman’s perspective, under what circumstances, if any, can you imagine that you would be willing to face danger and even risk your life for the greater good? What would that look like to you?