Sedna

Sedna ("the one down there") was once a beautiful Eskimo woman who lived with her father. None of the local suitors appealed to her, and she refused to marry until a fulmar (a type of bird) from across the sea promised to take her to his home of luxury. When she found she had been deceived and was ill-treated, she begged her father to take her home. As the two were crossing the water, a flock of fulmars caused a huge storm to arise. To save his own life, Senda's father threw her into the ocean. As she clung to the boat, he chopped off her fingers, which turned into whales, seals, and all the mammals of the sea. Sedna descended to Adlivum, the Eskimo underworld, where she now rules the dead. To ensure that she will continue to send food to hunters, shamans descent to visit her, comb her hair, and massage her mutilated hands. Sedna is a reminder of the nourishing gifts that are to be found deep in the dark, cold places that we most fear.

Sedna, the source of all nourishment, is one of the best-known figures in central Eskimo mythology. As a young woman Sedna married a man/sea-bird who mistreated her. When her father came to take her home, the husband raised a threatening storm. To save his own life, her father threw Sedna overboard. When she tried to re-enter the boat, he used his axe to chop off her fingers, which transformed into seals, whales and all the creatures of the sea. Sedna sank to the bottom of the sea, where she serves as ruler of the souls of the dead. In times of need she is summoned from the sea by an Angakok (shaman or shamaness), who plaits and combs her hair. In return, she sends seals and whales to feed the people.

Sedna represents the creative force of the sea and the sea's nourishing gifts. When portrayed as somewhat frightening, she reflects our own fear of the depths she inhabits. She nourishes things seen and unseen.


Rhiannon: Welsh
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Ⓒ The Susan Eleanor Boulet Trust (illustration)
Ⓒ Text copyright Michael Babcock