Last night as I was reading Patricia Monaghan’s “The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines: Volume Two,” I came across a Goddess who I felt a strangely powerful resonance with: the Inuit sea Goddess Sedna. She is the most powerful divinity in the Inuit pantheon and every Inuit tribe has a slightly different take on Her tragic story.
Sedna was born as a human, an Inuit woman. She grew up to become a beautiful young woman and was pursued by many suitors, but refused to marry any of them. Finally, a bird spirit came to her proposing marriage, promising a life of luxury and ease. Sedna finally accepts his proposal, but the bird spirit was a trickster and did not tell the full truth about how a married life with him would be. Rather than a warm, comfortable abode, he whisks her away to his uncomfortable, stinky nest on the side of a cliff. Marriage to a bird is not at all what Sedna believed it would be, and she deeply regretted her poor choice in spouse. A year later, Sedna’s father, Anguta, comes to visit, and she pours out all her woes to him. In some versions, her father kills the bird spirit, in others he convinces her to leave her husband and follow him back to her home land. Either way, the other bird spirits were not about to allow Sedna and her father to leave unscathed. The bird spirits catch up to the fleeing pair and create a deadly storm. Anguta, afraid for his own life, throws Sedna overboard as a living sacrifice to appease the bird spirits.
Desperate to live, Sedna grasps onto the side of the kayak with her fingers, pleading for her life, but Anguta would have none of it and cuts off her fingers. She continues to try to hang onto the side of the kayak, first with her hands and then with her arms. He cuts off her arms, and shoves an oar into her eye. Sedna, unable to hold onto the side of the kayak, sinks to the bottom of the sea.
Somehow, instead of dying from drowning and severe hemorrhaging as a mortal would, She emerges from this traumatic experience as an immortal sea goddess, Her legs becoming a fish tail and Her amputated limbs becoming various marine animals of the Arctic sea. She builds a palace of whale ribs and stone, and becomes queen of the deep sea world, Adlivun.
Sedna’s marine creatures were the Inuit’s staple food. Without Her blessing, the marine animals would not come close enough to the surface to be hunted or fished. Although she had been wronged by humankind, she was willing to provide the people with food as long as they observed Her set of rules and taboos. For three days after their deaths, the souls of Her animals would remain with their bodies, watching for violations of Her rules. If Her rules and taboos are broken and She is not respected by mankind, She aches in pain and sends curses of storms and starvation on the people. To soothe and comfort Sedna, a brave shaman must visit Sedna’s home at the bottom of the sea, where he faces many obstacles, including a cauldron of boiling seals and a ferocious guard dog protecting the entrance to Her palace.
In the Filianic tradition, Sedna is associated with Sai Rhavë, who reigns as the discipline that maintains the natural order, and is associated with qualities such as steadfastness, reliability, and responsibility. More on the Janyati, including Sai Rhavë, may be found here:
The story of Sedna calls to mind two major lessons. First, Sedna teaches that one must not be blinded by materialistic promises and make commitments before seeing the truth for one’s own eyes, so that one is not tricked as she was. Second, Sedna teaches the importance of following natural laws and orders (in Filianism, this stems from the three loves: love of Dea, love of true self, and love of all creatures) at least to the best of our abilities. When we do not follow what is true, but stumble around in our lives doing whatever we please regardless of its consequences, we will reap the ill that we sow.
Patricia Monaghan, “The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines: Volume Two” (book)