The Inuit goddess Sedna 's story begins with a common mythological theme—a beautiful young woman who is not impressed by any of her multiple suitors. Sedna's father, a widower, was constantly trying to marry her off, but she would have none of it.
One fateful day a sea bird (a fulmar) promised to take her away to his “comfortable, luxurious” home. The impulsive young girl eloped with the fulmar.
The “veritable palace” he had described turned out to be a filthy, smelly nest. And, to make matters worse, her new husband treated her like a slave. Sedna begged her father to come and take her back home, and he agreed.
But as they were heading across the waters, a flock of fulmars surrounded the boat. The incessant flapping of their wings caused a tremendous storm to arise and their small vessel was being tossed from side to side.
Fearing for his own safety, Sedna's father threw her into the ocean to appease the angry birds. When Sedna tried to climb back into the boat, he cut off her fingers. As she struggled to use her mutilated hands to try again, he cut off her hands and threw her and her appendages into the water.
As she sank to the bottom of the ocean, her dismembered limbs grew into fish, seals, whales, and all of the other sea mammals.
She descended to Adlivum (the Inuit Land of the Dead) where she now rules. As Queen of the Adlivum, Sedna is responsible for sending food to the hunters. To ensure that she continues to feed the people, shamans must descend through many horrifying places to reach Sedna and soothe her.
The route is dangerous and terrifying. The shamans have to pass through countless dead souls, an abyss where an icy wheel turns slowly and perpetually, then past a cauldron full of boiling seals, and finally past the horrible dog that guards the knife-thin passageway into her home.
When shaman visit her, they massage Sedna's aching limbs and comb her hair. Only when she is properly comforted will Sedna permit the shaman to return to the people and inform them that she will send the animals to be hunted so that they will not face starvation.
Sedna is the Mistress of Life and Death to the Inuit people because it is she who provides for them. If she is not respected she begins to feel her hands sear with pain and, in her misery, sends sickness, storms, and starvation to punish the humans.
Only when someone is willing to brave the voyage to her home and assuage her pain will she let the animals return to be hunted. But when people treat her with respect and concern, they receive her blessings.
Why was the goddess Sedna chosen for this honor?
It would be nice to think that, while scientists are venturing farther into the mysterious outer regions of our solar system, equal emphasis is being given to diving into the depths of the human psyche.
The goddess Sedna teaches us that we must delve into the dark, cold places that we fear most if we are to find the riches that rest there.
Sedna reminds us that, in spite of all our infirmities (and foolish mistakes), we are still worthy of love and respect and have every right to expect, and even demand, that others treat us well.
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