Sedna (Nuliajuk)

Filed Under: Arctic, Folk Tales

The legend of Sedna (or Taleelayo, or Nuliajuk) is known throughout the Arctic. She is the goddess of the sea and marine animals in Inuit mythology and is the most powerful being in Inuit mythology, she also known as the Mother of the Sea or Mistress of the Sea. The story of Sedna, which is a creation myth, describes how she came to rule over Adlivun, the Inuit underworld.

More than one version of the Sedna legend exists.

In one such legend Sedna lived at the bottom of the sea and controlled the sea mammals. Some say that she had a great dog that guarded her house.

In the oral tradition, Sedna was originally a young girl who refused to marry. In a rage, her father forced her to marry a dog. After seeing that what he had done was wrong, he drowned the dog. That is how the dog ended up under the sea. This left Sedna’s children without a father. One day, a bird disguised as a man wanted to marry Sedna. After marrying him, Sedna discovered her new husband wasn’t a man after all. Sedna’s father tried to help her escape in a boat, but her husband flapped his wings and overturned the boat. As she grasped the boat’s side, Sedna’s fingers got cut off. The fingers turned into the different mammals of the sea like the seal, whale and walrus. Today, the Inuit say Sedna lives with her first husband, the dog, under the sea. Her father drifted away in the boat and whenever human beings do wrong he returns to punish them.

Other versions of the legend depict Sedna as a beautiful maiden who rejects marriage proposals from the hunters of her village. When an unknown hunter appears Sedna’s father agrees to give her to him as wife in return for fish. Sedna’s father gives Sedna a sleeping potion and gives her to the hunter who takes her to a large nest on a cliff, revealing his true form: a great bird-spirit (variously described as a raven, a fulmar or a petrel-spirit). She wakes surrounded by birds. Her father attempts to rescue her, but the bird-spirit becomes angry, causing a great storm. In desperation, Sedna’s father throws her into the raging sea. Attempting to cling to the kayak, her hands freeze and her fingers fall off becoming the creatures of the sea. She falls to the bottom of the sea and grows a fish tail.

These numerous tales each tell of different ways that Sedna died, but in most of the stories her father attempts to rescue her in his kayak which results in her fingers being chopped off as she falls into the sea.

Sedna is generally considered to be a vengeful goddess who must be placated before she will release the animals from the depths of the ocean so that hunters might catch them.

Sources: Wikipedia & Franklandproject