“If we allow a story to enter into us, we also enter the psychic ground held in that tale. A story reads us as much as we read it. As the Aboriginal hunters of Australia say, “You can’t hunt in the tribal lands until the country knows you!” By entering the symbolic scene that compels us the most, the story becomes embodied and the depths of the human soul can open.”
~ Michael Meade.
AN INUIT CREATION STORY
I bring to you an Inuit old story with a new possibility; it is an Inuit tale about a shaman and a goddess.
Long ago and yesterday, in the far regions of the Arctic, there lived on a solitary shore a fisherman and his young, handsome daughter, Sedna. His wife had been dead some time, and the two lived a quiet and steady life. From time to time, local hunters would come to woo Sedna, but she wanted no husband. She was head-strong, proud and haughty. One day, a young, handsome and mysterious man appeared, seemingly carried by the wind across the ocean. In earnest, he charmed Sedna with promises of comfort and a sweet easy life. He whispered of security, a safe home with comforting fires and warm furs to keep the harsh winters at bay. Food would be plentiful; there would be friends and family to keep her entertained and the pleasure of an attentive husband. Sedna could not resist such entreaties and went with the man far across the sea.
The groom, however, turned out to be a trickster, a Fulmar, a bird of the mighty wind. Sedna had been painfully and shamefully deceived. Her new home was made of driftwood and fish-skins perched high on a cliff ledge. Harsh sea ice and bitter winds howled and blew through it. There were no warm furs or nourishing food, no welcoming friends. Stark loneliness, frigid cold seeped into her young bones. Alone and devastated, Sedna wandered in misery; she mourned for her old life. Woefully, she cried across the waters to her father: “Aja, oh father, if you knew my suffering and how wretched I am, you would come to me, and you would hurry right away in your boat over the waters. I am a stranger here, and the birds are unkind to me; cold winds roar around my bed and the food is poor and miserable. Come fetch me.“
And so, it was, when the warmer winds came, and the ocean waters were calm, the old man took his boat and rowed across the seas in search of his daughter.
When father and daughter were reunited, she whimpered, spoke of regret and shame, of her terrible ordeal, how she had been misled, trapped and betrayed by her lover. Her father listened intently. A fierce anger grew inside him and took root in his heart. He confronted the bird husband and, in a fit of rage, killed him. In fear, both father and daughter fled the island and headed homeward.
When the bird flock returned from their hunt and found their companion dead and his young wife gone, they flew across the seas in search of answers. They cried out with mournful voices to Sila, the wind spirit. After some time, they spied the father and daughter fleeing in a boat. Realizing what had happened, the Fulmar flock stirred up a great and fierce storm over the boat by beating their stiff wings over the waters. Father and daughter, terrified and fearful for their lives, rowed harder and harder but to no avail. The boat began to capsize.
In an effort to appease the birds, Sedna’s father threw her overboard. But the birds continued with their relentless pounding upon the waters. In desperation and fear of drowning, Sedna frantically clung to the side of the boat. Seeing no relief and in sheer terror, Sedna’s father took out his knife and swiped it across the joints of Sedna’s grasping fingers, slicing off the tips of her fingers which fell into the ocean. Sedna hung on, he continued hacking with his knife slashing joint after joint of her finger until her hands were stumps. No longer able to hold on to the boat, Sedna sank to the ocean floor. Her fingers became the sea animals: seals, fishes, whales walruses and sea lions. Sedna’s new home became the bottom of the ocean and she became a goddess—mistress of the ocean and mother to the sea creatures.
In Inuit tradition, Sedna and the shaman have an alliance. Sedna’s home is a dome-shaped hut that is protected by a wall with rolling boulders and a large, fierce dog. In times of storms and lack of fish to eat, a local shaman is called upon to visit Sedna. His job is to sing songs of magic to release the sea animals, to soothe Sedna’s wrath, to listen to her demands and to report back news to the people. The journey to Sedna’s home is perilous. The shaman’s soul travels under the ice and goes down deep into the shadowy depths. He must master difficult passages and boulders, and face down her ferocious dog. His approach into Sedna’s home is made with great care and trepidation and is always from a position behind her. She sits with her back to him, dimly lit by an oil lamp. At first, he combs her hair. It is long and matted, tangled with debris. It is filthy with lice and dirt from the dark matrix of broken taboos and transgressions that have drifted down from above. Sedna has no fingers, so she cannot tend or care for herself. It is the shaman who cares for her.
The state of Sedna’s hair is important, it reflects the state of affairs from the world above. As the shaman combs through the tangled mire, he listens to Sedna as she recounts in grave detail the violations and misdeeds of the human world. “Transgressions in the human or natural world were believed to be reflected in the spirit world.” (1) Inuit life was centered around many rules and restrictions and taboos, they were followed out of fear of the consequences and repercussions of disobeying them.
The story of Sedna was told to young Inuit children as a birth and creation story and as a cautionary tale. It taught the mystery of the birth of sea animals and the ferocity of the elements and highlighted the dangers of having fanciful ideas. “When (a girl) rejects all human suitors, (she) puts herself outside the protection of both the normal human world and the spirit world.” The Inuit also carried a pervasive “fear of being separated from family, community and the human world. “ (2).
MYTH AS A GUIDE FOR HEALING
To heal is to make whole and what is whole can have no missing parts that have been kept outside. ~ A Course in Miracles
It is generally considered that myths and fairy tales offer a diagnosis to a problem either on a personal, local, or collective level. Also embedded within the story is a solution, presented as an antidote, action to be taken, a healing method, or power/sovereignty. The myth of Sedna is a tale of warning that guards against the human tendencies of naivete, hubris, and pride. The antidote offered up is the presence and work of a shaman.
Sedna takes her place alongside other goddess figures that teach us about the journey of descent into the underworld. The Sumerian goddess Inanna, and the young Greek goddess Persephone are other myths that guide us into those dark realms. In these stories the goddess makes a descent to the underworld either by choice, abduction, or by unforeseen circumstance. Once the threshold from light into darkness has been crossed, the protagonist becomes captive to the influences and powers of the underworld and in the end, succumbs to its dynamics. Helpless to make her way back home, she requires help from above.
Sedna, unlike the other goddesses, has not yet returned home. She continues to be held in the depths and remains unhealed. Her helplessness prevails. Her story has not completed the full round of the feminine journey of life-death-rebirth-life.
TO RE-ENVISION A STORY IS TO SEED A NEW CONSCIOUSNESS
“Where there is not vision, the people perish” ~ Proverbs 29:18.
As the Sedna tale is currently told, it does not offer a method or practice that sustains healing for her or her people. There is no pathway to a higher consciousness, or image for a better world to come. What has been sustained is a co-dependent relationship between the above and below realms. The vision of a new image for this feminine power to evolve into fullness and participate in the field of time has not yet been fully developed. This is the ripening work that shamans, artists, poets, and the creative cultural and feminine movement(s) are in the throes of examining. What many seekers appear to be looking for is safety, certainty, healing, and spiritual growth. This myth can leave us frustrated, disenchanted, and disoriented.
Sedna deserves a more evolved outcome, one that brings forward a new image for healing the repressed, marginalized, and scapegoated feminine. A new resolve is required that can help us mitigate the power of the dark goddess and evolve the old, thwarted feminine principles, so that Sedna can become a living, vibrant image that informs us from a new position in consciousness.
To begin, we have to re-imagine her story as one with a sustainable healing solution, because that is what we seek in these tales and in dreams. The “study of fairy tales and myths has long shown the direct relationship of these special stories to human experience and to the human soul…. Fairy tales present images of the soul…. (they) are images that say a great deal on many levels” (3) A folktale should not be an end in itself but a story that reaches deeply into the human psyche and sparks the imagination of the storyteller and listener. To re-imagine a myth does not undo its power, nor does it deny how well it has served as a teaching guide and binding agent for the bygone society.
This story, along with other myths, has served its own time and provided insights into the factors and dynamics that shaped that period for a particular culture. To continue to hold this story intact without evolving its possible outcome(s) fossilizes the goddess into a frozen life below ground. As shamanic practitioners, it is imperative that we evolve our cultural stories to serve the health and well-being of the planet. Offering healthy support and building co-operative relationships with its powerful characters must be part of that.
As shamanic practitioners, we are caretakers and trustees of many layers of life and soul. Along with other creative pioneers, shamans are seen as the carriers and shapers of a new world vision. We are faced with many concerns—most essential is the threat to Gaia’s health and integrity. Seen through the lens of global climate change, we find ourselves overwhelmed : coral reefs are dying, forests are being decimated, arctic animals are losing the sea ice they call home. Climate change threatens our agriculture, health, air quality, water supply, infrastructure and more. We need help from the water gods and goddesses, those who know how to manage the changing landscapes, rhythms, and threats to our earth.
WAYS OF WORKING WITH MYTHS: GOING BEYOND WHAT WE KNOW
We might begin at the place where all things of great import begin: our imagination. When we open our doorways of curiosity and imagination, a new consciousness is invited into the world in present time. Some women who have heard her tale are holding the possibility that Sedna will be brought out of the depths and made available for everyday life in an integrated way, that her wisdom and knowledge of the deeper levels of the psyche become available as wisdom and intuition, instinct, and energy.
To begin this process, we can share her story with individuals and groups. A shamanic friend regularly hosts a community storytelling fire: we sit around the fire after dusk and share stories that have touched us in some mysterious way. It is very a powerful way to enter into liminal space. We listen and learn and share images that have been invoked within us.
Invite participants to see how the story relates to their personal life and extend the story lines beyond the current ending, one towards a new image of Sedna, one that gives Sedna a role as a powerful life-giving autonomous goddess. Healing unresolved sorrows and the wounded places that have been left unattended. This story is rich with opportunity for healing. The relationship between Sedna and her father, the lack of a mother figure to guide her, and her relationship to her lover are all left unacknowledged.
One of my mentors, Dr. Mark Brady, reminds me often “that healing is always wanting to happen, always seeking opportunity.” This story is one that demonstrates opportunity for healing all the aspects and characters of this drama. As parents, soul midwives, and healers, we might take a parental role with the young Sedna, to nurture and share with her the feminine values and understandings of our world. A colleague shared this: “I send healing to Sedna and her father for the terrible event that separated them, for the fear and terror for self-preservation that her father must have felt to lead him to push her overboard and chop off her fingers and hands, and for the horror that Sedna must have felt in being abandoned in such a violent and traumatic way.”
- Mask Making
We might also help Sedna and ourselves to grieve the many losses of being held in the darkness, isolation, and depressed states. We have all lost something of meaning and importance at some time: loss of youth, parents, job, object, loved one, time, the selves we never developed, etc. When we create masks, we bring the unexpressed, unattended and rejected parts of ourselves to the plane of consciousness so that we can look at them, have a dialogue with them, work with them, touch them, and relate to them with compassion. Then the healing can begin.
A mask can be made of anything; natural materials are best. As we make our masks, we must take care to not judge ourselves or Sedna. This is a lovely way to be attentive to Sedna as a young girl and a goddess. When the mask is made, we can give it ceremonially back to the elements, such as a fire, or it can be hung on a tree, allowing the wind and rain and sun to take it.
Honor the goddess, especially the one that disturbs you the most. Dark goddesses can repulse us, threaten us, terrify us, make us feel that we are mad, out of control, hysterical. These goddesses are the ones that present the greatest challenge in the heroine’s journey. When we sincerely honor them, a rich and abundant ground of energy is released.
“Today the goddess is no longer worshipped. Her shrines are lost in the dust of ages while her statues line the walls of museums. But the law or power of which she was but the personification is unabated in its strength and life-giving potency.”(4) The goddess has been neglected for thousands of years and has gone underground to places beyond normal consciousness; she no longer walks besides us but is far away from us in some deep state of sleep. To awaken her we must commit to honoring her and allow our psychic memory of her to arise; to do so requires steadiness, effort, and persistence. As we awaken one goddess, we awaken others.
We might create a ceremony to honor the goddess to let her know that she has value and meaning in our lives, that she has important things to bring into the world. What we pay attention to supports us. As we honor goddesses, we honor life because they are the archetypal pre-figurations out of which we are shaped.
My journeywork with Sedna involved combing, trimming and styling her hair and putting flowers and other adornments in it. I dressed her as a goddess and brought her a chair to honor her status. I massaged her fingerless hands with healing oils. She became enlivened and invigorated towards a new potential and enjoyed her re-awakened state. We might also create a simple altar, and place upon it in her name flowers, perfumes, trinkets, fine gloves, a beautiful comb, or items from the sea.
As with all folk tales, fairy tales, and myths, the rich value and meaning come to us when we reflect upon them as interior and exterior dramas that influence and drive our lives. To ponder a story is to open a doorway into otherwise hidden realms below the surface of life. This in turn exposes the interior dynamics that work autonomously and unconsciously within us. Self-reflection upon these dynamics enhances awareness, and both broadens and deepens our consciousness. Women the world over are feeling a deep and urgent pull towards a new vision of wholeness, and Sedna is a power that can be an emerging feminine resource to fuel that transition.
- Seidelman, Harold, and James E. Turner. The Inuit Imagination: Arctic Myth and Sculpture. Douglas & McIntyre, 2001, 39.
- Ibid., 74. 78
- Seifert. Theodore, Snow: White Life Almost Lost. Chiron Publications 1986, v—vii.
- Harding. Esther. Woman’s Mysteries: Ancient and Modern, Harper & Row, 1971, 241.
“Sedna and the Fulmar.” The Central Eskimo, by Franz Boas, Univ. of Nebraska Pr., 1967, pp. 583–591.
Motz, Lotte. The Faces of the Goddess. Oxford University Press, 1997.
Simmons, Lisa. Picture of her altar in Sedna’s honor.
Sedna descending to the bottom of the ocean, created by Janice Elder.
Thank you for this insightful article. Many of us, particularly women of a certain age, have experienced a kind of invisibility from our cultures which asks us to be silent as well. I am inspired and encouraged by the suggestion of evolving Sedma’s story, and, having done so, evolvong my own. May we all honor the goddess within. This is a very creative way to do it. Thank you.
Absolutely beautiful, Susan, and filled with powerful wisdom and insight!
Beautiful! Offering a choice to change the story, allowing the wisdom and evolution of women and the goddess to come forth
Deepest gratitude thank you for you wisdom Susan
This: “Honor the goddess, especially the one that disturbs you the most. Dark goddesses can repulse us, threaten us, terrify us, make us feel that we are mad, out of control, hysterical. These goddesses are the ones that present the greatest challenge in the heroine’s journey. When we sincerely honor them, a rich and abundant ground of energy is released.”
Thank you, Susan; this reminds me of your teaching on Sedna years ago, and I am grateful for the reminder. There are some ladies I shall visit.
The unresolved, or unprepared, nature of this story—literally stunted—has me thinking.
^^ un-repaired, not unprepared
Wonderful article Susan… well written and powerful!