The Inuit Legend of the Sea Goddess

One of the most well known Inuit myths is that of the Sea Goddess. She is known by many names (Sedna, Nuliayuk, Taluliyuk), and there are many variations of the story, but there is one central message: The Sea Goddess is the keeper of all the sea animals, and she must be kept happy for the ocean to keep providing for the people.  

Inuit Sea Goddess Sedna

Sedna the Sea Goddess

Many years ago, a handsome stranger visits a family’s igloo. He is welcomed to spend the night, but when they awake, the stranger is gone. The father sees only animal tracks leaving the igloo, and says, “We were deceived. That must have been my lead dog disguised as a man." When the daughter becomes pregnant, the ashamed father paddles her to an island, where he abandons her.

The daughter only survives because the lead dog swims out to the girl, bringing her meat to eat. In time, she gives birth to six young; three are Inuit children, but the other three have bigger ears and snout-like noses. She makes a boat of sealskin, and places the three strange children inside, pushing them adrift in the sea. Some legends say that European and First Nations peoples are descended from those three children.

In time, the father decides to retrieve his daughter off the island. On their way home, a storm rises, and the selfish father becomes afraid that the boat will capsize. He decides to throw his daughter overboard to lighten the load.

When she tries to climb back into the boat, her father cuts off her fingers. These fingers become seals in the sea. She tries again and he cuts off her hands, which become walruses. She makes one last attempt to climb aboard the boat but her father cuts off her forearms, which transform into whales.

The daughter can no longer stay afloat, and sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where she is transformed into a half-fish, half-woman goddess. She holds all of the sea animals entangled in her hair, only to release them when she is appeased by offerings, songs or a visit from an angakok (shaman), who combs the tangles from her hair.

(Adapted from the Canadian Encyclopedia)

Sedna Sea Goddess