Sedna (mythology)
In Inuit mythology
Inuit mythology
Inuit mythology has many similarities to the religions of other polar regions. Inuit traditional religious practices could be very briefly summarised as a form of shamanism based on animist principles....

, Sedna (Inuktitut
Inuktitut or Eastern Canadian Inuktitut, Eastern Canadian Inuit language is the name of some of the Inuit languages spoken in Canada...

 Sanna, ᓴᓐᓇ) is the goddess of the sea and marine animals such as seal
Pinnipeds or fin-footed mammals are a widely distributed and diverse group of semiaquatic marine mammals comprising the families Odobenidae , Otariidae , and Phocidae .-Overview: Pinnipeds are typically sleek-bodied and barrel-shaped...

s. A creation myth, the story of Sedna shows how she came to rule over Adlivun
In Inuit mythology, Adlivun refers to both the spirits of the departed who reside in the underworld, and that underworld itself, located beneath the land and the sea. The souls are purified there, in preparation for the travel to the Land of the Moon , where they find eternal rest and peace...

, the Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

The Underworld is a region which is thought to be under the surface of the earth in some religions and in mythologies. It could be a place where the souls of the recently departed go, and in some traditions it is identified with Hell or the realm of death...

. Sedna is also known as Arnakuagsak
In Inuit mythology, Arnakuagsak was an Inuit goddess, one of the primary deities of the religion, who was responsible for ensuring the hunters were able to catch enough food and that the people remained healthy and strong...

 or Arnaqquassaaq (Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

) and Satsuma Arnaa (Mother of the Deep, West Greenland) and Nerrivik
In Inuit mythology, Nerrivik was the sea-mother and provider of food for the Inuit people. She was the patron of fisherman and hunters. In Canada, she was known as either Sedna or Arnapkapfaaluk and in Greenland, she was Arnakuagsak.- Myth :...

 (northern Greenland) or Nuliajuk
Nuliajuk is a goddess of the Netsilik Eskimo. According to Rasmussen she lives on the bottom of the sea and controls sea-mammal : whenever humans have neglected to observe ritual prohibitions, she imprisons the sea-mammals within the drip-basin under her lamp , so that shamans must conjure her so...

 (District of Keewatin, Northwest Territories). She is sometimes known by other names by different Inuit groups such as Arnapkapfaaluk
Arnapkapfaaluk was the sea goddess of the Inuit people of Canada's Coronation Gulf area. Although occupying the equivalent position to Sedna within Inuit mythology, in that she had control of the animals of the seas, she was noticeably different as can be seen by the English translation of her...

 (big bad woman) of the Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit are a Canadian Inuit group who live north of the tree line, in Nunavut's Kitikmeot Region and the Northwest Territories's Inuvik Region. Most historically lived in the area around Coronation Gulf, on Victoria Island, and southern Banks Island.Their western boundary was Wise Point,...

 from the Coronation Gulf
Coronation Gulf
Coronation Gulf lies between Victoria Island and mainland Nunavut in Canada. To the northwest it connects with Dolphin and Union Strait and thence the Beaufort Sea and Arctic Ocean; to the northeast it connects with Dease Strait and thence Queen Maud Gulf. To the southeast lies Bathurst...

 area and Takannaaluk (Igloolik).

Variations of the legend

A number of versions of the Sedna legend exist. In one legend Sedna is a giant, the daughter of the creator-god Anguta
Anguta is the father of the sea goddess Sedna in Inuit mythology. In certain myths,beetween the Greenland Inuit Anguta, also called "His Father" or Anigut is considered the creator-god and is the supreme being among of the Inuit people. In other myths, however, Anguta is merely a mortal widower...

, with a great hunger that causes her to attack her parents. Angered, Anguta takes her out to sea and throws her over the side of his kayak
A kayak is a small, relatively narrow, human-powered boat primarily designed to be manually propelled by means of a double blade paddle.The traditional kayak has a covered deck and one or more cockpits, each seating one paddler...

. As she clings to the sides, he chops off her fingers and she sinks to the underworld, becoming the ruler of the monsters of the deep. Her huge fingers become the seal
Ringed Seal
The ringed seal , also known as the jar seal and as netsik or nattiq by the Inuit, is an earless seal inhabiting the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions...

s, walrus
The walrus is a large flippered marine mammal with a discontinuous circumpolar distribution in the Arctic Ocean and sub-Arctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere. The walrus is the only living species in the Odobenidae family and Odobenus genus. It is subdivided into three subspecies: the Atlantic...

 and whale
Whale is the common name for various marine mammals of the order Cetacea. The term whale sometimes refers to all cetaceans, but more often it excludes dolphins and porpoises, which belong to suborder Odontoceti . This suborder also includes the sperm whale, killer whale, pilot whale, and beluga...

s hunted by the Inuit.

In another version of the legend she is dissatisfied with men found for her by her father, and so she marries a dog. Her father is so angry at this that he throws her into the sea, and when she tries to climb back into the boat he cuts off her fingers. Her fingers become the first seals and she becomes a mighty sea goddess
Water deity
A water deity is a deity in mythology associated with water or various bodies of water. Water deities are common in mythology and were usually more important among civilizations in which the sea or ocean, or a great river was more important...

. When she is angered someone is sent to wash her hair, (which she is unable to do herself without hands) after which she releases the animals to the hunters.

In the Netsilik Region, the story states that Nuliayuk was a mistreated orphan. One day the people tried to get rid of her by attempting to drown her by chopping off her finger tips. But the fingertips would transform to seals and walruses. Eventually Nuliayuk marries a Sculpin, and now lives in the sea controlling all sea mammals.

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 to her his true form, a great raven. She wakes surrounded by birds. Her father attempts to rescue her but, her husband, the bird creature, 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.

Sedna is kidnapped by a bird creature, in yet another version. Her father then leaves in his kayak to rescue her from the floating ice-island where she is imprisoned while the bird creature is away. The bird creature, enraged by her disappearance, calls to a spirit of the sea to help him. The Sea Spirit locates the Kayak with the two humans aboard and creates huge waves to kill them. Her father throws Sedna overboard in the hope that this will appease the angry sea god. Sedna clings to the kayak but her father grabs a little axe and chops three of her fingers off before striking her on the head. The three fingers each become a different species of seal. The stroke to her head sends Sedna to the ocean floor where she resides, commanding the animals of the sea.

Role in beliefs

The varying legends each give different rationales for her death at the hands of her father. In each version of the story, the father takes her to sea in his canoe and severs her fingers and hands. And in each version she fell to the sea bottom to become the Goddess of Sea Creatures. As such, she became a vital deity, worshiped by hunters who depended on her goodwill to supply food. Generally considered a vengeful goddess, hunters must placate and pray to Sedna to release sea animals for the hunt.

Other representations

90377 Sedna
90377 Sedna
90377 Sedna is a trans-Neptunian object discovered in 2003, which was about three times as far from the Sun as Neptune. For most of its orbit it is even further from the Sun, with its aphelion estimated at 960 astronomical units , making it one of the most distant known objects in the Solar System...

, a trans-Neptunian object
Trans-Neptunian object
A trans-Neptunian object is any minor planet in the Solar System that orbits the Sun at a greater distance on average than Neptune.The first trans-Neptunian object to be discovered was Pluto in 1930...

 discovered by Michael Brown
Michael E. Brown
Michael E. Brown has been a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology since 2003....

California Institute of Technology
The California Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering...

), Chad Trujillo
Chad Trujillo
Chadwick A. "Chad" Trujillo is an astronomer and the co-discoverer of the dwarf planet Eris.Trujillo works with computer software and has examined the orbits of the numerous trans-Neptunian objects , which is the outer area of the solar system that he specialized in. In late August 2005, it was...

 (Gemini Observatory
Gemini Observatory
The Gemini Observatory is an astronomical observatory consisting of two telescopes at sites in Hawai‘i and Chile. Together, the twin Gemini telescopes provide almost complete coverage of both the northern and southern skies...

) and David Rabinowitz
David L. Rabinowitz
David Lincoln Rabinowitz is a researcher at Yale University. He has built CCD cameras and software for the detection of near-Earth asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects, and his research has helped reduce the assumed number of near-Earth asteroids by half, from 1,000-2,000 to 500-1,000 He has also...

 (Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

) on November 14, 2003, is named for her.


  • Osbourne, MaryJane. Romancing the Goddess. University of Illinois Press. 1998. ISBN 0-252-06655-3
  • Tchana, Katrine. Changing Woman and her sisters: stories of goddesses from around the world. Holiday House. 2006. ISBN 9780823419999
  • Moss, John George. ' Echoing silence: essays on Arctic narrative. University of Ottawa Press. 1997. ISBN 0-7766-0441-4
  • Andrews, Tamra. Oxford University Press. 2000. ISBN 0-19-513677-2
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