In Inuit mythology, the goddess Sedna rules the underworld and the creatures of the sea. Myths about Sedna explain the origin of sea creatures and reflect the harsh environment of the Arctic. Because she provides the animals used for food, Sedna is the most important Inuit deity.

According to one myth, Sedna was a child with an enormous appetite who tried to eat her father's arm while he was asleep. When he awoke, her father put Sedna in a boat and took her out to sea. He tried to throw her overboard, but she clung tightly to the side of the boat. Her father then chopped off her fingers one joint at a time. As the pieces of Sedna's fingers fell into the water, they turned into whales, seals, and sea lions. When all her fingers were gone, she sank to the bottom of the sea, where she guards the spirits of the dead.

In another version of the story, Sedna was a young woman who refused all the suitors who sought her hand. Then, a seabird disguised as a handsome man visited her and promised that—if she married him—she would live in luxury for the rest of her days. Against her father's wishes, Sedna married the bird. However, she soon found out that the bird's promises had been lies. She led an unhappy existence in a flimsy shelter with only raw fish to eat.

underworld land of the dead deity god or goddess

When her father came to visit, Sedna asked him to take her home. Her father killed her husband and set off in his boat with Sedna. However, the other birds stirred up a raging storm on the water. To calm the sea, Sedna's father threw her overboard as an offering to the birds. As in the other tale, she hung on until he cut off her fingers. In some versions of the story, Sedna's father hauled her back into the boat. However, angered by her father's cruelty, she had her dogs try to eat him while he slept. When her father awoke, he cursed himself, Sedna, and her dogs. The ground opened up and swallowed them all, and Sedna became goddess of the underworld.

See also Birds in Mythology ; Native American Mythology ; Underworld .

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