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Myth / Inuit Mythology

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Inuit shaman communicating with deities and spirits.

Inuit mythology is the shared spiritual beliefs and practices of the Inuit, which are the indigenous people from Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Their religion shares many similarities with religions of other North Polar people. Traditional Inuit religious practices include animism and shamanism, in which spiritual healers mediate with spirits. See also Native American Mythology for the mythologies of other North American indigenous people.


  • Bears Are Bad News: The Inuit and other Arctic peoples had mixed opinions about polar bears. On one hand, they are the biggest living terrestrial carnivore, so they were obviously feared. On the other, their mythologies usually held the polar bear with a lot of respect, as a sacred shamanic symbol. Inuit people worshipped Nanook the god of hunting, whose totemic animal was the polar bear, and who decided whether or not the hunt would be successful.
  • Came Back Strong: Sedna was just an ordinary woman until her father chopped off her fingers and threw her into the ocean. She becomes the goddess of the ocean, the most important goddess of the Inuit cosmology because it's only with her on their side that the people can avoid starvation. Her fingers turn into the sea animals. Another version has her being thrown in the ocean first, followed by the chopping off of her fingers (which turn into seals), hands (which turn into walruses) and finally her arms (which turn into whales) to get her to stop clinging on to the boat. However because of this she's also a Disabled Deity since missing her fingers (along with maybe her hands or even her whole arms, Depending on the Writer) prevents her from returning to the land/mortal world and having a normal human life ever again.
  • Deity of Human Origin: Many Inuit gods and spirits were once humans. Malina became sun goddess when she escaped to the sky from her brother Igaluk (also called "Aningan", in Greenlandic folklore), who tried to rape her. He continued his chase and turned into the moon spirit. The goddess of the sea, Sedna, was a mortal who changed when her father tried to sacrifice her to calm down a storm. As she clung to the boat he cut off all of her fingers, creating seal from the severed parts.
  • Depending on the Writer: "Speaker" rather. Exactly how these myths go depends on who told them and which version got passed around, as these myths are oral.
  • Divine Incest: There's a Solar and Lunar origin myth about siblings. A man came into the woman's house, blew out her lamp, and raped her in the dark. She managed to get some soot on his face. When he left, other people saw the soot of his face and laughed. She followed the laughter and saw that the man was her brother. Enraged, she cut off her breast and thrust it at him, saying, "If you want my body so much, eat this!" This confrontation resulted in a chase. Both carried torches, but the brother's went out, leaving only embers, while the sister's kept flaming. The chase went to the sky and they became the sun and moon. The soot on the brother's face is the craters on the moon, and the blood of the sister's cut off breast is the colors of sunset.
  • Eldritch Location: The Adlivun, said to lie under the sea and the earth, but only accessible through the Moon.
  • The Fair Folk: Among the Yup'ik Eskimos, the word "ircinrraat" (singular ircinrraq) covers many beings which are like the European Fair Folk. The word also covers a specific species, about three feet tall: if you fight an ircinrraq, it is advised to fight them until they offer you a gift, which you should accept. They also like to mislead travelers, which can be a matter of life and death. One story involves a village of ircinrraat and a village of humans which were in close contact, so the humans were invited to an ircinrraq potlach of food, fur and dog feces. A particular poor family was advised by an ircinrraq friend to collect dog feces they found alongside the path. As they neared the village of the ircinrraat, the dog feces became fur and food, while the fur and foods of their neighbors transformed into dog feces. Another notable legend involves a man who saw the ircinrraat dancing, and watched for what seemed like a few minutes. When he looked away, a year had passed, just like in many European stories where joining a dance of the Fair Folk causes a great deal more time to pass than is experienced by the protagonist. An interesting aspect of ircinrraq stories is that many of them mention how, if you encounter these people, your mind will specifically refuse to perceive them as ircinrraat: this goes a long way towards explaining why the humans in these stories never act the way the other stories warned them to.
    • Qamulek is an individual creature in Yup'ik mythology, which can be inadvertently summoned by the best hunters. He is a bit of an Eldritch Abomination, with a face that cannot be described, and constantly drags a sack behind him. If a hunter kills the Qamulek, he will be warned not to look into the sack, with good reason: great hunters who look into this bag will become quiet, humble men until the day they die. They will retell the story of their encounter with the Qamulek, but never describe what they saw within the bag.
    • The Cingssiigat are a variety of ircinrraat which are about a foot tall. They lurk around abandoned sod houses, and also have very useful objects that can be taken and used.
    • Agloolik is another noteworthy individual spirit. He lives underneath the ice and acts as tutelary guardian for the protection of seals. The legends vary on how he interacts with humans- in some he is said to provide aid to fishermen and hunters, while in others he can flip boats over and drown people.
    • The Egassuayaq are a variety of ircinrrat with vertical eyes and sleeves that touch the ground. Their main activity is stealing fish from human trals.
  • Fingore: Sedna, the sea goddess. There are many versions of the story of how she came to rule over the sea, but all the versions involve her father throwing her into the ocean from a kayak, then cutting off her fingers to prevent her from climbing back in. After drowning, she ascended to a higher plane of existence, and the fingers she lost turned into the creatures of the sea. Most of these creatures remember that a man killed their mother, and thus avoid humans out of fear. But one — the polar bear — seeks revenge instead, so wise Inuit know that Bears Are Bad News. The polar bear fittingly came from Sedna's middle finger, so when you see one, it's the goddess Flipping the Bird (or maybe flipping the bear?).
  • God of the Moon: The moon, Igaluk (also known as Anningan), was once a human brother to the girl that would become the sun. After they were seperated he ventured into the women's cabin and raped her. After she found out she run to the heavens to become the sun, while he followed, depending on the version either to apologise or force himself on her again. Either way he's not a good god by the standards of the Inuit, and is associated with the underworld and death.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: One Eskimo tale tells of a beautiful bride desired by two brothers. Unable to decide who should have her, they each grabbed her from an end and pulled, resulting in one having the upper torso and other the hips and below. Being clever artificers, they quickly carved out a wooden replacement for the missing half, thereby explaining why the women of one tribe were so clever with beadwork (having been descended from the woman with the living upper torso) while the other tribe excelled at dancing (having been descended from the woman with flesh legs).
  • Healer God: Pinga is the goddess of medicine, fertility, and hunting, as well as a Psychopomp.
  • An Ice Person: This is a given considering where the Inuits live. In particular, the god Nootaikok that presides over icebergs and glaciers.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: There is a native Alaskan totem depicting a boy with his hand in the mouth of a monster. It's a giant oyster that caught him while he was fishing. According to the story, he was given a choice between losing the hand (and his chance to be a hunter) and death. He chose death.
  • Lord of the Ocean: Sedna is described as being the ruler of the underworld. Legends say that all marine mammals were born from her fingers when they were severed by her father, thus giving her command over the whales, seals, and walruses so important to Inuit survival.
  • The Marvelous Deer: The reindeer is a sacred Inuit animal and the Caribou Master is a major deity.
  • Mister Seahorse: In Inuit religion, the first two humans were Aakulujjuusi and Uumarnituq, and were both males. Being the only two humans, they got lonely and decided to mate. Uumarnituq got pregnant, but obviously, he couldn't give birth. So a spell was put on to give him a vagina, and he became the first female.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Akhlut, a malevolent spirit that often takes the form of a wolf/killer whale hybrid. Myths of it vary widely, but most people agree on the one fact that Akhlut preys upon human beings.
  • Monstrous Seal: The Tizheruk is a cryptid/sea monster from the mythology of the Inuit of northwestern Alaska and the islands of the Bering Sea, supposedly resembling a very large, long-necked seal. It's said to be highly aggressive and anthropophagous, snatching people off of piers to eat them. It is hypothesized by some cryptozoologists to be a very northerly relative of the leopard seal (despite the tropics and the entire Pacific Ocean separating them).
  • Odd Job Gods: The Inuit people have Matshishkapeu (whose name literally means "fart man"). The story goes that when the Caribou Master didn't give humans any caribou to eat, Matshishkapeu cursed him with terrible constipation until he gave in to their demands.
  • Psychopomp: The goddess Pinga that brought souls of the newly dead to Adlivun, the underworld. She was also the goddess of other things like the hunt, fertility and medicine.
  • Sapient Cetaceans: Dolphins, orcas, whales, porpoises, belugas and narwhals are all considered by the Inuit to be the most intelligent creatures, besides humans of course.
  • Savage Wolves: The Amarok/Amaroq is a giant wolf who hunts in solitude and prefers to not be antagonized by anyone. Sometimes an Amarok plays the role of a Noble Wolf instead but is usually treated as a villain. There is one story in which it being both a mentor to a young boy who wanted to become strong as well as a vicious predator of anyone foolish enough to hunt alone at night.
  • Shapeshifting Lover: There is a legend about a petrel who is in love with a beautiful maiden, and transforms himself into a man so that he may marry her; however, his eyes are still those of a petrel and so he wears snow goggles to hide them. When the maiden takes them off one day, she sees his bird eyes and the spell is broken.
  • Solar and Lunar: Sibling deities Igaluk the moon god and Malina the sun goddess.
  • Terrestrial Sea Life: The akhlut is basically a quadrupedal killer whale with wolflike attributes that climbs up on land in order to hunt terrestrial prey.
  • Water Is Womanly: Sedna is a sea goddess, said to be the daughter of a fisherman, who was thrown into the sea after she refused to marry men he arranged for her. When she attempted to cling to the boat she was thrown from, her father cut her fingers, which transformed into various sea animals (seals, whales, etc). The circumstances of her descent caused her to become vengeful, so the Inuit pray to her for a safe journey whenever they hunt.

Works that deal with Inuit Mythology:

  • Fishing Vacation: A book in the fishing cabin where you and your friend are staying tells the story of Sedna. The monstrous-looking woman who pops her head out of the nearby lake and to whom your friend's Evil Uncle sacrificed his family is heavily implied to be her — and the absurd amount of Misplaced Wildlife you can reel in from the lake (such as deep water sea life like anglerfish, rays, and a great white shark) is implied to be due to her supernatural influence.