Inuit goddess of the sea and fertility

Joan Relke

Bronze 500mm long


The North American Inuit people have often been described as a matriarchal culture, but the myth of Sedna, the goddess of the sea and fertility, displays a darker suggestion.

the angry father

Once a father tried to marry his daughter against her will. She disobeyed him again and again, after repeated suitors visited her.   Thinking she is a useless and shameful daughter, he takes her to sea and throws her over the side of the boat. Sedna holds on to the gunwale, desperate to be rescued. Her father cuts off her fingers with a sharp hunting knife and she falls into the sea.


the origin of the sea creatures and sedna's throne

Her severed fingers develop into the sea mammals -- walrus, polar bear, and seal -- that the Inuit depend on for a living. Meanwhile, Sedna drifts to the bottom of the ocean, where she sets up her home and throne as mistress of sea animals and goddess of fertility. Her hair becomes matted and her appearance ferocious. A fierce dog guards the entrance to her abode, and no one can come near. Only the Inuit shaman can approach her, but even he must plead and bargain.


the shaman pleads

During lean times when the animals are scarce in the sea, the people approach the shaman, requesting him to visit Sedna and plead for the return of the sea creatures.   The shaman enters a trance, and in this altered state approaches the entrance to Sedna's underwater throne.   Cautious, but undaunted by her monstrous appearance, he knows her bounty and bargains with her for the return of the sea creatures.   He must promise that his people will no longer break from taboos in order for the creatures to return. For only the breaking of taboos cause the animals to disappear and only a vow not to break them again can make them reappear.

The shaman returns to his people with the agreement he has made.

my sedna

I knew nothing of the myth of Sedna when this sea creature appeared to me in a dream.   A few years ago this dream came at a time when I was struggling over a decision to stop or continue a project. I was under water and saw coming towards me a shiny gold sea creature with one fin and long hair. She swam by me, her eyes fixed straight ahead with an air of complete self-sufficiency and containment.   Although she did not look at me, I knew she had deliberatly swum past me to display her demeanour.

The next morning I went straight to my studio and carved her before the vision faded. A year later a friend told my the Inuit myth, and I named my sculpture after Sedna.

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3/08/09 jr