Sedna’s Tale, a Feminist Story of Hope
The story of Sedna is yet another rendition of the Handmaid’s Tale. This one comes from the Arctic and the Inuit people. During this time when it seems as if patriarchy has a stranglehold on so many of us, I offer this Indigenous version of the story to remind feminists that tapping into mythical patterns strengthens us in ways that are impossible to articulate beyond stating that we can access that power when we align ourselves with it. As in all oral traditions there are many versions of the story but the roots of the myth are the same.
In one version of the story a young man comes to sleep with an entire family during a blizzard. By morning he is gone without having revealed his identity, but the father discovers large dog tracks in the snow and realizes his family has been deceived. The young man who slept with the family was a wild dog.
When the man’s daughter becomes pregnant the father is ashamed and takes the girl out into the ocean abandoning her on a small island where she is nourished by a dog until her children are born. (In another version the girl chooses to marry a dog). In all versions a few of the children that are born are human, others are dogs. Some Inuit say that all First Nation peoples are descended from dog children.
In a more treacherous version, after the initial deception the father takes his daughter out to sea in a skin boat and when a storm erupts he throws his child overboard. When the girl attempts to save herself by clinging to the sides of the boat he cuts off her fingers one by one. All of her severed fingers become seals. When she tries to save herself a second time he cuts off her hands; they become walruses. The girl makes one last desperate attempt to climb aboard the boat but her father cuts off her forearms. Her arms transform into whales.
Drowning, the girl sinks into the depths of the sea and transforms into Sedna, the powerful Underworld Sea/ or Seal Goddess who controls and protects the lives of all sea animals. In some versions of the story dogs help her care for all the beings who live under the sea. She is often depicted in art as a woman with a fish-like tail.
Sedna also protects Inuit children from falling into the hidden cracks in sea ice that appear during the warmer months.
At the beginning of each hunting season the Inuit sing songs to Sedna and make offerings to the sea hoping that she will reciprocate by allowing them to kill the animals they need for food and clothing. A shaman often descends to the underworld to comb and braid Sedna’s hair. He listens compassionately as she tells the tale of how she was betrayed by her People. After being witnessed and cared about Sedna releases enough animals to be killed so that the People can live.
Here we see the importance of compassionate witnessing (by self and/or others) to effect a genuine change. Embracing the story of Sedna attaches women to their own power on both a conscious and unconscious level. This tale also reminds us that any descent, no matter how difficult, will be followed by some kind of ‘resurrection.’
Equally important is the idea that a reciprocal relationship exists between wo/men and the rest of nature. This living earth supports us all; how can we begin to reciprocate?