The Legend of Sedna

Up north on this planet, all around the Arctic Circle, all the indigenous tribes share one common legend. The details differ from country to country, but it’s the same story.

A painting of the goddess Sedna, depicting a woman with facial tattoos and long, flowing hair from which emerge Arctic sea creatures.
“Sedna,” by Anthony Galbraith

A long time ago was a beautiful woman named SEDNA, the daughter of her tribe’s leader. She was graceful and kind, and when she approached marrying age, her father announced a huge festival to find an appropriate suitor for her.

All the tribes from across the land gathered for a week-long festival, where men displayed all their talents, from hunting to dancing. Sedna loved it all, not for the attention but to see what men were capable of, and though she praised them very much, her father saw that none was entirely fit for her.

This one couldn’t dance, or that one’s teeth were bad and his breath was sour. This one couldn’t slaughter a seal, or that one couldn’t build a home and a fire. There was always something off, some flaw, something left missing.

Near the end of the week, a stranger rode into the area. He wore a thick fur parka, skillfully sewn. He led a pack of a dozen dogs, all strong and well-fed—this is important because it meant he was a good enough hunter to provide for himself and every single dog in his team. The dogs pulled a sled with him and a stack of polar bear pelts—this is important because it meant he was a very skilled hunter who had trained his dogs expertly.

A wood engraving of two Inuit hunters armed with spears, cornering and attacking a polar bear, rearing on its hind legs, upon a snowy riverbank.
“The Bear at Bay,” by Elisha Kent Kane

When you hunt a polar bear, you crouch some distance away from it and hide. You send your dogs in, and they rush the bear from all sides. This technique is called “worrying” the bear, and as the bear gets more frustrated, he can kill some of your dogs, which means you’ve lost the means to transport yourself across great distances. So the hunter has to watch the action and issue commands for the dogs to close in or back off.

Finally, when the bear is at peak frustration, he has to call all the dogs off and move in for the kill himself, which is very dangerous. A dying polar bear will destroy everything within a 30′ radius.

So this stranger proved that not only could he command his dogs and preserve their health, but he could endure and kill several polar bears without any loss to himself. The father of Sedna was quite impressed with this, as was everyone, but the contest had to continue to be fair to everyone.

The stranger greeted the father, and his teeth were white and even, his breath was sweet and his eyes were clear. He had favorable, even features that thrilled Sedna’s heart.

He was tall and strong and well fed. He had proven himself as a hunter. In tests of strength he was an unbeatable wrestler, and could lift any weight put before him. He danced with incredible lightness and skill, and he knew all the songs of many tribes. He could drink the most, and around the fire he told the best stories. Sedna’s father had no problem at all promising his daughter to him, and everyone celebrated their marriage.

The stranger rode off with Sedna, to build their new home elsewhere. Everyone cheered and saw them off. Much time passed, years, and Sedna’s family decided to visit her in her home with her marvelous husband. They loaded up supplies and set out in a canoe to find them, sailing across the ocean to a remote island.

When they pulled to the shore, they found Sedna starved and beaten, leashed to a stake in the ground outside a rough hide igloo. Sedna begged her family to turn back: her husband was a demon who’d tricked them all and had been torturing her for years. He was gone for the moment but would return at any time and kill them all if they didn’t flee right now.

The father couldn’t abandon his beloved daughter, so he argued with the ropes that bound her. The Inuit believe in animism, that the rope was alive with a personality, and the father poured his heart out to the ropes, explaining the injustice of what had happened and how he must protect his daughter, with all her graces. The rope felt sympathy for them and released Sedna, and her father hustled her away in the canoe.

But then the demon husband returned, flying over the ocean in the form of an enormous sea eagle, overtaking the boat easily. The father rowed as hard as he could but the demon only laughed and said, “Return your daughter to me or I’ll kill you..”

Of course, the father did not want to die, but he could not give up his beloved daughter to save himself, so he rowed on.

The demon batted at the boat with his wings and said, “Return your daughter to me or I’ll kill your family.” And the father didn’t want to give up his family, but he couldn’t abandon Sedna when she needed him most.

An Inuit man struggles to row his kayak through rough waters, evading a gigantic and furious sea eagle. A woman weeps in the back of his boat.
“Sedna’s Escape,” by Evalena

The demon screeched and stirred up the waves and said, “Return your daughter to me or I will destroy your entire tribe.”

The father was troubled, because it wasn’t just his family: it was the leadership of his tribe and the larger community. He had to think about everyone, the health of the population. And it pained him to do so, but he pushed Sedna overboard into the icy waters.

Sedna sank below the waves but quickly surfaced and grabbed the edge of the canoe, pleading with her father to save her. But he only took a hatchet and chopped off the ends of her fingers, which became small, brightly colored fish.

She sank again, surfaced, and grabbed the boat to plead again; her father chopped off the next knuckle, and her fingers became seals all over the shoreline. She sank once more, surfaced one more time, and pleaded with her father to rescue her, and he chopped off the last of her fingers, which became whales for the deep sea and polar bears for the land.

Finally Sedna sank to the bottom of the ocean, where she lived for the rest of her life, where she lives today.

Ink illustration of Sedna sinking to the bottom of the ocean, bleeding from severed wrists. Sea creatures emerge from her blood and spread throughout the waters.
“The Legend of Sedna,” by Sraiya

Now, the Inuit believe in absolute conservation of mass. When you kill a polar bear, another one necessarily appears elsewhere; when you hunt a seal, another one is born immediately.

So when it happens that the member of a tribe has fallen with an illness, their medicine doesn’t believe that the illness can be cured: it can only be chased away, and it flies across the land and afflicts someone else.

The village doctor is called for, and he is in charge of chasing the illness out of the sufferer, but he doesn’t speak to the illness. He appeals to Sedna, at the bottom of the ocean, and this is what he says.

A dark, polished stone carving of a mermaid, in the style of folk art.
“Sedna,” by Sanagani Osuitok

“Sedna, please cause the disease to leave this poor man, because he is a good man and has done nothing to deserve this.” And Sedna replies, “What is that to me? Terrible things happen to good people all the time. Good and evil mean nothing.”

So he says, “Sedna, please cause the disease to leave this poor man, because his family relies on him. His children will starve and his wife will be unloved. His community will lose their support and many will suffer without him.” And Sedna replies, “What is that to me? People die every day, and more are created. Everyone suffers, life is suffering. The benefits of one come at the suffering of something else.”

Then the doctor says, “Sedna, please cause the disease to leave this poor man… for no reason at all.”

And Sedna replies, “Now you understand. Nothing happens for a reason in this world; all of your concerns amount to nothing.” Then the illness leaves the poor man’s body and he is healed.

This is the story of Sedna as it was told to me, with my interpretation. There are many variations with different details and different emphasis.

3 thoughts on “The Legend of Sedna

  1. Oh I just loved reading this beautiful storytale again and came to realize how utterly actual it is. One question remains though… I just couldn’t believe what snapped in the father’s mind to have him change his mind and choose his tribe over his daughter.
    No words of love were uttered.
    No reason was given to her plea.

    This likely explains her strong resolve to consider absurdity for her sole reason to act in her divine state.

    Beautiful story and again, my friend, thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe he couldn’t bear to explain anything or apologize. He had to act quickly to make one logical decision, or else his heart would have taken control and destroyed everyone. Who knows?


  2. Protecting the tribe was the right thing to do. We can’t protect our children from pain no matter how hard we try, and her divine fate was far better than being returned to the demon. No matter her pleas, I’m sure part of her understood, and agreed. No matter how painful the journey, no one should choose to keep communicating and dealing with a total asshole that tricked everyone, that appeared to be the right companion when in truth he was just a pathological lying fuck.

    If he’d really been the wonderful guy he appeared to be, Sedna would have continued to be a woman with no voice, a piece of property there to bear children. Suffering made her powerful.

    Great story!

    Liked by 1 person

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