Eskimo (Inuit) Magic
The Eskimos live in small areas along the coasts of Greenland, Canada, Alaska andnorth-eastern Siberia. The name Eskimo comes from an Algonquin Indian term for ‘raw meat eaters’ which has been inaccurately applied to them. They prefer the nameInuit (Yuit in Siberian and some Alaskan speech) which means ‘the people’. Inuitmyths mirror the experiences of those whose horizons are bounded by frozen oceansand snowy wastes of the long winter. The Eskimo world is controlled by the
orspirit powers. Every natural form including the animals and the sea itself has an
. Such forces sometimes assume the role of
, becoming guardians of individual Eskimos. Bears possess especially strong innua and if the spirit of a bearbecomes an Eskimo’s Torngak or guardian spirit, the Eskimo may be eaten by a bearto be reincarnated as a shaman.
The shaman or
is the magical man and to some extent law-interpreter of thecommunity. Eskimo shamanism bears strong similarities to that in Central Asia andSiberia.Angakoks have many powerful
as their familiar spirits. For example, it isbelieved that in a previous life a shaman might have been swallowed by whale. Theprocesses of being dismembered by a bear, a whale or other fierce creature and thenbeing reassembled are relived psychically and ritually during a shaman’s initiation.The name Torngak comes from Torngasak, the spirit who is called the Good Being byEskimos. Torngasak himself is often seen as a bear. But unlike other cultures, theInuit mythology has no single creator being nor a pantheon of deities.
The World of the Sea
Because of the importance of the sea as the source of most food, the most powerfulspirit in the Inuit cosmology was a very ancient fertility mother, the Old Woman wholived under the Sea. She is given different names throughout the Arctic: Nerivik inAlaska and Arnarquagssag in Greenland. The most common name is Sedna, Sea-Mother, divinity of the sea and all sea animals.There are different versions of her origin but all regard her as the source of thecreation of marine life. In the most common myth, Sedna was a beautiful Inuit girlwho turned away all suitors but was captivated by a handsome hunter who let hiskayak sway on the waves while he sang to her in her hut. He offered her necklaces of ivory in the land of birds and a tent covered with the finest furs.Sedna was lured into the canoe but her suitor was not mortal, rather a bird spirit withthe power to assume human form. She was heartbroken when she discovered the