Inuit legend: How Stars Got Into The Sky

Inuit legend: How Stars Got Into The Sky December 29, 2022

Who are the Inuits?

​Inuits are the indigenous people of the Arctic. You can find Inuit communities from Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and the eastern coast of Russia. It is believed that the ancestors of the Inuits arrived in Alaska and Canada from Siberia and eastern Asia thousands of years ago through the Bering Strait. They are however not related to Native Americans who arrived aeons before them.

Inuit cultures have lots of diversity. Communities live far away from each other and their beliefs, customs and languages vary. Things that are common to all Inuit cultures and communities is that they are all hunting cultures adapted to live in extreme weather conditions. Nowadays the biggest threat for all Inuits in different parts of the world is global warming.

Nanook The Great Polar Bear Spirit

​Stories that I am going to share here come from Inuits from northern Canada. They believed in the great polar bear spirit called Nanook (also known as Tornarssuk). Nanook literally means polar bear in Inuktitut. Nanook the polar bear god was worshipped by hunters and they believed that it was up to Nanook to choose who was a great hunter and who was not. Polar bears are some of the largest bears on the planet and when it stands from distance it can look like a human. Bears also have five fingers in their paws. A connection that made several tribal groups from different parts of the world believe that they were descendants of bears. Nanook was one of the major totem animals for the Inuits.

Nanook was worshipped both as a hunter god and as a totemic ancestor of the people. According to the legend once Nanook was chased by hunting dogs. Hunt went on and on and Nanook was not able to shake its pursuers off. They ran all the way to the edge of the world. In the joy of the hunt Nanook and the dogs did not notice the cliff. They all plunged into the star sky. This is how the constellation of Pleiades was born. Next to the Pleiades in the constellation of Ursa Major which for the Inuits represented Giant Caribou.

Stairways To Heaven

​Inuits had an animistic belief system. They believed that everything in nature had its own soul and spirit. For the Inuit stars were living breathing things. The Constellation of Cassiopeia and Orion the hunter formed a star pattern that looked a bit like stairs. For the Inuits, these were “steps carved into the snow” stairs that lead from the stars to the earth. They believed that during the darkest nights their ancestors would come down from these stairs and join them for dance and feast.

Beautiful Sun and the Cunning Moon

​Summer in the Arctic was always short and it was the time of plenty. Sun was highly worshipped among the Inuits as the giver of light and life. The Goddess of the sun was called Seqinek. Sun was her bright torch which she carried with her when she ran across the sky. She was told to be a beautiful young maiden. She had a brother called Tatqim (also known as Aningan) who was a hunter and was always chasing his sister in the sky. At nights Seqinek would go rest in a dwelling she shared with her brother. The two were never there at the same time. The dwelling was in Udlormiut. An Inuit realm where the highest of the celestial spirits lived. According to some stories Tatqim lived in a house in the west and Seqinek lived in a house in the east.

Bringer of souls

At one time secret lover sneaked into Seqinek´s bed to have sex with her. When she realized that it was her brother she escaped and he started to pursue her. Seqinek bore the sun as her torch to lead her away but his brother´s torch the moon was partially blown out. This myth explains why the sun is always brighter than the moon. Tatqim continues pursuing his sister on daily basis. Their occasional couplings are eclipses.

Tatqim also has an important role in the re-carnation process. When human and animal souls were in Udlormiut, the supercelestial afterlife ready to be reincarnated Tapasuma the goddess of the afterlife told him to transport the souls back to the earth to be reborn again. Tatqim took these souls back to the earth in his dogsled pulled by four big hounds (or one giant hound according to some sources). This task from Tapasuma was used to explain the moon´s absence from the sky on certain nights.

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