Show Summary Details

Quick Reference


The sinister sea goddess of Eskimo mythology. Only an angakoq, ‘medicine-man’, can withstand the sight of her hideous one-eyed form.

Various legends account for her wild temper and her dominion over adlivun, ‘those beneath us’, the unholy dead. Daughter of giant parents, Sedna was an unmanageable child, who would seize on flesh and eat it whenever the opportunity arose. One night she started to eat the limbs of her mother and father as they slept. They awoke in horror, grasped the voracious daughter, and took her in a boat far out to sea. Cast overboard, Sedna clung on to the side of the boat, and her father had to cut off her fingers one by one to make her let go. As the severed fingers touched the waves they turned into whales, seals, and shoals of fish. Then fingerless Sedna sank to the bottom of the sea where she now dwells and keeps strict guard over all who live there.

Another version represents Sedna as ‘she who did not wish to marry’. She refused suitors and only favoured a bird or a dog. The enraged parents dumped her fingerless in the sea. Her one-eyed father, however, had one hand, the three fingers of which he used to seize the dying. The family deformity and its connection with the dead, therefore, suggests that Sedna's descent to the bottom of the sea was nothing more than a myth to explain her enthronement as mistress of the underworld.

Adlivun, her dreadful domain, housed the spirits of those who disobeyed her during life. In some places the Eskimo people believe that these unfortunate souls return to their villages in flapping clothes, as malevolent spirits. The antithesis of Sedna's realm is qudlivun, the solace of those who had a mean life, or those who were generous to others.

Subjects: Religion.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.