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Inuit Legend: How Stars Got Into the Sky

Updated on May 13, 2018
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Folklorist and a story teller who loves to explore myths from all corners of the world.

Who are the Inuits

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

Inuit cultures have lots of diversity. Communities live far away from each others 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. Now days 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 to the great polar bear spirit called Nanook (also known as Tornarssuk). Nanook literally means a polar bear in Inuktitut. Nanook the polar bear god was worshiped 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 worshiped 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 it´s 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 is the constellation of the Great Bear which for the Inuits represented Giant Caribou.

Stairways from Heaven

Inuits had an animistic belief system. They believed that everything in nature had it´s own soul and spirit. For the Inuit's stars were living breathing things. Constellation of Cassiopeia and Orion the hunter formed a star pattern which 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 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 worshiped among the Inuits as the giver of light and life. 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 resting into 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 way 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 the 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 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 moons absence from the sky at certain nights.

Mother of the sun and the moon was the old mother Jupiter. She was the crone goddess of witchcraft and the matriarchal ruler of the night sky.

Heavenly hounds

Inuits believed that world was filled with invisible spirits both human and animal-like. In a culture based on hunting dogs were well-taken care of. They had important job pulling sleighs. According to the celestial legend, there was a group of cosmic hunting hounds who got so carried away by the joy of the hunt that they jumped all over the skies. These dogs became the shooting stars.

How stars got into the sky

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