A tree teaching about the flowers at your feet woven in with a story about an Inuit Goddess from the Arctic.
Here then, in brief, is a version of her story.
There once lived an old widower and his daughter, Sedna, a woman so beautiful that all the men wanted to live with Her. Sedna found none to her liking and refused all offers. One day, a Fulmar came to her from the Arctic Ocean, and promised life in a warm hut full of bearskins and fish… (Let us think about this … how would else would we describe such a woman? … as a goddess perhaps?)
Sedna went to live with him but did not find home with the Fulmar to her liking. An island with a stinking nest with fish skins and cold winds. She listed the complaints when her father visited a year later.
The father put his daughter in his kayak to bring back to the village. Maybe he killed the bird husband first or maybe he just stole Sedna, but in either case the bird people followed him. The rising storm threatened them with death. He shoved Sedna overboard. She grabbed the side of the boat but her father cut off Her fingers, then her hands, then her arms which all became creatures of the sea as she sank into the icy water.
In another version of this story it is said that a handsome young man visited the village and stayed with Sedna and her father for one night. When the father later discovered she was pregnant it is said that in shame he took her away to an island where she was later fed by her husband each day. Later the father came to take the by now heavily pregnant Sedna away by boat but was forced to throw her over board and cut off her fingers to save himself. Once again the fingers turn into fishes. (Yet another version casts her as an orphan)
Sedna is also known as Nuliayuk or Taluliyuk, the woman who controls all sea beasts and is half-woman and half-fish. Now she lives as queen of death and life, ‘old food dish,’ who provides for the people. Sedna is an important goddess for the Inuit, and is said to hold sea animals entangled in her hair, only to release them when she is appeased by offerings, songs or a visit from an angakok (shaman).
It seems a strange story to arrive with woodland flowers! (But, as you know, I don’t consciously choose what story will arrive). Initially one might not think there is much in common between the sea and a landlocked woodland full of flowers.
One way to look at this story is with Sedna as victim (as is usual) and to arrange all interpretations around that. We could go on a journey to see what the psychological interpretations are for us as humans. We could look at Sedna and ask ourselves when have we entered a relationship or situation, only for it to turn into the ‘stinking nest’’. That is one way to investigate story … and it is a very fashionable one. And yes, I could easily take you on a journey to explore this and we could journey down all the twists and turns to see what and how we identify with, and what this story might mean for each of us as humans and this is a worthy occupation for personal self development.
… I know you sense a ‘But’ coming …
Another way to look at stories like this however is to look at the wider vision. What is this story painting for us as humans living inside a wild world? (Which is essentially what the ecosystem is that we inhabit and you can see what a mess we are creating by refusing to acknowledge this fact).
If we were to look through a non-human lens what might we see?
Sedna has refused a human suitor and is drawn instead to birds. In other words, although she is initially described as human she is drawn away from the human realm. A marriage with birds, the breaking of a taboo that she doesn’t want a man, immediately this tells us this is no human marriage and no human story.
(( A very dear friend of mine attended a yuwipi ceremony (You can search for it online if you don’t know what that is ). During the ceremony she said the spirits came and while she was sat in the dark they sounded like birds, the whirring of wings flying past and bright lights like fairy lights. You may of course dismiss this but my friend was a deeply connected and grounded individual and I have no doubt that she experienced what she said she did… so my point? …well … the birds are a metaphor or rather, they could be described as messengers or an embodiment of something deeper. We could say she connected with the ‘spirit’ of the birds .. in another we could say she connected or had a sacred union with a spirit. This is not uncommon. In shamanic traditions the shaman will often have a ‘marriage’ with a spirit.))
Something we need to be aware of is that now many Inuit are Christian since missionaries arrived and the first person was baptised in 1917 so versions of this story maybe Christianised. As you know, if you are drawn to a particular story I encourage you to go and research and try and find the earliest version you can and look at the culture that surrounds it.
In one version of this story Sedna is fed every day by her husband after being taken by her father to an island. Either way a bond has been made between Sedna and the bird people. This ‘marriage’ is not a human transaction. This island is not of the village. It is another place, a place of neither land nor sea, in this it suggests a liminal place…. In other words, a non-human realm and, perhaps, not a realm on the visible earth either.
This story weaves different elements, land, air and water together. We could say that when the union is not honoured by the father a great storm threatens to overturn his boat. Or we could say that as part of a ritual the father has taken his ‘daughter’ out to sea. His offering then, in either case, is Sedna and she is anything but human. Her fingers turn into fishes, her hands into walrus, her arms into whales. After her descent to the bottom of the ocean she is the one the people call upon to feed them.
What is very clear here is that there is no negotiating on’ human’ terms, the laws of air, land and sea. The father is forced to return Sedna to those who claim her as their own. One name for this goddess is Old Food Dish’ and the Angakok (shaman) must negotiate with her for food to feed the people. Here we see how humans have to work within the ecosystem in order to live. The birds, humans, sea, land, water and air are all interlinked and interdependent.
In much the same way so are the trees, woodland and wild flowers. There is something in this tale reminiscent of Blodeuwedd from the previous week. Two women seemingly, in human terms victims of men and human ways, portrayed as proud in Sedna’s case or as unfaithful in Blodeuwedds'. Both cultures have come into contact with Christianity. (To learn about possible interpretations and the Christian mission when dealing with stories see the Blodeuwedd article) But, of course, they are not human they are of wild nature. Their human shape in these stories is a vehicle for something else.
For a modern mindset Sedna can be a very difficult story. It doesn’t have a conventional ending in the way many of us like our stories to have. The father seems impossible. He seems harsh, self-serving and cruel. Sedna appears as a victim. We want the ends neatly sown up and a happy ever after ending because we assume the story is about humans.
What is life?
When a wolf catches a deer or lion catches a zebra are they cruel? Something must die in order that we might live … Is that not so? … Even plants will strive to survive against all the odds. Every living thing wants to live. The Inuit live in the far North experiencing some of the harshest conditions on earth. This is the beauty, but also the tragedy of life. “Life, it is beautiful, it is terrible,” as an old Hungarian friend of mine is wont to say.
When we recognise and honour this then the cycle of life can continue.
When flowers bloom we must live in their joy before winter returns. Sedna is the sacrifice and the gift. She is the conduit, the meeting place between humans and non-humans. We see this in her marriage or union with the bird. She is the sacrifice gifted by the father to the sea. She is the gift whose fingers turn into fishes. She is transformed and she is the transformer. She brings new life in to being, we see this in her pregnancy and in the fingers that transform to fishes. She is the one that feeds, we see it in her ‘death’ as she sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
The trees and flowers are symbiotic. Sedna as the sea and the humans that live by her are symbiotic. This myth speaks of a deep connection that goes way beyond human understanding. Sedna gives us fishes, the trees give us flowers. In both cases we are the receivers or witnesses of such gifts. Sedna tells us very clearly that if we do not look after the ones who gift us these things, then we will lose them. She also speaks of the futility of possession, the folly of that human hunger that refuses to be satisfied. Sedna is the beauty that man wishes to grasp ... but cannot. We must be conscious of the environment we live in.
As ever, this is but a shallow (if you will forgive the pun) dip into the depth of story. I invite you to go swimming and let yourself sink in and feel what is true for you. There are two ways to access stories if you want to go beyond what is human. You can sit out in the wild alone and do this regularly for varying amounts of time or for a longer period (often known as a vigil or vision quest) and/or you can explore native/indigenous tradition and culture and access them that way. I have explored both these ways. It is said that in the Sami tradition there are those who ‘know’ and those who ‘see’. I would humbly suggest that by using both these approaches together you are in true apprenticeship to story.
We never stop learning. If we want to truly honour a story my gut feeling is that we have to sit with them in a way that goes beyond our own human needs. Researching the communities these stories come from is not just about paying respect (and rightly so!) to the culture that was gifted it. To do the research means we get an insight into the symbols and their meanings. We give them life by gifting them with our time. In this way they never become ‘dusty relics’ assigned to a museum.
The tree teachings and wild wisdom soul stories are pathways into the forest, it is up to you what you find there. The prayers and blessings that follow each of these tree teachings & stories are ways for us to learn to open up and connect to the wild that we might rewild ourselves bit by bit to become more open to learning how to live within the stories, or cycles of life, once more and become of deep service to the earth our shared home.