Samna (Siberian Yupik)



Sedna lives at the bottom of the sea, her chief companion her dog. She controls the balance between the sea creatures who wish to live and the people ashore who also wish to live and thus must hunt and eat those sea creatures. Sedna, like the sea, is volatile and moody: she manifests anger and depression by withholding the ocean’s bounty.

Sedna has reasons to be angry: she wasn’t always queen of the deep. There are various versions of how she ended up as goddess of the sea but this is the gist: Once upon a time, Sedna was a beautiful young woman who rejected all her suitors—and there were many! Finally one arrived who pleased her. (In some versions of her myth, this man had long been haunting her dreams, hence her rejection of the others.) He claimed to be wealthy; he promised her a life of comfort; he insisted they marry right away. Sedna ran away with him, bringing only the dog that would not leave her, no matter what.

When they arrived at his distant home, everything he told her turned out to be false. He wasn’t a man; he was a bird spirit. He lived in isolation in a desolate landscape under very primitive conditions and was abusive to Sedna, keeping her prisoner. Eventually her father, concerned about Sedna, came after her. He agreed to bring her home, but he did not really understand the nature of his son-in-law nor was he prepared for the situation. They put out to sea in rough waters in his little boat.

Sedna’s spirit husband flew after them in the form of a gigantic bird. He demanded Sedna’s return. Sedna refused, and he threatened to capsize the boat. In terror, her father pushed her overboard. Desperately, she clung to the sides of the boat, so her father chopped off her fingers. Sedna sank to the bottom of the sea and transformed into a goddess. Her dog jumped in after her. Sedna’s severed fingers transformed into sea mammals like seals and walruses.

Sedna’s realm is at the bottom of the sea. She was eventually reconciled with her father, who lives with her now, but hers is a solitary, moody existence. Sedna prefers darkness; she can’t stand bright lights. When Sedna is depressed or raging, game becomes scarce; the only way to restore balance is to soothe, comfort and appease Sedna. The hero of this story is the intrepid shaman who must soul-journey to Sedna’s watery abode. Intrepid, indeed: Sedna is no little mermaid but, as befitting the harsh, Arctic north, a fierce, frightening, scary woman.

A survivor of violent assault, romantic deception, and psychological abuse, Sedna’s depths of depression and fonts of rage and mistrust are as profound as the sea in which she lives. Soaked with salt water, her long, thick hair becomes badly matted. To soothe Sedna, to coax her to release that life-saving harvest of sea animals, the shaman must approach her and calmly, gently comb out those painful knots and tangles. Only when this is accomplished will Sedna’s anger, frustration and deadly agitation pass.

In addition to her role as marine goddess, Sedna may also rule a realm of death, possibly those souls who died at sea.

Sedna is the name given to the mysterious tenth planet, the most distant known body that orbits our sun.


Sedna has long, thick, wet hair that tangles and mats easily. She’s fierce and will most likely be in the company of a dog (a Malamute or similar breed).


Sedna is now frequently portrayed as a traditional mermaid, but before whalers came to the Arctic, she was consistently described as a woman.


Mermaid; Pinga


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.