“I don’t get it,” Dan, my Bodacious Beau™, said as we carefully stepped our way across city blocks of ice-coated Chicago Park District sidewalk prior to descending to our subway platform this morning. “I don’t see how this serves you or benefits Sedna. What I see as the outcome of this kind of ritual is the toll it takes on you–physically, cognitively–you’re worn out this morning. You’ve basically lost your voice again, your vocal chords are so strained, and I can tell you’re still not fully grounded. And it’s not clear to me what Sedna gets out of this. What’s an Arctic deity doing in Chicago? But honestly”–and here he came to a complete stop in our walk–“I just find the whole thing scary.”
I stopped walking also and gazed eastwards across the vast expanse of snowy terrain claimed by this particular Park District on the northwest side of the city. The sun, slowly rising above a silhouette of tall buildings, looked like a frozen egg yolk trying to crack itself in a relentless vise grip of winter gray. I noted how my breath issuing from my nostrils hung in the air like a dragon–like Fafnir! I whimsically thought. But the morning’s 14 degree F temps were like a balmy paradise compared to yesterday’s abominable -4 degrees daytime high. It was the coldest day of (this tediously long) season thus far.
Minus the buildings, this landscape pretty much looks like the fucking Arctic right now, so why couldn’t this be Sedna’s playground too? But I kept that thought to myself. Instead, I replied to Dan’s statement with a question:
“What was it like this time? Compared to the sounds you heard coming from the temple room last November?” I had a feeling I’d be able to anticipate his response, but I had to hear him say it. I needed the confirmation.
Dan’s eyes widened as he slowly uttered his choice of words. “Way more intense. Definitely more violent-sounding, with a different range of sounds too. I was actually very worried about you but I know you’ve instructed me to never interrupt you when you’re in trance.”
I paused as I carefully chose my next series of questions, fearing rejection or humiliation even though my sensible Virgo/C3P0-like logical brain told me I had nothing to fear. After all, my partner, a ceremonial magician himself, has been an unwavering supporter of my method of trafficking with spirits–alien to him thought it might be in practice.
“What if I told you…that I didn’t journey to Sedna’s Underworld last night at all?” I slowly began. “What if I told you that no sooner did I begin drumming than She shot up through the floorboards and took control of me immediately? And that I, as a shamanic first, literally puked on my own chest and pissed my pants [insert the sight of Dan wincing here] when She did so? That She also brought a whole troop of spirits with Her and they’re all there in the room–blammo!–for good? That She’s now something like the tutelary deity of our temple space?”
“I’d say I believe you,” Dan said somberly. “And I’d also say that even though you’ve got big cojones, you’ve got to be careful.”
What compelled me to seek Sedna out last night was the trifecta of the new moon in Pisces (She is euphemistically called “the Sea Woman” after all), the return of the brutal cold courtesy of a jet stream hailing all the way from Siberia, and the disturbing news I’d been reading about online the past few days about how malnourished, dying sea lion pups are leaving the ocean in record numbers all along Southern California’s coastline. They’ve even been spotted trying to enter peoples’ homes.
As the Inuit myth–told across a wide swath of Arctic territory, from Greenland to Canada to Alaska–goes, sea mammals were formed from Sedna’s severed fingertips after Her father, Anguta, maimed Her and threw Her overboard a kayak in an attempt to save his own life from a wrathful wizard/ocean spirit in bird form. According to scholars Frederic Laugrand and Jarich Oosten, when the Inuit violate ritual taboos, the sins become physically translated into filth that clogs Sedna’s eyes and ears (The Sea Woman, 2008, p. 71). She henceforth flies into a rage–Her disposition towards humans isn’t kindly to begin with, considering what Her father did to Her–and punishes the Inuit, whose culture still heavily depends upon traditional hunting, by withholding Her seals, whales, sea lions, etc. so they cannot be killed. Starvation? Tough.
Sedna’s hair also gets matted by human transgressions, which is why, when an Inuit shaman or angakuq is called in to negotiate for the release of sea mammals on a starving community’s behalf, a major method of appeasement is to calm Her down by combing Her hair and cleaning out Her eyes and ears, singing to Her soothingly, as one would a child (Laugrand and Oosten 71-72).
It’s not hard to pick up on the fact that Sedna is enraged right now. From the overfishing of Her oceans to the devastating effects of climate change–which the Inuit have been documenting as they are the most vulnerable coastal peoples to feel its effects–She’s got a legitimate beef with human beings, whom I suspect She really does see as a cancer that needs immediate eradication from the planet. (I tend to agree with Her there!)
So there was definitely a sense of urgency in wanting to reach out to Her shamanically last night. Per my procedure, I warded my temple space and my person with sacred herbs: heavy doses of bear root and bear leaf, plus cedar, sage, and sweetgrass. I had my spirit whistle and frame drum at my side for summoning. Before me, Sedna’s cult objects of Inuit-carved soapstone statues of Her, sea shells from the north Pacific laden with fresh water (the simplest and best offering for Her and the spirits of the dead, or tupilait, in Her retinue), a painting of Her that I did last year, fossilized seal bones (it’s amazing what you can get at a gem and mineral show these days!), and a soapstone-carved fish peace pipe filled with Icelandic moss and tobacco.
Most importantly, I had the effigy of my own Helping Spirit with me: a Zuni-carved fetish who has warded me admirably in every shamanic working/journey/crossing of thresholds.
I set the herbs aflame and fumigated the room and myself. I played my Summoning Song on my spirit whistle (carved out of ash wood from Lithuania). I talked to my spirit helper and told him about what I was going to attempt. I addressed Sedna, offering Her images water from the seashell (I dabbed the water on the lips of each statue/image), stating that I was coming in peace. I anointed my temples, forehead, and nape of neck with Fiery Wall of Protection oil. Then I grabbed my frame drum and did my traditional salutation to Sedna:
Sedna, I honor you (strike drum)
I welcome you (strike drum)
I give you thanks (strike drum three times)
And as I’ve mentioned earlier in this post, She came right away. Roaring. Shrieking. Wailing. Howling. Bellowing with guttural almost-word sounds. Hissing (that was a first). She made me tremble. She spoke through my voice, She used my hands to beat the drum furiously.
The gagging, the gagging was immediate and furious. It only took a couple of minutes before I’d completely vomited the modest dinner I thought I’d finished digesting an hour prior onto my chest. Simultaneously with the vomiting–the forcefulness of the retching triggered it somehow–I’d unleashed a torrent of urine, completely pissing my pants.
And yet “I” kept going. Hopping from left foot to right foot, swaying, as the multi-tonal cacophany raged on. In accordance with the dual-state of consciousness scholars of shamanism or anthropology like to point out (Michael Harner’s The Way of the Shaman does so excellently), I was very aware of the fact that things were “amiss”–that I hadn’t sunk down myself into the Underworld portal I access to enter Adlivun, Sedna’s Arctic Ocean floor domain. The “I” of my ego consciousness was aware that I was in my temple room…and I was aware that a plethora of spirits had accompanied Sedna in Her mad rush through the floorboards to me.
The one that disturbed me the most was one I’d not seen before: a completely skeletal antlered being, like a humanoid caribou. That would make the most sense in the cultural paradigm for it to be a caribou stag and not some other land mammal. Weirdly, the way it danced around, I thought of European Witch Lore of the Man in Black or the Horned Lord said to preside over the gatherings of witches in traditional witchcraft. What was this thing? What is its name? Is this a baleful or benevolent being? Again, I found “his” appearance disturbing.
And then, in doing my research preparing to write this post, I came across an image of an Inuit spirit I found to be 99.9% accurate in aligning itself with my description: the shape-shifting spirit known as an Ijirak.
I’m curious to know if he’ll show up again at subsequent Sedna summonings; time will tell…
In human understanding, my shamanic ritual lasted about 65 minutes, start to finish. I did have a bit of a struggle in having Sedna leave my body. She had me crawling on my temple room floor, lapping up every last drop of water from the seashells. Growling continued for some time as well.
But I managed to fully regain my “driver’s seat” of consciousness–well, maybe not “fully” as I do agree with my beau that I am “out of it” today–and immediately began to purify myself with both Florida Water and church-procured (yes) Holy Water. I actually drank the latter, per Serbian custom in instances of experiencing possibly malevolent spiritual activity.
So that was my night with Sedna and the spirits. As to why I do these kind of rituals and agree to wholly give myself over body and spirit to an external spiritual force, to answer Dan’s comment from this morning, all I can say is it’s a form of service that I think only other spirit workers/devotionally minded polytheists can understand. If you disagree with me, you’re more than entitled to.
Pijariiqpunga. (That is all I have to say.)
Works Cited / Recommended Reading:
Laugrand, Frederic and Jarich Oosten. The Sea Woman: Sedna in Inuit Shamanism and Art in the Eastern Arctic. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Press, 2008.
Rasmussen, Knud. Eskimo Folk-Tales. Trans. W. Worster. London: 1921, now in the public domain and accessible at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/inu/eft.eft01.htm.