Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/641

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

one stabs her, and by this means they cut off all the transgressions The ceremony is performed in a darkened snow-house. After the ceremony the lamps are lighted again and the people see the harpoon and the knife that were used in the ceremony covered with blood. If the angakut should fail to free Sedna from the transgressions, bad weather and hunger would prevail during the ensuing winter. On the following day Sedna sends her servant, who is called Kaileteta, to visit the tribe. She is represented by a man dressed in a woman's costume and wearing a mask made of seal-skin. On this day the people wear attached to their hoods pieces of skin of that animal of which their first clothing was made after they were born. It seems that the skins of certain animals are used for this purpose, each month having one animal of its own. It is said that if they should not wear the skin of the proper animal, Sedna would be offended and would punish them.

The angakut also cure sick persons and make good weather with the help of their guardian spirits. They discover transgressions of taboos and other causes of ill luck. One of the most curious methods of divination applied by the angakut is that of 'head-lifting.' A thong is placed around the head of a person who lies down next to the patient. The thong is attached to the end of a stick which is held in hand by the angakok. Then the latter asks questions as to the nature and outcome of the disease, which are supposed to be answered by the soul of a dead person, which makes it impossible for the head to be lifted if the answer is affirmative, while the head is raised easily if the answer is negative. As soon as the soul of the departed leaves, the head can be moved without difficulty.

Amulets are extensively used as a protection against evil influences and to secure good luck. Pregnant women wear the teeth of wolves on the backs of their shirts. These same teeth are fastened to the edge of the infant's hood. The string which passes under the large hood of the woman who carries her child on her back is fastened at one end to a bear's tooth, which serves to strengthen the child's soul. When the child begins to walk about, this string and the bear's tooth are attached to its shirt and worn as amulets. Pyrites, when thrown upon a spirit, are believed to drive it away.

As compared with the beliefs of the Greenlanders, the beliefs of the Central Eskimo are characterized by the great importance of the Sedna myth and the entire absence of the belief in a powerful spirit called Tonarssuk, which seems to have been one of the principal features of Greenland beliefs. There is an evident tendency among the Central Eskimo to affiliate all customs and beliefs with the myth of the origin of sea animals. This tendency seems to have been one of the principal causes that molded the customs and beliefs of the people into the form in which they appear at the present time.