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Cultures > Inuit

:: 1000 AD - PRESENT

Cultural Background | Surviving | Finding Meaning in the Cosmos

Finding Meaning in the Cosmos

The Inuit created and believed many myths about the images they observed in the sky.

The Sun and Moon: The Inuit who lived in Greenland believed that this myth explained the movement of the sun and moon across the sky, including the phases of the moon and the solar eclipse:

The sun was a goddess named Malina, and her brother Anningan was the god of the moon. When they were children, they played together in the dark.

One night, Anningan raped his sister. They fought, and during that struggle a seal-oil lamp broke and spilled oil on Malina's hands. She rubbed her hands on Anningan's face during the
night and then ran away from him into the sky.

Anningan chased her into the sky, where the two siblings became the sun and moon.

Anningan continues to chase his sister to this day, which is why the sun and moon are rarely seen in the sky at the same time.

Sometimes Anningan forgets to eat because he is so obsessed with his sister. As the days pass, he becomes thinner and thinner. Eventually, he is forced to leave the sky for three days each month. This pattern of changing sizes of the moon explains the lunar cycle.

On rare occasions, the moon god reaches the sun. When this happens, a solar eclipse occurs in the sky.

The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): When the sun throws tiny parts of itself off into the sky, a stream of solar winds containing tiny particles called electrons and protons travels toward the north and south poles. When that stream enters the atmosphere, it reacts with the gases oxygen and nitrogen to produce a display of green, pink and blood red in the sky. This phenomenon is known as the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.

The Inuit have many myths to describe the appearance of the Northern Lights in the sky.

Most Inuit believe that the ribbons of light they see are spirits moving about in the sky. Some believe that the spirits are playing football with the skull of a walrus, or that walrus spirits are playing football with a human skull. The display is also thought to be a sign that good weather is to come.

The Inuit living in Alaska feel the opposite, however. They think that the Aurora Borealis is evil. They carry weapons with them when they venture outside during the display and hide away their children until the light show is over.

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Learn more about the sun, the moon and the constellations and how they influenced cultures' mythology.

Learn more about Inuit Mythology.


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