Myths played a vital part in the daily life of the ancient Greenlanders.

The northern lights. Mother of the sea. The wandering spirit known as qivittoq.

These wonders, myths and characters played a vital part in the daily life of the ancient Greenlanders, who learnt moral code through oral traditions. Today, they are part of the social fabric that ties our people together and you are invited to see their influence in city art today.

Northern lights, myths and morals

Shimmering over the winter heavens, the northern lights create wonder everywhere it is seen. The people of Greenland in ancient times imagined that the northern lights were dancing each time their ancestors played football with a walrus skull in the sky.

Life and death was closely connected, and death just a transformation from one world to another.

The northern lights create wonder everywhere it is seen.

The Greenlanders lived life according to the law of the gods and nature.

Nature religion

The Greenlanders lived life according to the law of the gods and nature.

The shaman was a very powerful figure in society, as he interpreted the will of the higher powers. The oral histories passed down from one generation to another often featured a shaman, and moral codes were taught in this manner. 

The Mother of the Sea

Take for example the shaman’s relationship with the iconic Mother of the Sea. Mythology says that when an Inuit breaks a taboo in society, the Mother of the Sea’s hair gets filthy and entangles the animals, preventing the hunters from catching any food.

The shaman must then travel over the horizon to the bottom of the ocean to clean her hair and to release the animals. He must talk with her to find out which taboos were broken and communicate these lessons back to society.

Mythology says that when an Inuit breaks a taboo in society, the Mother of the Sea’s hair gets filthy and entangles the animals.

Myth about the young girl whose father threw overboard one day. He chopped off her fingers, and then hands, when she attempted to return to the boat.

She’s envisioned in art

Famous artworks of the Mother of the Sea can be found in different towns of Greenland, for example in Qaqortoq and in Nuuk. Many imagined the Nuuk street artwork by Icelandic artist known as Mottan featured Sassuma Arnaa (otherwise known in Canadian Inuit myths as Sedna), the young girl whose father threw overboard one day.

He chopped off her fingers, and then hands, when she attempted to return to the boat. The fingers became the smaller marine life such as seals and fish; the remains of the hands turned into polar bears and whales, and she sank to become the Mother of the Sea. In Baldursson’s art her hands are whole and she uses it to tame a polar bear.

Modern day legends

If there is one thing that Greenlanders love, it’s a spooky story. Many of today’s stories involve the infamous qivittoq, a wandering spirit who chooses to or is exiled into the nature. It was believed that the exiled people turned into spirits, as they could not survive Greenland’s harsh climate. Don’t be surprised that even in modern day Greenland, a local’s adventure stories into the wild nature will involve sighting a qivittoq. The legends live on!

You can find out more about Greenlandic culture and art in museums, or by joining city or northern light tours in Greenland.

 

If there is one thing that Greenlanders love, it’s a spooky story.