October 9, 2012

Akna: The Inuit Mother Goddess

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , at 4:37 am by Babs

Akna (AHK-nah: Female):  If your cat is an especially attentive mother, always keeping a watchful gaze of concern on her restless kittens, you might want to consider this name.  To the Eskimos, Akna was the goddess of childbirth and motherhood.  In fact her name means “Mother.”  Akna also appears as a fertility and mother goddess of the Maya.

From Wikipedia: Inuit mythology has many similarities to the religions of other polar regions.  Inuit traditional religious practice could be very briefly summarized as a form of Shamanism based on animist principles.

In some respects, Inuit mythology stretches the common conception of what the term “mythology” means.  Unlike Greek mythology, for example, at least a few people have believed in it, without interruption, from the distant past up to and including the present time.  While the dominant religious system of the Inuit today is Christianity, many Inuit do still hold to at least some element of their traditional religious beliefs.  Some see the Inuit as having adapted traditional beliefs for the greater or lesser to Christianity, while others would argue that it is rather the reverse that is true: The Inuit have adapted Christianity to their worldview.

Inuit traditional cosmology is not religion in the usual theological sense, and is similar to what most people think of as mythology only in that it is a narrative about the world and the place of people init.  In the words of the Inuit writer Rachel Attituq Qisualik: “The Inuit cosmos is ruled by no one.  There are no divine mother and father figures.  There are no wind gods and solar creators.  There are no eternal punishments in the hereafter, as there are no punishments for children or adults in the here and now.”

Indeed, the traditional stories, rituals and taboos of the Inuit are so tied into the fearful and precautionary culture required by their harsh environment that it begs the question whether they qualify as beliefs at all, much less religion.  As Knud Rasmussen’s Inuit guide told him when asked about Inuit religious beliefs “We don’t believe, we fear.”  Living in a varied and irregular world, the Inuit traditionally did not worship anything, but they feared much.

The Inuit believed that all things had a form of spirit or soul (in Inuktitut: anirniq – breath; plural anirniit), just like humans.  These spirits were held to persist after death – a common myth present in practically all human societies.  However, the belief in the pervasiveness of spirits – the rood of Inuit myth structure – has consequences.  According to the customary Inuit saying “The great peril of our existence lies in the fact that our diet consists entirely of souls.”  By believing that all things – including animals – have souls like those of humans, killing an animal is little different from killing a person.  Once the anirniq of the dead – animal or human – is liberated, it is free to take revenge.  The spirit of the dead can only be placated by obedience to custom, avoiding taboos, and performing the right rituals.

The harshness and randomness of life in the arctic ensured that Inuit lived constantly in fear of unseen forces.  A run of bad luck could kill and begging potentially angry and vengeful but unseen powers for the necessities of day-to-day survival is a common consequence of a precarious existence even in modern society.  For the Inuit, to offend an anirniq was to risk extinction.  The principal role of the shaman in Inuit society was to advise and remind people of the rituals and taboos they needed to obey to placate the spirits, since he was held to be able to see and contact them.

The anirniit were seen to be a part of the sila – the sky or air around them – and were merely borrowed from it.  Although each person’s anirniq was individual, shaped by the life and body it inhabited, at the same time it was part of a larger whole.  This enabled Inuit to borrow the powers or characteristics of an anirniq by taking its name.  Furthermore, the spirits of a single class of thing – be it sea mammals, polar bears, or plants – were in some sense held to be the same, and could be invoked through a sort of keeper or master who was connected in some fashion with that class of thing.  In some cases, it is the anirniq of a human or animal who became a figure of respect or influence over animals things through some action, recounted in a traditional tale.  In other cases, it is a tuurngaq, as described below.

Since the arrival of Christianity among the Inuit, anirniq has become the accepted word for a Soul in the Christian sense.  This is the root word for a number of other Christian terms: anirnisiaq means Angel and God is rendered as anirnialuk – the great spirit.

Some spirits were by nature unconnected to physical bodies.  These figures were called tuurngait (singular tuurngaq) and were regarded as evil and monstrous, responsible for bad hunts and broken tools.  They could also possess humans, as recounted in the story of Atanarjuat.  Shamen could fight or exorcise them, or they could be held at bay by rituals; but they could also be caught and enslaved by shamen, who could then turn them against free tuurngait.  Tuurngaq has, with the inclusion of Christianity, taken on the additional meaning of Demon in the Christian belief system.

The shaman (Inuktitut: angakuq, sometimes spelled angakok; plural angakuit) of a community of Inuit was not the leader, but rather a sort of healer and psychotherapist, who tended wounds and offered advice, as well as involving the spirits to assist people in their lives, or as often as not fighting them off.  His or her role was to see, interpret and exhort the subtle and unseen.  Shamen were not trained – they were held to be born with the ability and to show it as they matured.  Rhythmic drums, chants and dances were often used in the performance of the shaman’s duties.  The function of the shaman has largely disappeared in Christianized Inuit society.

The Inuit simply did not have gods, although one often sees names from Inuit mythic traditions called gods in non-Inuit media, including Wikipedia.  what they had were the kinds of figures found in horror stories – mean, invisible, vengeful, arbitrary, powerful beings that were either particularly powerful tuurngait or human or animal anirniit turned into feared entities by some tale of abuse or  horror.

Inuit mythological tradition was only written down in recent years, and often two different stories would circulate about the same mythical figure, or alternately the same story would use different names in different areas.  Europeans further complicated this by mangling Inuktitut names as they transcribed them.  Thus, the entities below may appear under many other names, or their stories may be very different from teller to teller.

Akna in Space:

Venus and Earth are the only planets in our solar system that have mountain belts.  The highland massif of Ishtar Terra in the norther hemisphere of Venus includes a huge plateau, named Lakshmi Planum.  It is about the size of Africa, rises 3.5 thousand meters above the surrounding terrain, and is bordered by the Akna, Danu, Freyja and Maxwell mountains, each about one million meters in extent.  Maxwell Montes stands 11 thousand meters above the mean radius.  The Akna named for the Inuit Mother Goddess and the Yucatan Goddess of Birth,Freyja named for the Norse mother of Odin and Danu named for the Norse mother of Odin.  Maxwell is named after the British physicist James Clerk Maxwell, while Cleopatra is the Egyptian queen who had affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony.  The Blackfoot Indian woman Sacagawea, guided the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Northwest, and Claudine Collette was a French novelist.

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