Published on September 1, 2014 by Amy
The Inuit are the native inhabitants of Arctic northern Canada and Greenland. Though they have largely accepted Christianity in modern times, their traditional beliefs were based around a type of animism, the belief that all living and non-living things had souls. This belief informed their rituals and way of life.
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The Inuit believed that when spirits left our world, they moved on to a spirit world. From there, they were able to exert influence on our world. Much of the Inuit lifestyle was based on the desire to keep the spirits happy. They believed that displeased spirits could cause bad hunts, destructive weather, waves of illness and other misfortunes.
The Inuit believed they had the ability to appeal to and sometimes even control spirits. The most adept at this were Shamans, the tribal religious leaders. Communion with the spirits was achieved through the use of amulets, charms, masks and dances. Shamans also provided advice and blessings to their tribes. They blessed hunts, treated injuries and disease, and provided suggestions on how to appease the spirits.
One essential way of appeasing spirits revolved around hunting etiquette. The animals they hunted needed to be shown complete respect. The Inuit believed that if this was not done, the animals’ spirits would return to plague them as a demons. Rules for hunting and eating included avoiding eating land and sea mammals in the same meal and using particular animal skins to wrap knives used for specific hunting tasks. Because they believed that animals’ souls were contained in their bladders, they would perform a ritual of honoring and returning the bladder to sea, allowing the spirit to find a new body.
The spirits of human beings also had specific rules applied to them in the Inuit belief system. People were potentially vulnerable to spiritual attacks by evil spirits, often in the form of possession and madness. People were believed to consist of three components — a body, a name and a spirit. Death only meant the end of the body, so babies were given the names of deceased relatives to allow the relatives’ names and spirits to continue on.