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The word Inuk means a human being, but also an immortal substance that lives in a being or an object. The plural of Inuk is Inuit.

Soul catcher

For the Inuit, reality is both visible and invisible. In principle, there are forces and beings on both sides. Thus, the souls can move regularly from one side to the other. The material world, perceptible to the senses, represents in the Inuit’s eyes only temporary and perishable facets of reality.

On the other hand, dreams or mystical experiences, although invisible and imperceptible to the senses, are commonly considered absolute truths. This type of subtle perception belongs to a higher order of reality. Ordinary humans have difficulty accessing this state of consciousness.

Thus, only initiates or shamans see what others do not see. Invisible forces and entities manage our universe. The shamans are their chosen ones and serve as mediators between these two worlds.
For the Inuit, the body is composed of several elements which interact continuously until the death of the individual:

The physical body

tima, timi

Has a temporary character and symbolizes a perishable house that envelops an immortal reality.

The breath

anirniq

Returns to Sila, to the environment, or his spirit.

The vitality

inusia

This element is proportional to the lifespan. Those who help others, acquire more vitality and a longer life. Those who are violent or practice the witchcraft, have a low level vitality and their lifespan is shorter.

The double soul (immortal part)

tarnek, tarniq, tarnik, tarniit

Represents the immortal component, which reflects itself in all parts of the body, the miniature image of the person. It is placed in a pocket at the groin level (between the hip and the thigh).

The name (immortal part)

adek, atiq, atiit

It concentrates on the characteristics of a person and his life principle. Saying a name sets it in motion. It gives everyone uniqueness and the person their humanity. The name remains among the living. It constitutes a significant link with the deceased.

Some of these elements enable communication with spirits, animals and the deceased. Usually, this happens through dreams or mystical experiences.

Inuk figure

The soul (tarnek) is an eternal principle, the manifestation of one’s individuality.

His journey begins with the plant’s world, continues with the animal’s kingdom, and ends with humans. A myth tells that the soul begins its existence in an unfortunate blade of grass which can no longer stand the wind and decides to change his place. Then, it evolves through many existences: in water, terrestrial and aquatic animals, and finally in humans.

Inuit tales tell that once, people and animals had similar souls. Thus animals could metamorphose into humans and humans into animals.

Spiritual mask

According to the Navagiyaq myth, the name can pass from human to animal and from animal to human. The Arnaqtaaqtuq myth narrates the adventures of a soul who, after being reincarnated in different animals, arrives finally reborn into a human being.

Angakkuq's coat

The immortal soul exists inside the fetus before its birth. Upon death, it walks around the tomb for a few days, then begins a long journey, accompanied by its little souls. After arriving in the underworld or heaven, the soul rests for some time, then continues a life similar to that on earth.

The Inuit imagines the soul as a sphere, an air bubble, inside which lives a miniature individual. That is the air taken from the atmosphere on the day of its birth.

Upon death, and before continuing to live and reincarnate in the afterlife, the miniature returns to ordinary size. The air inside the bubble returns to the atmosphere.

The word Inua (plural Inue) designates an invisible vital principle that exists in each thing. The Inua is a part of the soul. Humans, animals, lakes, mountains, plants, rivers, air, sea, moon, sun, certain stars, stones, etc. have specific inue. For example, the egg’s inua is in the egg’s yolk.

All body components capable of movement contain a little soul, the equivalent of the Inua. Humans, in general, have many little souls. They may be found all over the body: the limbs, the joints, the wrists, etc.

Shaman
Torngat Spirit

The Inuit perceive illness as an energy within a circularly moving structure. Illnesses appear when a little soul leaves the body. The human feels an intense pain when the enemy or the evil spirits come to steal one of his little souls. The negative thoughts, the blessing words, and the intense emotions (like fear, anger, and sorrow) may incite a little soul to leave.

The little soul can hide in a river or a lake, in the snow, the earth, the air, or the sea. Most of the time, the loss of a little human soul is not overwhelming because it can be repaired or replaced by that of an animal or bird. On the other hand, a human may die fast if he loses one of the two little souls found in the spinal column (at the neck and throat levels and in the lower part of the back).

Inuk figure

To heal, the patient asks the shaman to send his auxiliary spirits to recover the little missing soul. The shaman sings, beats the drum, and goes into a trance. From the moment his spirit disappears underground, one of the assisting spirits enters his body (through the anus).

Then, speaking in the characteristic voice of the spirit occupying his body, he sends guides and other assisting spirits to bring back the lost soul.

Meanwhile, the auxiliary spirit, represented as an idol surrounded by circles, sings monotonously:

My whole body is just eyes.
Look at them!
Do not be afraid!
I look from all sides.

Shaman's assisting spirit

Once found, the spirit keeps the little soul in its right hand. Afterward, the patient places himself in a sitting position, and then the spirit places his hand under the patient and pushes upwards the little soul. The soul thus passes through the anus to its usual place in the body. From that moment on, the patient is healthy.

Sometimes, the helping spirit cannot find the little soul. In these rare cases, the human does not recover, and after his death, he is condemned to wander.

Child figure

The sick people who do not have the means to call on a shaman and do want to bring back the little lost soul, sing the following verses:

Souls that I lost
My two tarnik souls
Come back from yourselves
And come inside me!
My souls, my souls
Come back from yourselves,
Come inside me and fix yourself!

From one region to another, the shaman’s assistant spirits are known by different names: toornaarsuk, tuurngait, tuurngaq, tuurnait, tuurnat. This term may sometimes signify the shadow of an animal or a deceased person. In all cases, it is a non-human being that resembles, in a certain way, the Ijiraq.

These assisting spirits are large, of all ages, and possess non-human physical strength. The size, color, and shape differ from one to another. They can create a fog, make themselves invisible, and temporarily erase from the memory of the Inuit the encounters with them. They appear mainly in human form, but some details in their aspect demonstrate that they are not ordinary human beings. Some of them can take an animal appearance. Considering that they live a long period, sometimes they serve several generations of shamans.

Night spirits
Drum

In the central Arctic, they are considered the masters of all the invisible, the most remarkable beings after Sedna, the mistress of the marine animals. In Labrador, they are malicious spirits capable of taking various forms. Among the Kitlinermiut, they are considered supernatural beings having half-human form. They live far from Inuit communities, can transform, and become invisible. Some of them live in spaces dug into the stone of the rocks. In Alaska, at Point Barrow, they are assimilated to spirits that cause illness. Among the people from Arviligjuarmiut of Pelly Bay in Nunavut, they are perceived as invisible beings, sometimes animals, monsters.

However, they can be kind and help the Inuit to obtain food.

Ijirait

The Ijiraq (plural Ijirait) is a spirit with a vertical mouth and eyes. Some Inuit, after their death, choose to transform into Ijiraq. Afterward, they can metamorphose into caribou.

A hunter must be careful with several details when he may want to distinguish a caribou from an Ijiraq. If one of the caribou’s ankles is stained or deformed, if the antlers are curved downward or similar to hair, it is an Ijiraq.

However, when they wish, these spirits can make themselves visible or make their presence known by a whistle. The shamans can see them naturally.

The Inuk considers himself as part of a universal whole. There is no separation, as they are an integral part of nature and the universe.

Death represents just a passage to the world of the deceased. The ancestors continue to communicate with the living through dreams.

« What we have heard about the soul shows us that the life of men and beasts does not end with death. When at the end of life we draw our last breath, that is not the end. We awake to consciousness again, we come to life again, and all this is effected through the soul intermediate. Therefore, it is that we regard the soul as the greatest and most incomprehensible of all.”

Knud Rasmussen 1929

Human birds

Glossary :

l’angakkuq = the shaman, the one who sees far away

asia = the other side, what touches us without being with us, a place where we are linked by an interest, a relationship or something else

Iloua = the opposite of asia, “my interior”, the consciousness of myself, or the interior of the house, etc

tarrak = the shadow, an image, a ghost, a hiding place, a taboo word or ritual used by shamans

tima = the temporary body, an ephemeral house, the transitory container of an immortal reality.

adek = the name, the personal and eternal principle of life. Saying the name sets it in motion. It gives each person uniqueness. He has the desire to inhabit a body and the property of reincarnation

tarnek = the soul, the immortal component reflected in all parts of the body, the miniature image of the person placed in a pocket located at the groin
level

tarriassuk (derived from tarrak) = that of the shadow, entity invisible to humans

Bear figure

Sources :

William Thalbitzer, Les magiciens esquimaux, leurs conceptions du monde, de l’âme et de la vie, Journal de la Société des Américanistes. Tome 22 n°1, 1930 (https://www.persee.fr/doc)

Robert Gessain, Ammassalik ou la civilisation obligatoire

Frédéric Laugrand, Lorsque des aînés évoquent la beauté de l’au-delà… ou ce que disent les expériences de mort imminente chez les Inuits du Nunavut (https://www.erudit.org/fr)

Knud Rasmussen, Du Groenland au Pacifique, deux ans d’intimité avec des tribus d’esquimaux inconnus, 1929

Vania Jimenez, La contagion dans la culture inuit, Horizons philosophiques (https://id.erudit.org)

Cécile Pelaudeix, Art Inuit : Formes de l’Ame et Représentations de l’Etre (https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr)

Bernard Saladin d’Anglure, Les métamorphoses dans les relations inuit avec les animaux et les esprits, Réligiologiques, no 32, printemps/automne 2015

Vladimir Randa (2017). Cornus versus dentus et autres modalités d’association des animaux dans l’imaginaire inuit. Études Inuit Studies, (https://doi.org)

Véronique Antomarchi, « Couleurs inuit », La Géographie, 2017/4 (N° 1567) (https://www.cairn.info)

Nathalie Ouellette, Les tuurngait dans le Nunavik occidental contemporain, Études/Inuit/Studies, Volume 26, numéro 2, 2002 (https://id.erudit.org)

Maddyson Borka, “ Une fois j’ai presque rencontré un esprit”, Ateliers d’anthropologie 52 | 2022, 20 October 2022 (http://journals.openedition.org)

Wikipédia (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inua)

Inuit myths and legends (https://www.inuitmyths.com)

Les Inuits (https://www.jstor.org)

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