MY INUIT ANCESTORS, A Reflection On Spiritual Heritage is a an exploration through paintings and drawings of my own dreams, Inuit Myths and traditions. At times we need to dream in black and white to see more clearly or to see in the Dark!
In this film White Bear appears and he is really a shaman in disguise, roaming the universe. He takes me to a place where Time freezes along with the Ocean when The Great Darkness comes and many magical events unfold. The boundary between dreams and reality dissolves. There are encounters with animals, wind spirits, snow spirits and beings from other realms.
It is my hope that this film will urge people to honour and preserve the wisdom and culture of the Inuit and that it will get people dreaming on their own spiritual lineage.
I was born in the Netherlands (maiden name: Imelda Berendsen) where I never felt at home. My adult life has been a great journey exploring where my spiritual home is. The place my soul calls home is in The Far North: Greenland.
The White Land Beneath The Bear is a short film made to celebrate the Winter Solstice of the year 2015. There was the rare event of a Full Moon at Christmas greeting and embracing the Returning Sun!
This film is about the Arctic, especially Greenland, and shares visions and dreams of this White Continent. It shares ancient memories received through dreams, being released into our swelling oceans as the ice-caps continue to melt.
This film is about bears: both the bears in the night sky (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) and Polar Bears.
We are all alive at a time of global paradigm shift and great changes in consciousness. This film urges us to reflect on how we can make choices that bring healing and wholeness to our children, our planet and the cubs of an endangered species: the polar bear.
I invite you too to dream you way into this Cathedral In Ice...
Sedna is the Sea Keeper and Mother of All Sea Animals, an Inuit goddess venerated (and feared) by all Inuit tribes. When human beings transgress, violate animals or break taboos, Sedna cooks up fierce storms and withholds game. The result is Death, Darkness and Starvation. A Shaman then needs to undertake a dangerous journey to the bottom of the Sea to comb out Sedna's hair (to free the entangled animals) and to appease her until she releases all animals.
Western culture has lost both shamans and the awareness that to live in harmony with all sentient beings, we need to communicate closely with gods, goddesses, spirits and other inhabitants of all worlds, seen and unseen.
This short film sees Sedna setting out to investigate what is shaking her watery world, what humans are doing to the Earth and all animals, especially whales. I invite you to watch the film to find out what happens...
In the Arctic region temperatures fluctuate between -60 and 30 degrees Celsius. The Inuit, formerly known as the Eskimos, have inhabited this vast area and survived for over 4000 years. They believe that the Tuuniit, or Ancient Ones (the first humans), prepared the land for future generations
Inuit art and mythology reflects a precarious life lived close to the ocean, in a complex relationship with the souls of the animals they must hunt to nourish themselves. For them the Visible World around them depends on the Invisible World.
They need to appease the spirits and treat the animals they kill with ceremony and respect. The Shamans (or Angakoks) are important interpreters of the Unseen for the tribe. They often need to embark on journeys and overcome certain barriers along the way. They have to atone for the tribe's trangressions and make peace with the Sea Keeper, to restore peace and balance in the Everyday or Visible World.
The Inuit possess a quality that has become alien to us: unganaqtuqnuna, 'a deep and total attachment to the land'. No Inuit hunter would ever kill disrespectfully, for fun or for no good reason. They have a word for this: taimaigiakaman, 'the Great Necessity' (to kill living things).
The Inuit have complex rituals to ensure that they do not offend the animal they killed and they make sure its Spirit Soul can find its way home. If they kill a polar bear, for instance, they cut off the head, make it face inland to make sure it knows how to get home (to the Spirit World) and as a courtesy they drop fresh water in its mouth. (See the Siberian Series on the send-off a whale is given once killed!
"The best known of the circumpolar Inuit adventure hunter-hero-traveler legends is perhaps the story of Kiviuk, who went out in his kayak, and, after passing many dangerous obstructions, reached a coast, where he fell in with an old witch, who killed her visitors with her sharp tail, by sitting on them. After escaping from her by covering his chest with a flat stone, he came to two women who lived by themselves, and whom he assisted in obtaining fish. Finally he traveled home and found his son grown up. Characteristic of Greenland are the numerous traditions of visits to a country beyond the sea, and of adventures there. These do not seem to be so common among the central tribes, although among them similar tales are not missing. An example of these is the tale of two sisters who were carried away by the ice to the land beyond the sea, where they subsisted for some time on salmon and seals which they caught. They were discovered by two men whom they married. They gave birth to two daughters, whereupon the husband of the one threatened to kill his wife if she should give birth to another daughter. Therefore they made their escape back to their own country across the ice. Their brother, induced by their tales of the abundance of game in the country across the sea, set out on a visit, giving his boat three coverings, which he cut off in succession when they became wet. He caught much game, and killed the men who had threatened his sisters by causing them to drink water mixed with caribou-hair taken from the stocking of a dead person. By this means the enemies were transformed into caribou, which he shot."
— Franz Boas 1904
CATHEDRAL IN ICE - Ilulissat, Kallalit Nunaat (Greenland), Friday 22 August 2008 4 am
I sleep like a log until something wakes me at 4 am. The Spirit of Greenland is calling me: "You have always wanted to visit Greenland, but the truth is that I was calling you! On the way from the airport you notice a flock of sea gulls gathered on a melting ice floe in the harbour. You felt tearful as you heard the spirits say: this is an endangered continent. I am shown an image of Knud Rasmussen (the great Arctic explorer) setting out with his dogsled. Here is a man who truly loved Greenland. Who added nothing to the landscape and only took from the land what he truly needed. He took great pride and joy in this continent. HIs dogsled took him into uncharted territories. This is how Greenland should be visited! Look out of the window at the icebergs in the bay! You will see portals in the ice. There are whole worlds in that ice that no one has ever seen! I walk across the frozen ice sea and enter one of those portals. There is a cathedral deep inside that iceberg: a huge sacred space, half under water and half above. I see polar bears, dolphins, seals, whales and all sorts of polar animals. All are white. This is where the spirits of the dead animals live The polar bear cubs that didn't make it through winter, the animals that died a natural death, or gave up their lives in the hunt. Their spirits live on in this sacred enclosure made of ice. A space not visited by humans, not photographed by tourists. A sacred space of eternal beauty: a Cathedral in Ice.
ANGAKOK SHAMAN MOTHER SOLD
This painting shows a shaman mother carrying her two babies in her amaut (hood of her parka).
In many cultures women cannot become shamans until after the menopause because their life force is tied up to bearing and raising children. After the menopause this energy becomes available for spiritual pursuits.
However, I love the idea of an Inuit Shaman Mother working while carrying her children on her back!
WORLDS WITHIN WOMAN (80 X 100 cm) £545
As above, so below. As within, so without. The world around us (and outside us) is a reflection of our inner world. In a very literal world we carry the cosmos within us and we can visit any place in the universe by traveling deeply within ourselves... someone coined the word "psychonauts" for this journey...
This painting was inspired by seeing prints made by contemporary Inuit women artists who incorporate images inspired by Christianity and the Bible in their artwork. I was very much struck by the fact that they were willing to take on Christian concepts, while Christianity has not returned the favour and always rejected shamanism and indigenous spiritual beliefs systems downright. Not only that, great efforts have been made by missionaries to wipe out indigenous teachings and pathways of thinking all over the planet. I like the notion of 'Eve and the Serpent and the Animal Spirits'!!
A 'sundog' is a rainbow-like ring around the sun. Some Inuit say that it represents the hand drum used by a shaman to invoke spirits and other worlds. A child born with a birth mark resembling a drum is destined to be a shaman. It's an omen. Before being converted to Christianity by Arctic missionaries, East Greenlanders believed that a human being had many small souls the size of a thumb, that resided in every limb and joint, shaped like miniature people!
< KIVITOQ or ARCTIC HERMIT SOLD
Someone who abandons his family to live alone on the edge of the ice-cap. (The Inuit are used to doing things in a group. They see solitude as a sign of unhappiness!)
Life in the Arctic is harsh and difficult. Death is an everyday occurrence as animals must be killed for the Inuit to stay alive. Therefore their attitude to life and death is totally different from ours. They accept that life is risky and precarious, death does not come as an insult or suprise, the way we view death. Similarly Greenlanders have always known that the human psyche is a difficult place to negotiate, like ice. They practise tolerance to those in distress. And then there is Perleroneq, ARCTIC HYSTERIA. It can affect dogs as well as human beings when, during the dark period, someone just 'loses' it (to use an expression from our culture!) and goes crazy, or berserk (to use a word from the Icelandic sagas).
When it comes to relationships, an Inuit-style marriage involves no ceremony and no rings Just an unspoken vow to live 'so as not to injure each other's minds'.
LIVING STONE (80 x 100 cm) £485
One Inuit Spirit was a living stone that loved to frighten people!
LOON AND RAVEN PAINTING EACH OTHER (Inuit Legend) SOLD
TRANSFORMING (Aglermiut) SOLD
KINAROQ or Wolf Mask (80 x 100 cm) £485
The Inuit at point Hope used masks in their ceremonies called Kinaroq. The masks were only made after the shaman had journeyed to the Land of the Spirits and returned with fresh impressions of their faces. He would then begin to carve.
Each Inuit mask had its own life. It came with its own songs, sung by the wearer in the dance house. The wolf mask had a sea horse in its mouth. (Many people have asked me why, I have no idea!)
The songs they sang while making and wearing the masks came directly from the mask's Inua (spirit) and so, while they sang the wolf song, the sea horse's song or the polar bear's song, they gave expression to things that came directly from that animal's heart.
Seeing was the ultimate act of the shamans or angakoks (Inuit word for shaman). Some wore masks and others hid their faces behind seal-skins. The idea was to banish the obstructions of ego, greed and self-importance (see also the SHAMANISM PAGEfor more about this)
People live on after death. The dead become fully alive again in dreams. Sleep and dreams are the allies of the spirits. When someone sleeps, their soul is turned upside down and they hang on to their body by the big toe! Life is tenuous and can slip away any time.
Greenlanders used to believe that the aurora borealis represented the souls of stillborn children kicking their umbilical cords
One of the remotest Inuit Tribes believed that when people died, the moon carried them up to the Land of the Dead, where the windows of their houses showed as stars. Aningat or Targeq was a Moon Being who lived with his sister in a double house up in the Land of the Dead. He regulated fertility, presided over the tides and currents of the sea and brought boys good luck.
The Inuit believed that people lived on after death. Shamans knew this and ordinary people believed it too, because dead people appeared to them often. The Afterlife had three domains:
Anerlartarfik, 'the place one can always return to', a happy place far up in space. Clever hunters went there as well as women who had allowed themselves to be tattooed so they would be beautiful. It is a beautiful place with berries growing and huge herds of caribou grazing
Nugumiut, 'those who always sit huddled up with hanging heads' (a place for lazy hunters and slothful women. They are always hungry because their only food is butterflies!)
Aglermiut, a place deep in the bowels of the earth, where the seasons are reversed and where famous hunters and shamans reside. A happy place where the seasons are reversed. The residents can transform into sea-gulls and fly!
^ INUKTITUT - the language of the Inuit
An important thing to bear in mind is that the Inuit language evolved around very different concepts from the ways of thinking we are used to. For instance, in the Arctic the Summer is divided into two seasons:
Siangiyaut 'when young ducks preen'
Saggat 'when caribou have short hair'
The word for Spring is immaturpuq, 'when the earth receives its first water'.
Their language has words for things that take our language a whole sentence to describe. E.g. tautoquuq, 'the occurrence of light on the winter landscape'. Their language is as entwined with the landscape they inhabit and they animals they depend on to survive as is their way of life.
The concepts embedded in our culture and mother tongue profoundly shape the way we perceive "reality".
INNUNGUAQ (30 x 30 cm) £145
(Inuksuk 'in the likeness of a human')
INUKSUK (30 x 30 cm) £165
(home & resting place for spirit)
TUPQUJAG (30 x 30 cm) £165
(or PORTAL through which a shaman enters the spirit world)
INUKSUK ARNIRNIQTALIK (30x 30 cm) £165
(Spirit Dwelling Inuksuk)
The Inuit have a legend saying that the first drum was the beating heart of a little girl whose spirit lives on in the drum
Inuksuit (plural of Inuksuk) are mysterious stone figures that can be found all over the Arctic world. They are built from whatever stones are at hand, so each stone is unique in shape. Their construction is rarely taken lightly. Inuksuit are among the oldest and most important objects placed by humans on the vast Arctic landscape and they have become a symbol of the Inuit (Eskimos) and their homeland.
The word 'Inuksuk' (plural: Inuksuit) means 'something acting in the capacity of a human'. Inuksuit are silent messengers that can communicate many different things:
a safe passage
hints for hunters
objects of veneration
Inuit elders say that the building of Inuksuit began 'in the time of the first humans, those who prepared the land for our first ancestors'. They are referred to as the Tuniit or Ancient Ones. The best Inuksuit are found at 'waiting places', where people had time on their hands to build something.
Once an Inuksuk has been erected it creates its own micro-climate. It casts a shadow, is visible from miles, is a windbreak. It can hold snow on one side and trap sunshine on the other side. It collects bird dropping which in turn provide nutrition for plant life (meaning lichen in the Arctic). Sometimes there is even a flower from seed dropped by a bird or an Arctic butterfly...
An important thing to bear in mind is that the Inuit language evolves around very different concepts from the ways of thinking and naming we are used to. For instance, in the Arctic, the summer is divided into two seasons:
I Siangiyaut 'when young ducks preen'
II Saggat 'when caribou have short hair'
The word for Spring is immaturpug, 'when the earth received its first water'.
Tatniqquaq is the moon of the shortest days and becomes
Nalirgaituq, the moon signalling the return of the sun
The Inuit possess a quality that has become alien to us: unganaqtuqnuna, 'a deep and total attachment to the land'. Their language has words for things that takes our language a whole sentence to describe: tautoguuq, 'the occurrence of light on the winter landscape'. Another beautiful example is issumatujuk: turning things over to see what the underside looks like, moving through shadows, never staying in one place...
As explained in the Inuit Series: the Inuit live a precarious life lived close to the ocean, in a complex relationship with the souls of the animals they have to hunt for food. No Inuit hunter would ever kill disprespectfully (i.e. for sport or for no good reason). The Inuit have a word for this: taimaigiakaman, 'The Great Necessity' (to kill living things).Shamans played a crucial role as intermediators between human beings and the spirit world. One type of Inuksuk is called a tupqujag. It is a structure in the shape of a doorway or portal through which a shaman enters the spirit world.
The Inuit had a custom of building an Inuksuk for a loved one before embarking on a long and dangerous journey. They placed their spirit inside, making it a place that relatives could visit. After death the Inuksuk became a permanent resting place for their spirit. (A fascinating variation on our concept of a grave, I think!). Inuksuit can take many different forms and shapes. One single Inuksuk can even have different silhouettes when approached from different directions! (I.e. the silhouette of a man from one direction, and of a bird's head and beak from another direction, a pointing finger from yet a third direction).
Pathways are an important concept in Inuit culture. Just as the animals have (migration) pathways and humans have (hunting) pathways, there exist pathways of the mind! The word tukisiuti means 'pathways of understanding'. Some lead to wisdom, others lead to chaos... Shamans had pathways forbidden to ordinary humans. (For more on this subject please see the write-up of the Siberian Series and the Apogrypha).
For the Inuit (in the days before television!) storytelling was both a form of communication and entertainment. Stories
bring the past into the present
connect children to ancestors
fill a tent with images that 'dance in the imagination'
Norman Hallendy, who spent 40 years studying Inuksuit, says:
'perhaps Inuitsuit have endured because they have a presence not only upon the land but also upon the landscape of the imagination'.
I wholeheartedly recommend his book: Inuksuit: Silent Messengers of the Arctic. Reading his book certainly meant that Inuksuit took up a presence in my mind and imagination, which lead to me working on this particular series of paintings. He said something else I found very moving:
'From time to time the spirits seek us out because they are in need on human warmth for a little while. That is the time to listen very carefully what they are saying, because they are trying to tell us what they are really thinking'.