Greenlandic myths and legends

Mads Pihl © Visit Greenland


Mother of the sea

Peter Lindstrom © Visit Greenland

Sassuma Arnaa, Sedna, Mother of the deep, Arnakuagsak, Arnaqquassaaq, Nerrivik, Nuliajuk, Arnapkapfaaluk, Takánakapsaluk. This Inuit myth has many names. 

Sassuma Arnaa is described as the mother/goddess of the sea that has been around since the dawn of time.

In Inuit mythology people believe that she is the sea-goddess and has control over the sea-animals.

If there is something that is bothering the mother of the sea, her long black hair would get all filthy and trap the animals in her long black hair, resulting in no food for the many families living off the sea. 

Whenever this happened, the Inuit people would contact an Angakkoq (Shaman) asking him to go down to Sassuma Arnaa and comb her hair to release all of the animals and make her happy again. 

Kids still to this day often play by the shores screaming ‘’Arnaqquassaaq kamagit’’ (E. Mother of the sea, show your wrath’’) going as close to the sea as possible, and whenever a wave comes closer they run away, imagining that the mother of the sea is out to get them.


Peter Lindstrom © Visit Greenland

If there is something Greenlandic people love, it is storytelling. 

A qivittoq is a said to be a spirit from people who have exiled into nature. It is said that a qivittoq turns into a supernatural being, as it would be impossible to survive the extreme conditions in Greenland, and they are believed to be able to turn into any animal. 

All of this is very much believed to this day, and if you visit the locals you can definitely hear a lot of folktales of these wandering spirits up in the highlands. Inuit believe that everything has a soul. The mountains, water, weather - everything.

This is why the inuit people have so many folktales about spirits and legends, that you rarely hear anywhere else. 

Northern Lights

Mads Pihl © Visit Greenland

Loved by the foreigners but ‘’feared’’ by the locals!

This old Greenlandic myth says that when the northern lights are dancing in the sky, that is the greenlandic ancestors playing in the sky. So when kids whistle at the lights, they come closer and closer and eventually they will take your head and play soccer with it.

Another version of this myth is that the moving lights are the spirits of stillborn babies dancing in the sky.

Although incredibly crazy this myth is, local kids (and adults) will still tell you to stop if you whistle at the northern lights! 

So if you are on your way to Greenland, to experience the beautiful dancing lights, whatever you do, don’t whistle!

Written by: Ajaana Olsvig Kristjánsdóttir

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