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Knud Rasmussen - Caribou Eskimo Initiation rite

Identifier

000589

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

The Caribou Eskimo initiation rite has particular interest in this context as,  in a land of snow and ice, one has less to use to enable a person to get a spiritual experience.  A guru in India has a wealth of mechanisms and techniques at his disposal – cannabis, opium, heat, thirst, befuddling mechanisms, and so on.  But all you have in the Arctic is the snow.  So the following shows how ingeniously shamans of old devised an attrition programme for their young initiates based purely on snow cold and isolation.

I have not put many examples of guru devised attrition programmes on the website, but this one is interesting because of its novelty and to a certain extent its harshness.  It is also of especial interest because it is a technique where a guru deliberately uses the mechanism of severe truly severe  Attrition .

A guru acts like a personal trainer, devising a specific series of steps, exercises and 'events' suited to the capabilities, evolution and character of the person concerned.  For this reason there is no real 'method' that a guru follows, every method is different, - tailor made - however, I think it helps to show how an Inuit guru devised a plan.

There are a large number of activities being used here. 

The snow hut that was built was equivalent to a cave thus the technique being used is Visiting caves, mines barrows or vaults.   So tiny is it that the lad will probably be suffering from claustrophobia increasing the high emotion.  Over the time he was  there he may also have started to use up the oxygen in the place and thus be suffering to a certain extent fom hypoxia.  And he had to sit up, he couldn’t lie down but had to sleep – if he could sleep from the cold – sitting up.  Thus we also have Sleep deprivation and the use of exhaustion and total fatigue.  We can see that he was also made to fast – thus another mechanism is nutritional deprivation.

His guru introduced an element of ritual and ceremony into the process, to invoke both the necessary reverence for what he was about to do and help use his emotional state to fuel the process

A description of the experience

Knud Rasmussen – Across Arctic America

The quest of Igjugarjuk

My instructor was my wife's father. Perqanaq. When I was to be exhibited to Pinga and Hila, he dragged me on a little sledge that was no bigger than I could just sit on; he dragged me far over on the other side of Hikoligjuaq. It was a very long days journey inland to a place we call Kingarjuit: the high hills, which are at Tikerarjuaq (by the southeast shore of Hikoligjuaq). It was in winter time and took place at night with the new moon; one could just see the very first streak of the moon; it had just appeared in the sky.....................

I was not fetched again until the next moon was of the same size. Perqanaq built a small snow hut at the place where I was to be, this snow hut being no bigger than that I could just get under cover and sit down. I was given no sleeping skin to protect me against the cold, only a little piece of caribou skin to sit upon.  There I was shut in: The entrance was closed with a block, but no soft snow was thrown over the hut to make it warm. When I had sat there five days, Perqanaq came with water, tepid, wrapped in caribou skin, a watertight caribou-skin bag.  Not until fifteen days afterwards did he come again and hand me the same, just giving himself time to hand it to me, and then he was gone again, for even the old shaman must not interrupt my solitude.........................

The snow hut in which I sat was built far from the trails of men, and when Perqanaq had found the spot where he thought it ought to be built, he stopped the little sledge at a distance, and there I had to remain seated until the snow hut was ready. Not even I, who was after all the one to have to stay there, might set my footprints in the vicinity of the hut, and old Perqinaq had to carry me from the sledge over to the hut so that I could crawl in....................

As soon as I had become alone, Perqanaq enjoined me to think of one single thing all the time I was to be there, to want only one single thing, and that was to draw Pinga's attention to the fact that there I sat and wished to be a shaman...................

Pinga should own me. My novitiate took place in the middle of the coldest winter, and I, who never got anything to warm me, and must not move, was very cold, and it was so tiring having to sit without daring to lie down, that sometimes it was as if I died a little.  Only towards the end of the thirty days did a helping spirit come to me, a lovely and beautiful helping spirit, whom I had never thought of; it was a white woman; she came to me whilst I had collapsed, exhausted, and was sleeping.  But still I saw her lifelike, hovering over me, and from that day I could not close my eyes or dream without seeing her. There is this remarkable thing about my helping spirit, that I have never seen her while awake, but only in dreams. She came to me from Pinga and was a sign that Pinga had now noticed me and would give me powers that would make me a shaman.

The source of the experience

Inuit

Concepts, symbols and science items

Concepts

Higher spirit

Symbols

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps

Commonsteps

References