Finding the Path
Inuit religion evolved around their life in the Arctic-- a land of either endless sun and no means of navigating, or endless darkness and danger. Death came quickly to those that did not plan ahead-- practices evolved into rituals, cautions evolved into taboos, and like every religion the unpredictable elementary forces became emotional deities, pleased or displeased at a whim.
"Are you the Shaman of the North, the one so swift you can run across the sky in a single night alongside your sled of caribou?" the orange-clad stranger asks.
"I am not," Nan'noq replied, "You will not find the angakkuit you seek."
Angakkuit, Inuit shamans, interpreted the whims of deities. They bestowed names upon newborns to imbue them with the strength or courage of their namesakes. They bestowed talismans upon the afflicted to protect them from further harm. They took spiritual journeys-- to the underworld beneath the sea, or to the celestial hunting grounds in the sky-- to appease or seek advice from the gods, spirits, and ancestors.
"I will find him or die trying," the stranger responds.
"You most certainly will die," the Inuit nodded knowingly, "He lives across the land, the sky, and the sea...:
The Arctic land could kill with a bitter wind, a biting cold, or the teeth of a predator. The Arctic water could trick you, swallow you whole, and make a meal of you for spirit or beast. The Arctic sky is where the spirits and the ancestors dance and hunt along ribbons of light or twinkling stars. Angakkuit could traverse all three at their peril.
"How can I cross the land, the sky, and the sea?" the orange-clad stranger asks.
Underneath the South Pole sits a continent, but the North Pole sits atop an everchanging landscape of ice and ocean. Compasses are useless within a thousand miles, and it's hard to tell east or west when the sun hovers overhead for six months straight. The wintery stars provide some guidance, but simply observing them runs the risk of freezing to death or making a swift transition from predator to prey.
"Only the feet of the polar bear can cross all three," Nan'noq told him. Polar bears hunted on the land and sea, but many stories tell of bears that lived among the stars.
"How do I get the feet off a bear?" the orange-clad stranger asked.
"If you had a spear you could hunt one... but I think you'd be better off simply asking," Nan'noq told him, "Politely," he added.
Hunting, for the Inuit, was as much a matter of respecting your prey as utilizing it. Bears were not killed, for example; they allowed themselves to be killed-- but only by hunters that would use every inch of their carcass and give them spearheads, needles or combs for the afterlife.
"How do I find a bear to ask?" the orange-clad stranger asked.
"Just follow the great bear in the sky, of course," Nan'noq told him, for in Inuit tales the great bear spirit, one day overcome with the thrill of the hunt, ran clear off the edge of the earth and settled into the northern sky. Where the Greeks saw a bull, the Inuit saw a bear.
"Thank you," replied the orange-clad stranger as he hoisted his bag upon his shoulders and turned to leave, "You've been a great help." Nan'noq shook his head "I do not think I've helped you," he looked up "And watch out for wolves!" he shouted, for the great wolf, Amarok, was known for devouring anyone foolish enough to hunt at night.
"They'll have to catch me first," the orange-clad stranger declared as he stepped out into the darkness.
He turned north, facing a cluster of stars that could almost be a bear's face, and started running.