Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Now You See Them, Now You Don't...Shadow People of the Inuit

"Shadow Person" photographic illustration by K.L. Wood
What was that? Did you just see something flicker beside you but when you turned your head…it was gone? Optical illusion? Ghostly apparition?

The native Inuit people of the far northern climes of Canada and Alaska might say it was one of the shadow people. Among their many legends is that of the tarriassuit, the shadow people, who live alongside the Inuit in a kind of parallel universe. The origin of the tarriassuit is said to be of Inuit who strayed too far north on hunting trips and found themselves in a strange land halfway between the living and the dead. They could not leave this odd plane of existence and became beings with one foot in the visible and one foot in the invisible world.

The tarriassuit cannot usually be seen by humans but can sometimes be glimpsed from the corner of one’s eye. When they are, somehow, visible they are said to look and act just like contemporary Inuit…same clothing, hairstyles, hunting equipment and modes of
Map of Inuit Dialects per Wikimedia Commons
transportation. (That means snowmobiles in the 21st century.) Some Inuit say you can only see their shadows, hence the name shadow people, but can sometimes hear their footsteps and voices. There are Inuit legends that claim the amorphous creatures become visible when they die.

Although rare, it is said that sometimes humans can cross over into the land of the tarriassuit and even marry shadow people. There is the story of a woman who was wed to a shadow man but after some time she became frustrated with her inability to see her husband clearly. She grabbed a hunting knife and plunged it into the place she thought he stood. The shadow man fell dead to the ground, materializing into a handsome young man.
"Eskimo Figure, near Wrangell St. Elias Ntl Park, Alaska" photograph by Wm. Ahearn

The tarriassuit are thought of as kind, gentle, and helpful beings. The ending to the story of the murdered shadow husband is that, although the tarriassuit felt the need to seek revenge, they restrained themselves, believing it unfair to attack people who could not see them to fight back. This concept of benevolence is in sharp contrast to the tales of fear and horror associated with sightings of what current American ghost hunters call shadow people. I see the difference as how one society accepts and venerates that which is beyond our five senses versus another society (ours) that pushes other-worldly experiences into the realm of superstition and fear.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


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