Comparative Guts

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Traditional tupilak

Water colour, Aron from Kangeq, Greenland, today stored in the Ethnographic Museum in Oslo (Oslo University).
Photo: Alexis Pantos/©Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo.

A tupilak  was an artificially crafted object used for sorcery. It was meant to hurt the person to whom it was sent. It resembled a seal in size and features and was made of bones from various animals plus sometimes the skull of a child, filled with peat and covered with skin. The tupilak  was brought to life by magic songs and made to grow by suckling the genitals of its maker. The transformation of the tupilak into an auspicious talisman as nowadays sold in shops feels nothing short of absurd. The production of miniature tupilaks carved in bone and sold as souvenirs, which began in the early years of the twentieth century, is responsible for this misleading trivialisation of the tradition.