Monday Morning Musings

Posted on August 24, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment



Inukshuk in Kangiqsujuaq

Cairn Park – Antigonish


Inukshuks dot the landscape in the north.

Cairns are ubiquitous in Scotland and other parts of the world.

What is it about these wonderful stone markers?

A short time ago, I posted a picture that I took on one of my walks here in Kangiqsujuaq. On the outskirts of town, there is a large inukshuk, a popular gathering place to watch the northern lights. It is what I would refer to as the classic image that southerners most easily recognize. The next time that I saw a large pile of stones, it closely resembled the Scottish cairns with which many in my part of the world are familiar. I actually referred to it as a cairn. It didn’t take long for me to be corrected. I was told that even though the shape was different from the more recognizable inukshuk, this was indeed an inukshuk.

So began my exploration of the origin of cairns and inukshuks. Here is an explanation of both, paraphrased for your reading pleasure.

“The Inukshuk is a symbol with deep roots in the Inuit culture, a directional marker that signifies safety, hope and friendship .Inukshuks are the most important objects created by the Inuit who were the first people to inhabit portions of Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland. The term Inuksuk (the singular of Inukshuk) means “to act in the capacity of a human. “It is an extension of Inuk, meaning “a human being.”

These stone figures were placed on the temporal and spiritual landscapes. Among many practical functions, they were employed as hunting and navigational aids, coordination points, indicators, and message centers. In addition to their earthly functions, certain Inukshuk-like figures had spiritual connotations, and were objects of veneration, often marking the threshold of the spiritual landscape of the Inummariit – the Inuit who knew how to survive on the land living in their traditional way.

Inuksuit (the plural of Inukshuk) serve in a spiritual capacity to indicate a place where life is renewed or where spirits reside; where judgments or decisions are made and where celebrations and festivals are held. The Inukshuk, by standing along the way, may guide seekers on their journey helping them to find the way forward as well as the best path to their spiritual home. An Inukshuk may also indicate an object that should not be approached or touched, or an object that brings good fortune.

The skill of building an Inukshuk is traditionally passed down from one generation to the next. Each stone structure has a purpose, such as pointing the way to a good fishing spot or indicating where meat is cached. Inuksuit are used as directional markers and functions as instruments of navigation and astronomy. The longest arm may point to the closest village where you will find safety. Some will point to Niqirtsuituq or the north star.

The Inukshuk is a symbol of the human spirit. It recognizes our ability to succeed with others, where alone we might fail. It reminds us of our need to belong to something greater than ourselves and prompts us to reconnect with our individual responsibility to invest our efforts today so that we may all have a better tomorrow.

When you look at an old Inukshuk, you are seeing more than just a stack of stones. You are seeing the thoughts of another person left upon the land.” Norman Hallendy


The following passage refers more to cairns popular in Scotland.

“A cairn is a group of stones carefully arranged on top of each other. These man-made mounds , used since the prehistoric age, take on a number of roles and have guarded various landscapes for thousands of years, withstanding both the ferocious elements and the test of time.

Derived from the Scottish word “carn”, meaning “heap of stones”, cairns are ancient markers with Scottish roots found across the globe. Since prehistoric times, cairns have served as landmarks as well as burial monuments. Some experts state that many of these ancient stone stacks were also built for astrological, ceremonial, and hunting purposes. Indigenous people in places like Alaska and Greenland (and Canada’s north) have relied on such markers for centuries. Seafarers used cairns for navigating long before lighthouses entered the equation.

In Scottish folklore, Highland clan members would each place a stone on a pile before battle. The surviving warriors would subsequently remove their stone, leaving the remaining ones to transform into a memorial cairn for the fallen. The act of adding a small stone to a cairn, especially on a hilltop, is a deep-rooted Scottish tradition that signifies respect. By adding this rock, you are preserving the integrity of the monument and helping to protect it from harsh weather.

When the cairn marks a grave, the old Scots Gaelic blessing ‘Cuiridh mi clach air do charn’ or ‘I’ll put a stone on your cairn’ becomes relevant. The gesture is a way of saying ‘I’ll always remember you’ or ‘You will not be forgotten’. Torie Chalmers.

While this is not an exhaustive dissertation on the topic of Inukshuks and cairns, I thought you might find it interesting. I know I will view them differently when I pass them here in the north or back home.

Have a great week.

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