The angakkuq (plural; angakuit, Inuktitut: ᐊᖓᑦᑯᖅ, angakkuit; Inuvialuktun: angatkuq; Greenlandic: angakok, angákut) is the intellectual and spiritual figure among the Inuit who corresponds to a medicine man. Other Alaskan Native cultures have traditionally had similar spiritual mediators, although Alaskan Native religion has many forms and variants.
Both women and men could become an angakkuq, although it was more rare for women to do so. The process for becoming an angakkuq varied widely. The son of a current angakkuq might be trained by his father to become one as well. Alternatively, a young man or woman who exhibited a predilection or power that made them stand out might be trained by an experienced mentor. There are also instances of angakkuit claiming to have been called to the role through dreams or visions. Mistreated orphans or people who had survived hard times might also become angakkuit with the help of the spirits of their dead loved ones.
Training to become an angakkuq consisted of acculturation to the rites and roles necessary for the position, as well as instruction in the special language of the angakkuit, which consisted largely of an archaic vocabulary and oral tradition that was shared across much of the Arctic areas the Inuit occupied. During their training, the angakkuq would also gain a familiar or spirit guide who would be visible only to them. This guide, called a tuurngaq, would at times give them extraordinary powers. Inuit stories tell of agakkuit who could run as fast as caribou, or who could fly, with the assistance of their tuurngaq. In some traditions, the angakkuq would be either stabbed or shot, receiving no wound because of the intervention of their tuurngaw, thus proving their power.
Until spiritual guidance or assistance was needed, an angakkuq lived a normal life for an Inuit, participating in society as a normal person. But when sickness needed to be cured, or divination of the causes of various misfortunes was needed, the angakkuq would be called on. The services of an angakkuit might also be required to interpret dreams. If they were called to perform actions that helped the entire village, the work was usually done freely. But if they were called to help an individual or family, they would usually receive remuneration for their efforts.
Amongst the Inuit, there are notions comparable to laws:tirigusuusiit, things to avoid
maligait, things to follow
piqujait, things to do
If these three are not obeyed, then the angakkuq may need to intervene with the offending party in order to avoid harmful consequence to the person or group. Breaking these laws or taboos was seen as the cause of misfortune, such as bad weather, accidents, or unsuccessful hunts. In order to pinpoint the cause of such misfortune, the angakkuq would undertake a spirit-guided journey outside of their body. They would discover the cause of the misfortune on this journey. Once they returned from the journey, the angakkuq would question people involved in the situation, and, under the belief that they already knew who was responsible, the people being questioned would often confess. This confession alone could be declared the solution to the problem, or acts of penance such as cleaning the urine pots or swapping wives might be necessary.
The angakkuit of the central Inuit participate in an annual ceremony to appease the mythological figure Sedna, the Sea Woman. The Inuit believed that Sedna became angry when her taboos were broken, and the only way to appease her was for an angakkuq to travel in spirit to the underworld where she lived, Adlivun, and smooth out her hair. According to myth, this was of great assistance to Sedna because she lacks fingers. The angakkuq would then beg or fight with Sedna to ensure that his people would not starve, and the Inuit believed that his pleading and apologies on behalf of his people would allow the animals to return and hunters to be successful. After returning from this spirit journey, communities in which the rite was practiced would have communal confessions, and then celebration.