The proper Inuit name for Greenland is Kalaallit Nunaat (pronounced KahlAHsseet NoonAHt). It means White Earth! The first language spoken is Kalaallisut (Greenlandic). Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, therefore the second language spoken is Danish. Everyone learns Danish (the language of the colonizers) in school (the way Western European children learn English in school as their primary foreign language).
The local (Inuit) population does not enjoy speaking Danish. They will oblige in a perfunctory way but not smile at you. If you want to scratch below the surface of local life, you need to learn some very basic Greenlandic. It will completely transform the encounters you have with local people!
While I was there, on my painting sabbatical, some of my advanced students already started asking: will you ever teach in Greenland? Will you take us to Greenland? My answer is yes, I will, if you are willing to learn some “survival Greenlandic” and arrive as an independent traveler (but I will provide the information you need)!
For many years I cherished a dream: painting under the Aurora Borealis in Greenland!
In October 2022 this dream came true. My mother died unexpectedly in August 2022. A few weeks later our youngest son left home and moved to his new university city (Durham). All of a sudden I was no longer a daughter and no longer a full-time mother either (of a child living at home). I boarded a flight to Greenland!
I spent one blissful month in this White Heaven. I arrived in time to see the first snow fall after the summer. I watched Inuit children make snowmen and dance on thin ice. I divided my days between hiking and painting. The mornings were dedicated to exploring the mountains and the coastline. The afternoons were for painting.
I embarked on a deep dive into Inuit cosmology, enriched by trips to the local museum. I saw the Northern Lights dance on the mountain tops (with the stars of Ursa Major, the Great Bear twinkling right through them!) This was something I had to do before I die. I soon discovered that some other people feel the same way...
While there it caused me considerable pain to observe is that the native people of Greenland no longer practice their ancestral traditions. Instead they attend the National Church of Denmark ( Evangelical-Lutheran). A lifeline, an umbilical cord to the ancestors, has been severed. The job of preserving information and observations has (largely but not completely!) fallen to outsiders, for about two centuries now. Thankfully we have the journals of Knud Rasmussen and, in modern times, the writings of e.g. Gretel Ehrlich and John MacDonald. Participants on this course receive a Recommended Reading and Resources List.
However, our culture has become intensely aware of the issue of counter-cultural appropriation: thoughtlessly taking things from another culture for our own use, without permission from the elders and living members of that culture. We try our hardest not to do that any longer. The indigenous ancestral spirituality of one culture is not a “smörgåsbord" for spiritual tourists from other cultures to feast (or snack) on”! This is my main reason for practicing (and teaching) a Northern European ancestral and indigenous spirituality. However, between these two (opposing) viewpoints stretches a gap or crevice. Gaps can be both “desolate canyons” and incredibly fertile void spaces. Sometimes outsiders see the value of things and, through their writing or art (documentaries, plays, poems etc.) help preserve something and keep it alive in our collective consciousness.
In Kalaallit Nunaat, Snow and Ice became my teachers and I entered into a day-and-night dialogue with ancient Inuit deities, especially Sedna (The Sea Keeper and Mother of all Marine Animals) and Sila (Weather/Consciousness/Breath/Spirit/Cosmos).
The Inuit deities are feeling sidelined or even neglected. They told me so explicitly. They came to me on the seashore and in the mountains. We need to realize that they represent some of the most formidable forces on our planet (and beyond). A shaman appeasing Sedna (The Sea Keeper) could literally make the difference between feast and famine. And Sila, weather/consciousness/spirit, in her harshest manifestation kills through exposure, blizzards, falling through ice etc.
The Big Teaching that I myself received, on the land there, is that powerful ancient deities dropping into oblivion is going to have an effect on climate, weather systems and the local food supply situation (for a moment forget about Denmark flying in Danish products to stock supermarkets, at astronomical expense). These deities exist, no matter whether human beings believe in them and honour them, or not! Forgotten Gods become dangerous forces indeed (I have written at length about this in my third book: Medicine of the Imagination!)
Over a period of about two centuries the Inuit became Christianized. Initially this was a very alien way of thinking for them. They observed many rules, traditions and taboos in order to not anger the deities (the ones I just mentioned. but also others). When they were introduced to European timekeeping (clocks and watches) and to one omniscient male God who demanded one day of complete rest out of seven, they (eventually) came around to thinking that there was a certain convenience to that. Resting on Sundays absolved them from observing other taboos and sacrifices on other days. They were also told that the Christian God was loving and compassionate. That was attractive to people living on the jagged razor edge between Life and Death. Qilak (the Inuit word for sky) came to mean Christian Heaven.
I am aware that that if I am able to gather a group of people there, powerful work can be done in terms of connecting to (and honoring ceremonially) both the spirits of the land and the local deities. I am also aware that the Greenland Tourist Board actively employs people to attract more tourists to Greenland. In that case, why not bring spiritually aware visitors, willing to do work on the land, the work of creating more balance and harmony between all worlds (and their inhabitants)?
I reassure you that I am well aware of all the flip or shadow sides: obvious ones are the risk of cultural appropriation and the carbon footprint of people flying to a relatively (but far from 100%) pristine arctic paradise. (Greenland is not really “Paradise”, by the way, the statistics for alcohol abuse, child abuse and suicide are shocking!)
Our group will gather in Greenland on the specific dates set (see the practical info below). People will make their own arrangements and may well add on extra nights or flights, to see more of Greenland. I will provide an introduction to Inuit cosmology and the pre-Christian traditions of the circumpolar people. This is a subject I have studied obsessively for 30 years.
I will use my own experiences to craft group experiences in response to requests from spirits of the land and the deities mentioned. I am going to view this as a sacred art or creative retreat, with a strong focus on creative and spiritual work. This means working in spirit-led ways, as participants on my Sweden Program always do so brilliantly. My Seiðr students and Sacred Art students have set the template! It also means that your creativity can take absolutely any form: painting, doll-making, working with found objects, writing, poetry, sewing or embroidery, wood carving, singing (and so forth).
I am very obviously not Inuit and I cannot claim to teach “Inuit, Arctic or Circumpolar Shamanism”. For that reason I will use myself, my own experiences and decades studies, as the reference point and not stake any claims beyond that. However, I reassure you that I have a lot of knowledge to share. And I am actively studying both Greenlandic and Inuktitut!
I want to do fairly advanced work, which will make a difference (as requested by the spirits of place). For that reason do not feel able to take complete beginners or “tourists” to Greenland. This opportunity is for people who have worked with me, repeatedly and on an advanced level, before (studying either Norse material or Sacred Art).
This course was requested by my Advanced Sweden Program students and therefore places will be allocated in the following order:
First refusal goes to the people who graduated on my Sweden Program in September 2022
After a set amount of time (one calendar month) I extend registration to people who have done sacred art retreats with me (in any location)
Finally I will open registration to people who have done serious work with me, anywhere in the world
I will set time windows for these categories but, beyond that, places are allocated in order of the deposits received. Only paying a deposit will secure your place. I will not take financial risks on your behalf or reserve places which are not backed up by a deposit.
I am seriously considering creating and teaching a series of three compulsory webinars in preparation. They will enable participants to start reading up on and connecting to Inuit material.
I am even considering teaching a “Survival Greenlandic Language” webinar, based on recent dialogues with eager (slightly panicked) students. I am willing to take people through that on a basis of “one-eye leading the blind!” :)
Once registrations roll in I intend to create a closed Facebook group for our Greenland group so people can communicate about flights, room shares, add-on excursions, useful links and so forth!
I cannot take responsibility for disabilities or special needs. Greenland is not a very disability-friendly place and other than teaching my key focus will be on arctic health and safety. All participants remain responsible for their own travel insurance, cover of emergency medical care etc.
I cannot promise to act as a simultaneous interpreter or translator (outside class hours and excursions) either. In terms of language and navigating town you are on your own! (Full disclosure: My own Greenlandic is basic, but I am going to work on improving that. My Danish is fake! From speaking to Danes I have learned to substitute certain words while speaking - fluent - Swedish. I have no trouble at all reading Danish. Hearing it spoken is much harder!)
Last but not least, I can only allocate places to people I have observed working well in class. By this I mean people who have both self-awareness and self-control, do shadow work, know their own strengths and triggers. I am looking for a team of people who are team-spirited and willing to work as a community. We do NOT need “emotional oil spills” in Greenland, the country has enough of a pollution problem as it is! (And if you don't know what I mean by that, this course is probably not for you, sorry!)
Dates: Monday 23 September until Friday 27 September 2024
Greenland runs 3 hours behind the UK, so noon in the UK is 9 AM in Greenland!
Location: Sisimiut (the second largest "city" in Greenland, after Nuuk).
Most people fly from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq and then catch a short flight north to Sisimiut. In summer there are some flights to Greenland from Arctic Canada but for the rest of the year everyone (even from the US) needs to fly via Denmark (or possibly Iceland!)
Airport Transfers: The airport is 5 km outside town, only a short taxi ride away. Once we are in town we do not need to rent any cars, or indeed use any public transport, because everything is within walking distance. On the edge of town the roads end – there are no roads connecting any towns in Greenland!
You don't need to speak Greenlandic to take a taxi: you show your driver the address and have a credit card ready!
Sisimiut is mountainous and the main hostel sits on a mountain top!
My plan is to walk everywhere and home again. Expect to spend several hours a day walking. By my own standards you do not need to be any kind of athlete or fitness freak, but you need to have decent level of fitness and stamina. Walking at a brisk pace for 3 – 4 hours a day (with stops and time spent sitting out or doing ceremony on location) should not be a problem. Alternatively take taxis instead (they are easily hailed!) I can create notes with our destination written on it in Greenlandic!
Greenland is not very disability-friendly and I do not feel able to accept participants with serious mobility issues. My apologies for that!
Many of you may well choose to organise your own travels in Greenland before or after the retreat. Ilulissat (a bit further north) is well worth visiting. It is well known for its magnificent ice fjord and it's the greatest tourist attraction in Greenland (with prices to match!) Another option is a two night stop at Kangerlussuaq and visiting the glacier there. (Most of you will pass through there anyway!)
Greenland is EXPENSIVE! Air Greenland has a monopoly on all flights to Greenland.
Participants will book and pay for their own accommodation, flights, airport transfers and food.
Tuition Fee: £850 (which covers 5 days of teaching and 3 nights of ceremony. There will be one night off for people to as they wish (hang out, rest or explore town)! There is a late fee of £100 for people who apply after 1 September 2023. This is because too much uncertainty (and people only committing at the very last minute) could kill the trip for all of us!
By paying your deposit you support me investing a lot of time and organization into this ambitious (!) undertaking. I suggest that people do not book flights until September 1st 2023, unless the course is full and I am able give the Green Light earlier. Or make your reservations anyway but be prepared for the eventuality of an independent holiday in Greenland!
This deposit is non-refundable. It will only be returned if the retreat is cancelled (e.g. due to lack of a participants or change in world situation such as the Covid-19 Pandemic and/or War in the Ukraine).
The remainder (£500 for participants who commit before 1-9-23) becomes due on 1 March 2024.
I have secured an option of adding on a one-day boat trip to islands in the Kangerluarsuk Tulleq fjord (DKK 700 pp, about £83 by the current exchange rates, but obviously they fluctuate over time!)
I will carry a personal locator beacon! If you are going to walking around by yourself (in the mountains outside town) you will need to carry one too.
A personal locator beacon uses satellites to send a distress signal with your exact coordinates to a local search and rescue organization. If you spend a lot of time outdoors whether hiking, camping or fishing, having a personal locator beacon ensures you can get help quickly if you get lost or experience some sort of trouble.
Roaming charges are exorbitant in Greenland and the system automatically switches that function off as soon as you set foot outside any Greenlandic airport. The choice is to either set aside a small fortune to fund that, or run all your communications via the hostel WiFi. That is what I did!
People who apply for the courses will receive a list of recommended reading and links.
Assuming that participants are on Facebook, (not assumed!), they will be added to the dedicated closed FB group I will create for this course. This will allow people to communicate about travel dates, packing lists, room shares, independent travel in Greenland before or after the course... and so forth.