My little exposure to Inuit myths and legends comes from my mentor Howard Norman’s In Fond Remembrance of Me, which documents his time in the Arctic collecting such stories.
Partial digression: IFRoM is not the easiest book to find, but is so worth it. The stories Norman specialized in are all “Noah stories”: tales about the time Noah sailed his Ark into Hudson Bay. Which right there is bizarre—Noah, the Bible figure, being incorporated into the structure of traditional Inuit tales of life and hardship as if he’d been there all along. Fascinating. And the rest of the book is a moving memoir about a fish-out-of-water friendship, which is high praise coming from me because I typically have zero interest in moving memoirs, especially ones where [deleted because spoilers] is involved. Look for it!
Anyway, in the stories Noah is a grump who doesn’t adapt to Inuit social norms, and in each tale he either dies or is sent packing south. Some of the most interesting tales involve run-ins with shamans. These are not kindly priests; they are strange men, possibly mad, who live by themselves on the outskirts of society or out in the wilderness. Offend one and he is likely to put a curse on you or shove you up the nostril of a seal (which one of Noah’s daughters remarks is not a very pleasant experience.) These shamans are important figures, but they are never safe. They are proud, they are vengeful, and they will be respected…or else.
The tupilaq, then, is just such an instrument for insuring that respect…or for taking revenge upon anyone offering an insult. But these carvings have to be used with care, because they can be turned against their creators.
Of course, you can find ivory a lot more places than just a frozen north. Tupilaqs are equally dangerous in the service of tropical shamans carving elephant ivory, kobolds guarding a dragon graveyard, or friars tending an ancient ossuary…
In order to learn a rare spell, adventurers must go to the frozen north and befriend an aging, cantankerous witch doctor. Doing so is no easy feat…and even if they manage it, he dies before he can pass on the final components. Worst yet, the old man had known his time was drawing to a close and had been busy settling scores. When a tupilaq he sent to kill a rival returns after being erased, it sets its sights on the adventurers as the shaman’s heirs apparent.
After failing to reach the spirit of her dead child via a séance, a mother is convinced his animus has been stolen. She is not wrong. The local friars did not inter her boy—or any of the other hundreds of bodies they have collected over the years. Instead they had beetle swarms strip the flesh from the skeleton, then used the bones as ornaments in their grizzly chapel and ossuary. And one of the friars captured the boy’s spirit for use in a tupilaq, for what purpose only he knows…
In the city of Songsburg, music is king. No fewer than three bardic colleges compete for influence, and the concert halls and opera houses are always packed. It also means that competition for chairs is fierce, even lethal. The church organist at the Fane of Evening has held his position for decades, but his fingers are beginning to falter. Rather than retire gracefully, he holds onto his position thanks to a tupilaq he sends after likely candidates. When not in use, the creature hides in the panel above the organ, masquerading as a grinning carving of a jester.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 275
Edit: Apologies for the lateness of this entry. Original post: Work party ran much longer than expected, so no entry tonight. Have no fear; I’m excited about this one—look for an entry in the days to come.