The Ijiraq is an invisible human-like being that shows itself as a caribou. This shapeshifter-shadow person is capable of taking whatever form it desires. Their natural form, however, is similar to that of a human, only their eyes and mouths are sideways.
Ijirait (plural) are not a benevolent sort, they are considered evil, malicious, and to be avoided at all costs. At any opportunity, they kidnap children and lead people fatally astray. They cannot be seen if you are looking at them directly, only out of the corner of your eye, and then, only in the form of a somehow strange caribou.
They neither inhabit this world, nor are they quite outside of it, existing in two worlds at once. Legend has them as people who went too far north, and became trapped between the world of the living and the dead. The home of the Ijirait is a cursed land, causing even the most skilled of travelers to become lost, creating mirages that cause people to become increasingly turned around and panicked. The few who survive a close encounter with a Ijirait, can’t give any details, as they cause forgetfulness to those they let live.
The Ijiraq is a common present in traditional Inuit art, and for many, this supernatural creature is not just a product of the imagination, but a very real menace.
“What we call the imaginary in literature (the super-natural, fantastic, magical, marvelous; apparition, vision, dream, hallucination; grotesque combinations of human and non human) was simply not seen as imagined by the ancestors of today’s Inuit; and even now, some Inuit continue to believe in the spirit creatures of old”
And so it is that to the Inuit, the Ijiraq is real and even today, the Unikkaaqtuat, traditional Inuit Stories, are taught in school as tools to the children, to make them aware of possible dangers. Several of these stories tell of encounters with the Ijiraq:
“Ijirait are not just in stories. Not too long ago when I was on my way from Tikirarjuaq (Whale Cove), I saw what seemed like an ijiraq in a bull caribou form. I have never seen anything else like that since. This is the particular reason why I think that they are still out there. The bull caribou that I saw had big antlers. They were like this. The ends of the antlers didn't spread out. They were just down like that. I saw it from quite a distance. It was eating and very cautious because it was afraid. I experienced that. I was watching it from a distance through a scope. That's one reason that I'm convinced they are still out there. Soon after that my son, my adopted son, was running from that particular caribou in about the same area that I saw it in.”
-M. Aupilaarjuk in Mc Dermott, 2015.
-McDermott, N. K. (2015). Unikkaaqtuat: Traditional Inuit Stories (Doctoral dissertation).
-Webster, D. K. (2004). NASBY, Judith, 2002 Irene Avaalaaqiaq: Myth and Reality, Montreal and Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 128 pages. NASBY, Judith, 2002 Irene Avaalaaqiaq: Myth and Reality, Montreal and Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 128 pages. Études/Inuit/Studies, 28(1), 202-206.
-Groarke, Paul. "Legal Volumes from Arctic College's Interviewing Inuit Elders Series." Osgoode Hall LJ 47 (2009): 787.
-Zepp, Norman, 1986 Pure Vision: The Keewatin Spirit, Exhibition Catalogue, Regina, University of Regina, Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery. (Figure in the composite illustration taken from here).