Folklore behind the Northern Lights
By Charlene Kemp
The Northern lights have intrigued many over the years and has somewhat scared communities to what they believe they represented.
There is also a southern lights which is less reported as it appears in the South pole, which I’m sure if penguins could talk they would tell you the fantastic stories of the displays they have seen.
So here I am going to detail some of the many stories and superstitions from different cultures and communities around the world and what they believed this display of lights represented.
It seems we have been festinated with the lights for many years and It is believed that the northern lights is mentioned in the old testament in the bible.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans
The Northern Lights also known as Aurora Borealis. Aurora Borealis is derived from the Greek Words ‘Aurora’ meaning ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Boreas’ meaning ‘Wind’.
For the ancient Greeks to have even experienced seeing the Northern Lights suggests that some incredibly strong solar activity must have occurred as sightings to this day so far south are almost unheard of.
The Greeks believed that the Aurora was the sister of Helios and Seline, which was the sun and moon. If was believed that she would race across the morning sky in her multicoloured chariot to alert her siblings to a dawn of a new day.
The Romans also linked the northern lights with a new day belief with also associating them to be Aurora, Aurora who they believed to be the goddess of dawn.
Omen of War – The Fox Indians, who lived within Wisconsin, thought that the lights represented that of war and that the lights was the ghosts of those who was their enemies, they believed that the ghosts of their enemies was that restless that they sent this as a sign for revenge and that they had tried to rise again in order to settle it.
Evil Thing – The Point Burrow Eskimos believed that the lights was evil and carried knifes around with them in order to prevent seeing them.
Spirits of Children – The East Greenland Eskimos believed that the lights represented that of children who had died during birth. They believed that the dancing of the children round and round caused the streamers and draperies of the aurora to constantly move.
Game of Ball – Even though some Eskimos communities had varied belief’s to what the lights was a sign of, Most Eskimo groups believed that it was spirits of the dead playing ball and that they played this with a warus head or skull. A different opinion on this was by the Eskimos of Nunivak, they thought it was Warus spirits playing with a human skull, so even though the same concept it was slightly different on what was potentially being portrayed to them.
Fires in the North – The Mahak Indians of Washington thought the lights was a fire that was occurring in the far north, over which a tribe of dwarfs, half the length of a canoe paddle and so strong that they caught whales with their hands, boiled blubber.
The Stew Pot – The Mandan of North Dakota also believed that the lights was a fire, which the great medicine men and warriors of the northern nations set their dead enemies alight in enormous pots. The Menominee Indians of Winsonsin however, regarded them as torches that was used by great, friendly giants in the northern nations to spear their fish at night.
An Algonquin myth of Nanahbozho, believed to be the creator of the earth, travelled to the North after finishing his task of creation, where he remained and built great fires to create reflections, as a signal to his people that he is still thinking of them even though he is so far away.
In Scottish Gaelic Folklore the lights was know as the Na Fir Chlis meaning ‘the Nimble Men’ also known as the merry dancers. It was believed the Northern Lights was epic fights among sky warriors or fallen angels.
In Finland the Northern lights was known as ‘Revontulet’ which was associated with the arctic fox.
Folk tales of the arctic fox, is that it runs far in the North, touching mountains with its fur, while doing this they believed sparks would fly off into the sky which created the lights.
Another tale with the arctic fox tells the story that the fox throws the lights up into the sky by sweeping snow upwards with its tail, later on a more developed tale was told was that it was actually the moonlights reflection on the snowflakes that caused the lights by the fox’s tail.
It was believed by people living in Iceland that the lights was associated with childbirth and that they would relieve the pain of delivery as long as the expecting mother didn’t look at the aurora while giving birth.
In Greenland people believed the lights was also linked to childbirth but it was believed it was the souls of still born babies and babies who was killed at birth.
In Sweden the lights was often regarded as a coming of good news. Many believed that the lights was a gift from the benevolent gods providing warmth and light in the form of a volcano which was located in the North. Others believed the lights to be a light reflection from large shoals of herring and bode well for the local fisherman. The Swedish farming community took the lights as a sign that a good harvest was coming in the coming year.
In Norse mythology the lights was often mentioned and one of the legends surrounding them is that it was the lights was reflections or a glow from shields and armour of the Valkyrie. It was thought that it was a sign that female warriors who choose or may have died during battle and who may have lived to fight another day.
It was also mentioned within Norse mythology that the lights was ‘Bifrost Bridge’ a glowing and pulsating arch which could led to those fallen in battle to the warriors, where was their final resting place in Valhalla.
The Baltic States
The Estonians believed the northern lights to be a magnificent horse drawn carriages carrying guests of the heavens to a spectacular celestial wedding.
Even though the lights should have been a rare occurrence within china they also must have experience a significant solar event to have witness them, but they were in absolute awe of them and early legends believed the lights was associated with dragons. The main belief was that the lights was fire and that battles was happening between good and evil dragons and while fighting the dragons would roar fire from their mouths.
The Japanese believed that if a child was conceived underneath the lights that the child would be bless with intellect, good fortune and good looks.
Aboriginal Australians would have experienced seeing the southern lights and also watched in awe and believed it was their gods dancing overhead.
Even though in some communities many have tried to turn to science for an explanation such as ancient greeks who did try to explain it has the sunlight reflecting of the earths surface Even to this day modern day solar scientists admit that there is so much that is still not understood, which in turn continues to fuel stories passed on throughout the world from generation to generation.