Northern Lights: legends and curiosities you might not know

Norther Lights in Norway

It’s one of the most fascinating natural shows, that must be included in your bucket list of things to see at least once in a lifetime! There is so much to say about the Aurora Borealis, therefore we’ve collected the most interesting stories and legends about them.

What are the Northern Lights

Northern Lights are an optical phenomenon generated by the collision of electrical particles of solar origin with the earth’s atmosphere. This exchange produces light trails of red, purple, green, and blue. The color variation is due to the different gases in the atmosphere at different altitudes.

But in my humble opinion, scientists and books can’t really explain what it means to watch the Northern Lights in person. Northern Lights are a rebirth, a light that starts from the sky and begins to dance in your soul, a prism of colors, lights, emotions, and sensations that paint the darkness. For this reason, even the locals feel the wonder of watching them time after time; because when it “happens” something moves in the sky and inside you. Perhaps this is why even in the past local people thought that Aurora was something mythical and magical, a sign from the Universe.

Did you know that the word “Aurora Borealis” was invented by Galileo Galilei in 1619? He was inspired by the name of the Roman goddess of dawn ‘Aurora’ and the word ‘borealis’ which means Nordic. Before him, Aristotle had included the Northern Lights in a category of astronomical objects and evanescent comets, while the medieval book, the Kongespeilet, called it Nordurljos, i.e. “Northern Lights”.

Northern Lights in North Europe
Northern Lights in North Europe

In Finnish, Northern Lights are called “revontulet“, literally “fires of the fox”. According to an ancient myth, Northern Lights were produced by a magical fox! Legend said that the fox, late for the annual Winter Festival, ran fast among the snowy mountains when, tired of holding up its tail, moved it downwards and hit the blanket of snow. This movement caused some sparks that flew in the sky giving birth to the “fox fires”, the so-called Northern Lights!

Another meaning of ‘revontulet‘ is ‘spell’. According to Nordic people, auroras were spells caused by the forces of the Darkness and of the Light fighting each other in the sky.

The Sami, an indigenous population, believed that the lights represented the energy released by the souls of dead people. Therefore, it was essential to respect the lights, avoiding whistling or applauding while Northern Lights were dancing, in order not to attract the attention of the spirits. Sami people thought also that auroras had magical effects and the drums of Lapp shamans often have runes with painted lights, with the aim of acquiring their energy.

The Sami people also called the Aurora “the light that can be heard“. According to some studies, audio frequencies are broadcast during the show of Aurora Borealis, frequencies that reconverted, resemble the sound of a bird choir.

The Northern Lights often form arches in the celestial vault. In the epic novel “Kalevala”, Karelia, a region of Finland on the border with Russia, the dawn coincides with the northern gates. In some dialects of this region auroras are still called ‘burning gates’.

Northern Lights in Lofoten
Northern Lights in Lofoten

Let’s move on to Norwegian folklore, according to which lights embodied the spirits of the wise old women of the tribe dancing in the sky. On the other end, the Eskimos of East Greenland instead linked the Northern Lights to the dancing spirits of children who died at birth. In central Europe, Northern Lights have a different connotation, being associated with bloodshed. This is because when they are visible at these latitudes, they are generally red. This was interpreted as a bad omen, foreshadowing a war with bloodshed.

Let’s move to the US, where the Fox Indians of Wisconsin associated these lights with the ghosts of enemies killed and awaiting revenge. The Algonquin Indians believed that Nanahbozho the Creator, after creating the Earth, had moved to the North, where he still lights fires that are seen in the south reminding his love for them.

A few unusual places for watching the Northern Lights

Although the best places to see Northern Lights are Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, you may find some good points of view also in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The sky of County Donegal, particularly in the wild Inishowen Peninsula, from late autumn until spring, lights up with pink, green, and blue colors. In addition, the Antrim coast, near the Arctic Circle is also an excellent place.

Are you ready to become an “Aurora Hunter”?

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