The Northern Lights are a sight that has inspired people and cultures for thousands of years, spawning myths and legends in cultures across the world. While we would expect that nations who can natively see the Northern Lights would have them ingrained in their mythology, we think it’s also interesting to see what myths occurs in countries that only ever see the lights in the most extreme of circumstances.
The myths themselves are vast and varied from culture to culture, but while they can differ it is also interesting to see where they align. Today we will explore the myths and legends about the Northern Lights from multiple different countries and cultures.
Traditional Norse Mythology offers the most geographically relevant and mystically intriguing interpretation of the Northern Lights. Before the Christianisation of Scandinavia, the Norse faith was practiced in many of our Northern Lights holiday destinations, including Finland, Norway and Sweden – and is even enjoying a resurgence in modern Iceland. One Norse legend suggests that the lights are reflections from the shields and armour of the Valkyries – female figures with a significant role in the Norse afterlife and the importance of dying in battle. Many stories also tell that the Aurora is none other than the mythical Bifröst – a rainbow bridge of light that connects Asgard (the realm of the gods) to Midgard (the realm of mortals).
Other Scandinavian Myths
Myths from the Scandinavian nations aren’t confined to just the old Nordic faith. Many of these countries have their own unique myths that stand out on their own.
- Finland has a cute myth that the lights are caused by the firefox running so fast across the sky that his tail causes bright sparks. The Finnish word for the Northern Lights – “revontulet” literally translates as “fire fox”.
- Sami Finland holds the belief that the lights are caused by the spume of water ejected by whales.
- Iceland associates the lights with childbirth and believed that, as long as the mother didn’t look at the Aurora, they would relieve the pain during delivery – if they did the child would be born cross eyed!
- Greenland also links the lights with childbirth, but to the opposite theme – that the lights are the souls of babies that have died during birth.
- Sweden sees the Aurora as a sign of good news and prosperity, promising good harvests for farmers and great catches for local fishermen.
The diaspora of Native Americans has held widely diverse beliefs of the Northern Lights. Many of the interpretations have some connection to the afterlife, such as the lights being signs from spirits of departed relatives or perhaps spirit guides holding torches to guide the departed to the next world. In the popular destination of Greenland, however, the Inuit tribes consider the Aurora to be the spirits of dead humans playing a ball game with the skull of a walrus.
Ancient Greece and Rome
Although far from the cold climates the we typically associate with the Northern Lights, these two ancient Mediterranean civilizations have each have their own interpretations that can only have come about through some extraordinarily fortuitous weather conditions allowing the lights to be visible this far south. The name ‘Aurora Borealis’ actually comes from two Greek words: “Aurora”, which means “sunrise”, and “Boreas”, which means “wind”. Both the Greeks and Roman saw the Northern Lights as a representation of a Goddess of the Dawn from their respective pantheons. To the Greeks, this was Eos – sister of Helios (the sun) and Seline (the moon). To the Romans, this was the aptly named Aurora.
Even this far from the Arctic Circle, there can still be rare extreme weather conditions that would allow people to see the Aurora. To the Aboriginal Australians, the lights were seen to be gods dancing in celebration; though the southerly position of the country makes them more likely to see the southern lights – the Aurora Australis.
China and Japan
Chinese legends associate the Northern Lights with celestial dragons and that they are the flames a battle between two dragons – one good, one evil. Japanese culture considers the Northern Lights to be a tremendous sign of good fortune, bestowing good looks, intellect and fortune to any child conceived under them.
See The Northern Lights For Yourself
It’s certainly fun to think about all the different interpretations of the Northern Lights, but one thing we can all agree on is that they look amazing! If you are interested in seeing the Aurora for yourself, we would be happy to help you with one of our tailor made Northern Lights holiday packages. Visit one or more of our exciting Northern Lights holiday destinations and see them for yourself. We can offer expert advice on each location and can customise your holiday to make it unique to you and your tastes. Take the first step to seeing the Northern Lights and contact us.