Magic of the north
Growing up in north-western Finland I´v seen northern lights several times. Living near the sea dancing lights I saw were mostly green but every time when I went up north to visit my grandparents I saw northern lights in all colors of the rainbow. Still today when I see northern lights during dark October nights I see them as true miracle of nature and I understand how they captivated minds of the people in the past same way as they captivate the imagination of a modern human. There are several myths told about the northern lights and I will share some of them with you.
Estonian Celestial Wedding
In Estonia there is interesting myth told about the birth of the northern lights. According to Estonian myths northern lights were created when humpback whales were playing games and their scales are reflected into the night sky.
Another Estonian folk tale tells us that northern lights are born when spectacular horse drawn carriages are carrying heavenly guests into magnificent celestial wedding.
Firefox of the Saami's
In the Lapland of Finland northern lights were believed to be created by a magical giant fox called Tulikettu. Foxes were hunted because of their fur and it was believed that great fox hunter was also a great shaman. Tulikettu was like the Phoenix of all foxes and there could only be one fire fox at time. It was believed that the hunter who catch the fire fox would live in great wealth for the rest of their life. Fire fox however was so fast that no one could ever catch it. When it ran in the snowy hills it´s fur and tail brushes would create sparks that would fly into the skies and turn into northern lights. Finnish word for northern lights revontulet literally means fox´s fires.
Lapland, Scandinavia and Greenland
According to another Saami myth northern lights were spume of water ejected from whales swimming in the arctic sea.
For fishermen in northern Sweden northern lights were a good prophecy. Omen that there was large groups of herrings swimming by.
In Norse myths aurora borealis thought as reflections of the shining spears, armors and helmets of the valkyries. The warrior women who rode on horseback leading fallen soldiers to Valhalla. Sometimes northern lights were believed to be the Bifrost Bridge. Magical arc that lead straight into Valhalla the home of the gods and goddesses.
For the Inuits in Greenland northern lights were spirits of still born babies and even children that had been killed after birth.
Northern Lights in Inuit and Native American Myths
Native American myths about the Aurora Borealis vary great deal same way as the traditions and cultures of different tribes.
Algonquin´s the natives of Ottawa and Ontario in Canada believe that northern lights were created by their creator spirit Nanahbozho. For them it was a sign that he was always watching over them.
For the Menominee´s native American tribe of the Wisconsin area northern lights were torches used by evil giants when they speared fish at night.
Inuit´s living in Point Arrow, the most northern point of Alaska believed strongly that northern lights were evil and suspicious and they could come down from the skies and kill a man. They carried knives with them to protect themselves from them.
Inuits of Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea thought that northern lights were created by a walrus spirits who were playing with human skulls.
Makah´s, native american tribe from the Washington state told stories about a tribe of dwarfs who boiled whale blubber. Another myth which connects Aurora to cooking comes from Mandan from north Dakota where people believed that in the northern lights there lived great warriors who cooked their enemies heads in massive pots.
Aurora in Greek Mythology
Aurora Borealis are a rare sight in such southern parts of Europe as Greece but for the ancient Greece there was nothing that could have not be explained without the presence of gods and goddesses. In Greek Aurora means sunrise and boreas means the wind. Aurora was the sister to Helios the sun god and Seline the moon goddess. In Greek myth sun and the day are born when Helios and Seline ride in the skies with their celestial wagons. Sometimes Aurora joins the ride but her wagon is made of vivid dancing colors. She is assisted by god of the northern wind Boreas who gives her chariot a nice blow.
Fight of the dragons, Northern Lights of the East
It is not very common to see Aurora Borealis in the firmament of Japan or China but when they are seen they are considered to be mystical powerful occasions.
In Japan child conceived under northern lights is believed to receive good looks, intelligence and great fortune.
In China Aurora Borealis are connected to the stories and legends about mighty dragons. Lights in the skies are good and evil dragons testing their powers against one another and breathing fire.
Australian Aboriginals do not see northern lights but southern lights, Aurora Australis. For the aboriginals Aurora Australis represents their beloved deities and spirit dancing in the celestial sky.
Central Europe and Britain
Northern Lights are rare phenomena in central and southern Europe. Before people knew the science behind the northern lights people lived in an atmosphere where all supernatural things were frightening and northern lights terrified people. In Italy and France northern lights were thought to predict war, plague and mass deaths.
In north of Scotland where northern lights are more common they are called dancing merry men representing souls of the soldiers who died in a battle.
Be Careful When You Whistle
Some Native American tribes believed that northern lights were trickster spirits who would come down if someone whistled and would kidnap the person. To protect themselves person should clap. This made the lights retreat and people would be safe from them.
In Greenland expecting mothers were told not to whistle otherwise child would be born crossed-eyed.
Saami´s in Lapland also had superstitions about whistling. If they would whistle the lights would come down from the skies, chase them and burn their hair. Because of this still today many saami´s test their powers by whistling to the northern lights.
Check out my other articles and vlogs with stories from north:
Siberian and Eurasian shamanism
Sun and the moon in Saami mythology and folklore
Reindeer in the saami mythology
How stars got in to the sky
Mythmas Northern Lights
Väki is a deeply rooted concept within Finnish mythology.
The Life Force
Väki is the life force that flows in every single living creature and being in Finnish folklore. It is similar to the concept of mana in Hinduism, life force chi in Chinese culture or the force in Star Wars. Väki literally means a group. It describes the power / group or spirits that reside in a certain idea/concept/element or being.
Väki of the elements
When a person was a practitioner of witchcraft (in Finnish context) what they essentially were doing was to work with väki. Everything has their own väki; nature, trees, animals and all the elements. Idea of elements is very common in Finnish myths and all the elements possessed their own väki. Ilmanväki (väki of the air), tulenväki (väki of the fire), maanväki (väki of the earth) and vedenväki (väki of the water). From the elemental väki, väki of the water was considered to be the most powerful because of the healing powers of water but also because water was seen as something eternal. Woman grew children in the waters of their womb, earth was born from waters and water always returned in some form, was it then rain or snow.
Väki of the animals
Väki of the animals was always connected to their element. For example väki of the bear was connected to the earth and the power of the forest, birds possessed väki of the air, fish and frogs were part of the väki of the water. In spell craft if a person wanted to perform a ritual that needed elements from certain väki they used animal parts from an animal that belonged to that väki.
Some animals possess extremely strong väki. One of those animals was a wild deer. If a person ate brains of a wild deer they would sleep very restlessly and see nightmares of dark figures, which were shadow beings of the forest.
Even the smallest animals like antz and spiders posses their own väki. Väki was always connected to the myths and stories told about the animals.
Väki of women
People also had their own väki. Woman´s väki was considered the most strongest because women were the creators of life. Women had important role in the ancient Finno-Baltic societies. If a man wanted to marry a woman they had to ask permission from the mother of the bride and when the father of the household died the oldest sun did not inherit the house-stead but the widow did. Väki of the women was also feared by the men occasionally. If the man cheated the woman the woman could raise their väki and hurt the man as a revenge. Woman´s status was connected to her marriage and later on her becoming a mother and a grandmother. This idea is directly based to the mother earth cult and ancestral worship where the passed away grandmother became a worshiped figure.
Don´t forget to check out my course on Finnish mythology )O(
I made this video for YT Pagan challenge some years ago. Theme was animal spirits and power animals. The animals I mention in this video are still very important to me.
The Origin of the bear
Wheare was ”broad-forehead” orn, was ”honey-paws” produced? Tehre was broad-forehead” born, was ”honey-paws” produced, close to the moon, beside the sun, on the shoulders of Charle´s Wian. Form there was he let dow to the earth, to the honeye wood´s interior, to a verdant thicket´s edge, into a liver-coloured cleft. Sinisirkku the forest maid, rocked him, swayed him to and for in a cradle of gold, in silver straps, under a fir, with branchin crown, under a bushy pine. ”Broad-forehead” the was christened, the scanty-haired one was baptized near ”fiery” rapids, at the eddy of a fearful, holy stream. Who undertook to christen him? The king of Himmerkki himself, he undertook to christen him, to baptize the scanty-haired, the Virgin Mary, mother dear, both acted as his godmother and to the christening carried him. What was the name they gave? ”Hulking fellow”, ”little haystack”, ”lovely shaggy coat of hair”, ”honeypaws”, ”the corpulent”.
The Magic Songs of the Finns, Elias Lönnrot, 1880
In ancient Finland there was one animal that was worshiped more than any other and that animal was the bear. In Finland there are lots of archaeological finds made which tell us about the existence of the ancient bear cult. In the area around Ural mountains in Siberia there are lots of myths told about the great bear god. Birth myth of the bear from Siberiean Ostjak tribe was also well-known in ancient Finland. Bear lived in the star sky in the constellation of the Ursa Major with his father god Num Torum. Bear looked down to the earth and soon longed to live among people. His father agreed and sent him down to the earth in a golden cradle. Bear´s life in the earth was filled with sin. This made Num Torum ashamed and he allowed humans to kill his son. Myth which tells that bear has cosmic origins is common all around Eurasian areas. Among Vogul tribe in Siberia, there is a similar myth but bear is a female not a male. In northern Eurasia among several different clans there was belief that people were descendants from an union between a human goddess and the cosmic bear god. In the earliest layer of Saami mythology moon goddess Háhtežan was married to the cosmic bear and her sister Njávežan the sun goddess, was married to the cosmic moose. These were two the most respected and feared animals in northern hunter-collector cultures.
Mielikki The Bear Goddess
Finnish word karhu the bear is derived from the word karhea which means rough fur. Because bear was such respected god the name of the bear was a tabu. It was forbidden to say the name aloud. It was believed that that would jinx the bear an it would harm the person for not being respectful towards it. This is why in Finnish language there are over 1000 nicknames for bear alone. It was believed that bear was also a shaman and a witch and it could hear people´s thoughts. That bear was worshiped as a god in Finland has in fact been beneficial for bears in modern Finland. Compared the several other European countries in Finland bears have not been hunted that great numbers and there are about. 1500-2000 bears living in Finland´s forests still today.
In Finnish mythology Mielikki the forest god is often connected to bears. After the bear was landed from the skies in the golden cradle Mielikki adopted the bear and nurtured him with honey and apples. She gave bear it´s mission to be the most beloved, respected and feared animal of the forest. Mielikki and her husband forest god Tapio could also shape sift themselves as bears. In many ways Mielikki as a goddess is similar to bears. She represents two aspects of womanhood; the independent hunter goddess who protects her home the forest (very much like a mother bear who protects her cubs) and on the other hand she is the nurturing mother goddess who represents the healing aspects of the forest and nature. Mielikki is also an interesting goddess in that sense that each winter she went to winter sleep/hibernation...just like a bear. Summer and autumn were sacred time for Mielikki. Spring and winter were times when Tapio ruled the forest.
Bear figure found from archaeological site of Kierikki, Finland Estimated time period: 5100 bc
Bears and Humans
In Finnish mythology the creator/emuu of the bear was Hongatar goddess/spirit of the pine trees. Some sources mention that Ilmarinen the blacksmith god was the bear´s father. Several Finno-Ugric tribes worshiped bear as their sacred ancestor. In Finland bear hunting was a sacred ritual that took place in the spring time right before bear would wake up from it´s winter sleep. Winter sleep by itself was believed to be a proof of bear´s magical powers. People did not understand why bears went to winter sleep. Winter was seen as the time of dying nature so when bears woke up each spring for ancient people this was a sign that bear was a powerful god who would always reborn again. In eastern Finland bear was considered to be the ancestor of the clan and it was forbidden to eat bear meat. Then in some other parts of Finland bear meat was a great treat and source of nutrition. Being the ancestor of humans bear´s life was performed in a ritualistic play during the bear hunt festival. Poems were told how the bear was landed from it´s cosmic home to the earth and how it would marry the cosmic mother (often a newly wed couple would play the part) and a funeral was hold where bear was buried like a human. Skull was hanged into the top of the spirit tree so the bear would be closer to it´s original home. There are many reasons why people believed that they were descendants of bears. When bear stands on it´s back feet it´s about the same size as an average person. Bear´s palms are similar to humans hands. It even has five fingers. Bears are strong and fast. These were qualities that hunters greatly admired.
Here is my video about the bears in Finnish mythology.
Check out my online course Heart of Mielikki about Finnish mythology )O(
Birth Of The Horse
In Finnish folklore first horse was called Iku-Tihku. Trolls created Iku-Tihku in their underground forge. Like many other Eurasian people Finno-Ugrian tribes believed that there was three levels in the world and all those levels were connected to each other through the world tree. These levels were called: Ylinen, Keskinen and Alinen. Ylinen the upper world was the place where highest of the spirits and most respected gods lived (in some cases it was also believed to be the state where the re-birth process started). Keskinen the middle world was the natural world (our physical world) where humans and animals lived together with all deities that ruled the elements. Alinen the underworld was place where the spirits of the death lived. Alinen however was not like the Christian hell. It was a place where spirits waited their turn to be reborn again.
Iku-Tihku was creature of Alinen. It was completely made of fire and ice. Iku-Tihku was also a shaman and it could travel between these three worlds (which also represent the three levels of consciousness) but it only could visit Keskinen, the middle world during the winter because it would melt in any other season. Trolls used Iku-Tihku as their model when they created all other horses but they were made of stone, steel and iron so that they could live in Keskinen all year around if they wished to.
From Hiisi is the horse´s origin, from the mountain- the splendid foal´s in a room with a door of fire, in a smithy with an iron ridge, it´s head was made of stone, it´s hoofs of rock, it´s legs were formed from iron, it´s back was made of steel (Source: magic songs of the Finns)
Tahvatar The Horse Goddess
In Finnish mythology each animal and plant species have their own emuu. Emuu is old Finnish and means mother. Emuu was a mythical creature. The first specimen of particular specie. Emuu´s exists in myths of Finns, Saami´s and Latvians. In Finland many of the Emuu´s were believed to be half-human half-animals and often they were represented as female goddesses. Emuu of horses was a goddess called Tahvatar. There isn´t many myths left about Tahvatar. It is believed that she was very similar to Gallo-Roman goddess Epona. Tahvatar was a shape sifter and could transform herself into a horse. In Finland there was a custom to say Tahvatar´s blessings for horses before they were let to the fields during the spring.
Horses in Finnish Folklore Video
Check out my course on Finnish mythology and folklore )O(
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.
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