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
The Cosmic Egg
When we study creation myths from ancient cultures and civilisations the cosmic egg or the mundane egg is one of the most popular motifs. World egg is a representation of the universe, the primordial sea or some primordial being that comes to existence by ”hatching”.
"Ilmatar" by Robert Wilhelm Ekman, 1860
Water birds used to have great spiritual signifigance among many uralic people. In the proto-uralic creation myth world was created by a waterbird who dived into the primordial sea bringing pieces of land in it´s beak to the surface. Finnish creation myth is based on the proto-uralic myth. In Kalevala the Finnish national epic waterbird hatched an egg into the legs of Ilmatar the goddess of air. In original Finnish folk tales waterbird hatched it´s egg into the leggs of Väinämöinen the shaman and the ruler of water. In these myths water bird is described to be a blue duck, an eagle or a loom. Myths about the water birds as the creators of the world are also known as the earth diver myths.
And became the earth below
And it´s upper half transmuted
And became the sky above.
From the yolk the sun was made.
Light of the day to shine above us;
From the white the moon was formed.
Light of night to gleam above us:
All the colored brighter bits
Rose to be the stars of heaven
And the darkest crumbs changed into
Clouds and cloudlest in the sky.
- Kalevala, The Song of Creation, Elias Lönnrot, 1835
In Norse myths cosmic egg is equivalent to the rune Hagalaz which symbolised the ancient chasm. The void that existed even before god Odin willed himself to be. Eggs were important part of nutrition in the ancient times. Especially in northern parts of the world where winter was long and cold and eggs were nowhere to be found. In magic rites seer, the seidr took the egg and in their imagination fertilised it with the desired outcome. Egg was cracked to release what was built up inside and the desired energy manifested into being.
For the ancient Chinese the universe was contained in an egg. Outside this egg was nothing but void. From this material inside the egg grew god Pan Gu. He slept inside the egg for 18 000 years growing into a giant. The egg broke into two halves. The upper side became the sky and the lower side became the earth. As the god grew taller the earth and the sky grew larger and became more further away from each others. When the god died his body parts became different parts of the earth. His arms and legs became mountains, his veins turned into rivers. His voice became the thunder and his breath became the wind.
There are several creation stories found from Egyptian mythology. One of the myths is about the Ogdoad. It was the state of the world before the gods were created. One of the forms of Ogdoad was the cosmic egg where all the deities and spirits were born. In the stage called ”the first occasion” sun god Ra hatched from the egg bringing all life with him.
According to the Orphic myths hermaphroditic god Phanes was born from the cosmic egg and created all the other gods. World egg was hatched by the titans Chronos (time) and Ananke (Nessecity).
In the Cook Islands there is a legend that has similarities to the idea of the cosmic egg. Legend tells that deep in the Avaiki (the Underworld). There was a place that resembled a hallow coconut shell. There in the deepest depths was the primordial mother goddess Varima Te-Takere. Her domain was described to be so narrow that her knees touched her chin. She created the first man called Avatea. He was a hybrid, a merman, half-man half-fish. Avatea was the god of light and Varima Te-Takere sent him to the land of men to bring them light. It was told that his eyes were the sun and the moon.
Some of the first literal mentions of the cosmic egg come from Sanskrit texts. Sanskrit term for the cosmic egg is Brahmanda. Which is derived from two words: ”Brahma” who is the creator god in Hindu mythology and ”anda” meaning egg. In Vedic myths the cosmic egg is seen as the beginning of the universe and it is called Hiranyagarbha. Which literally means ”golden fetus” or ”golden womb”. Egg floated in the emptiness and the broke into two halves which formed Dyaus (sky) and Prithvi (the earth).
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.
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