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.
My other articles and vlogs with stories from the 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
Check out my northern lights collection from my Redbubble store.
Before we start Mythmas 2018 let´s look back to last year´s mythmas.
In this video I share a story from the Inuit culture. Enjoy!
Who are the Inuits?
Inuits are the indigenous people of the arctic. You can find inuit communities from Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and eastern coast of Russia. It is believed that ancestors of the Inuits arrived to Alaska and Canada from Siberia and eastern Asia thousands years ago through Bering strait. They are however not related to Native Americans who arrived eons before them.
Inuit cultures have lots of diversity. Communities live far away from each others and their beliefs, customs and languages vary. Things that are common to all Inuit cultures and communities is that they are all hunting cultures adapted to live in extreme weather conditions. Now days the biggest threat for all Inuits in different parts of the world is global warming.
Nanook The Great Polar Bear Spirit
Stories that I am going to share here come from Inuits from northern Canada. They believed to the great polar bear spirit called Nanook (also known as Tornarssuk). Nanook literally means a polar bear in Inuktitut. Nanook the polar bear god was worshiped by hunters and they believed that it was up to Nanook to choose who was a great hunter and who was not. Polar bears are some of the largest bears on the planet and when it stands from distance it can look like a human. Bears also have five fingers in their paws. A connection that made several tribal groups from different parts of the world believe that they were descendants of bears. Nanook was one of the major totem animals for the Inuits.
Nanook was worshiped both as a hunter god and as a totemic ancestor of the people. According to the legend once Nanook was chased by hunting dogs. Hunt went on and on and Nanook was not able to shake it´s pursuers off. They ran all the way to the edge of the world. In the joy of the hunt Nanook and the dogs did not notice the cliff. They all plunged into the star sky. This is how the constellation of Pleiades was born. Next to the Pleiades is the constellation of Ursa Major which for the Inuits represented Giant Caribou.
Stairways To Heaven
Inuits had an animistic belief system. They believed that everything in nature had it´s own soul and spirit. For the Inuit's stars were living breathing things. Constellation of Cassiopeia and Orion the hunter formed a star pattern which looked a bit like stairs. For the Inuits, these were "steps carved into the snow" stairs that lead from the stars to the earth. They believed that during darkest nights their ancestors would come down from these stairs and join them for dance and feast.
Beautiful Sun and the Cunning Moon
Summer in the Arctic was always short and it was the time of plenty. Sun was highly worshiped among the Inuits as the giver of light and life. Goddess of the sun was called Seqinek. Sun was her bright torch which she carried with her when she ran across the sky. She was told to be a beautiful young maiden. She had a brother called Tatqim (also known as Aningan) who was a hunter and was always chasing his sister in the sky. At nights Seqinek would go resting into a dwelling she shared with her brother. The two were never there at the same time. The dwelling was in Udlormiut. An Inuit realm where the highest of the celestial spirits lived. According to some stories Tatqim lived in a house in the west and Seqinek lived in a house in the east.
Bringer of souls
At one time secret lover sneaked into Seqinek´s bed to have sex with her. When she realized that it was her brother she escaped and he started to pursue her. Seqinek bore the sun as her torch to lead her way but his brother´s torch the moon was partially blown out. This myth explains why the sun is always brighter than the moon. Tatqim continues pursuing his sister on daily basis. Their occasional couplings are the eclipses.
Tatqim also has an important role in the re-carnation process. When human and animal souls were in Udlormiut, the supercelestial afterlife ready to be reincarnated Tapasuma the goddess of afterlife told him to transport the souls back to the earth to be reborn again. Tatqim took these souls back to the earth in his dogsled pulled by four big hounds (or one giant hound according to some sources). This task from Tapasuma was used to explain moon´s absence from the sky at certain nights.
Mother of the sun and the moon was the old mother Jupiter. She was the crone goddess of witchcraft and the matriarchal ruler of the night sky.
Inuits believed that world was filled with invisible spirits both human and animal-like. In a culture based on hunting dogs were well-taken care of. They had important job pulling sleighs. According to the celestial legend, there was a group of cosmic hunting hounds who got so carried away by the joy of the hunt that they jumped all over the skies. These dogs became the shooting stars.
Check out my Northern Lights Collection on my Redbubble store. This artwork is one of my best-sellers (and personal favorites).
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.
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