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.
Dreamcatchers are iconic, well-known symbols within Native American cultures. Tradition of dreamcatchers originates from the Ojibwa tribe. For the Ojibwa dreamcatcher symbolizes natural wisdom. Ojibway is the name of the tribe in Canada, the name of the American tribes is Chippewa. Ojibwas reside in southern Canada in Manitoba and Ontario and in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin. Dreamcatchers were originally made of twigs of the willow tree. Twigs were gathered fresh and they were pulled into a spiral or a circle. Web was made of the thread stalk of stingin nettle. Ojibwas decorated their dreamcatchers with bird feathers found from the ground and gemstones. Bad dreams get caught into the web and when morning sun rays touch the web the bad dreams get destroyed and good dream go through the holes. It is recommended to hang the dream catcher above ones bed. Once the good dreams travel through the holes they gently fall down throught the ribbons and feathers to the mind of the dreamer. Good dreams know their way in. Bad dreams get tangled and perish.
According to the myth the Ojibwa clans used to live in a place called Turtle Island. Their protector goddess was Asibikaashi, the spider woman. In the myth Asibikaashi helped to bring the sun deity Giizis back to the people. She built a special lodge before the dawn. It was completely made of spider web. Asibikaashi catches the sunlight (Giizis) into the sparkling dew drops. Ojibwa nations grew larger and Asibikaashi had difficulties to keep track on everyone so Ojibwa women; mothers, sisters and Nokomi (the grandmothers) decided to help her. They started to weave magical webs into willow loops. First dream catchers were hanged above baby cradles. Air playing with the feathers was entertainment for the newborns.
The round shape of the dream catcher represents the sun goddess Giizis who travels across the sky each day. Gemstone in the middle of the web is the symbol of the great spirit, who´s energy flows in every living being. Gemstones have become so rare that the modern day Ojibwas don´t tend to use them anymore in their dream catchers. Eight knots that tight the web into the hoop are the eight legs of the spider woman. Sometimes feather is added into the middle of the dream catcher. Feather symbolizes air. Owl´s feather is known as the woman´s feather and it stands for the ”keeper of wisdom”. Eagle´s feather is known as the man´s father and it symbolizes courage. Not all Ojibwa dream catchers are round, one can also find tear-shaped dream catcher. Shape of the tear symbolizes the dew that Asibikaashi collected.
How to initiate your dream catcher
I am a big fan of dream catchers and I love making them. You can basically create a dream catcher from anything and they come in all shapes and forms. Ojibwas initiated their dream catchers in a ceremony and you can do the same. Lit a sage and let the smoke go through your dream catcher (you can cleanse your bedroom at the same time). While you are doing this visualize what kind of dreams you wish your dream catcher to bring to you. In the end of the ceremony thank the Spider woman for bringing you peaceful dreams.
Artist, illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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