Legends about the Northern Lights
Myths can be truly grotesque
Departed souls and decapitated heads. The Sami, Norway's indigenous people, did not believe that the northern lights were a sign of joy. For them, the celestial phenomenon was instead a ghostly veil where the light represented the souls of the dead.
These souls were not to be disturbed – one needed to avoid looking at them, talking, waving, whistling or singing, because if the light sensed your presence, it might snatch you and carry you off into the sky. More macabre legends purported that the northern lights could cut off your head if you were not careful.
The belief that the light was a manifestation of dead souls was shared by indigenous people in Greenland and North America as well. Whereas in Greenland it was thought that these were the souls of children who did not survive birth, Native Americans believed that they were the souls of deceased relatives and wild game killed by hunters.
Omen of war
The Northern Lights are easiest to see in the far north and in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle, but in rare cases – during extreme solar activity – the Northern Lights can also be seen from further south. The further away from the earth's surface the northern lights are, the redder they will be, and Europeans who live further south on the globe describe the Northern Lights as reddish in colour. Since this phenomenon was quite rare for Southern Europeans, they linked it to even larger, rarer events. Because of the red glow that was emitted, the light was frequently construed as an omen of war or a threat of danger. For example, the Northern Lights were observed in England and Scotland a few weeks before France’s monarchy was overthrown by French revolutionaries.
Talking with the dead
Like the ancient Greenlanders and American indigenous people, the Eskimos thought that the celestial phenomenon represented deceased family members, but instead of fearing the light, they beckoned and invoked it. They were sure that the dancing souls could be talked to, and they conjured up the light through rituals to whisper messages to their closest deceased relatives. It is also said that their dogs would howl at the light, and this meant that the dogs recognized their former owners.
Nordic Lights and animals
Swedish fishing luck. Swedish fishermen often scanned the sky and looked for the Northern Lights before going fishing. They saw the light dancing across the sky as a reflection of massive shoals of fish. Thus, the light, to them,meant that they would land a huge catch.
Danish swans. The Danes believed that the light was caused by swans that had flown too far north and got stuck in the ice. The light was created when the swans had broken free from the ice, and their wings spread shards of ice into the sky, which in turn refracted amazing light patterns that became the Northern Lights.
Finnish mythical foxes. The Finns also thought that the light was caused by animals, but not by birds or fish. They don't call it the Northern Lights, but "revontulet" which, directly translated, means fox fire. This name derives from an ancient Finnish myth that mentions these mythical fire foxes. They were not actually aflame and they could not fly, but as these foxes ran through the landscape, their tails were purportedly dragged atop mountain rock and natural terrain and thereby, by friction, created sparks, which were then propelled upwards and set fire to the sky.