I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north,
a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness
was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour
amber, out of the midst of the sky.
Ezekiel I. iv. (KJV)
In Finnish, the name for the aurora borealis is "Revontulet",
which literally translated means "Fox Fires." The name
comes from an ancient Finnish myth, a beast fable, in which the
lights were caused by a magical fox sweeping his tail across the
snow spraying it up into the sky.
The Lapps, or the Saami, a people who are a close relative 'race'
of the Finns, who live in Lapland that is, north of the Arctic
Circle, in what officially are Northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway
traditionally believed that the lights were the energies
of the souls of the departed. When the fires blazed in the skies,
people were to behave solemnly, and children were admonished to
quiet down and be respectful of the fires. It was believed that
whoever disrespected the fires incurred bad fortune, which could
result in sickness and even death.
The Lapps believed these fires to have magical effects; Lappish
shaman drums often have runes depicting the fires to harness their
energy. The lights were believed to have a mellowing effect on arguments,
and the time of the fires was beneficial to conflict resolution.
The Lapps also had a belief that if you whistled under the Northern
Lights, you could summon them closer, and they could whisk you away
In Norwegian folklore, the lights were the spirits of old maids
dancing in the sky and waving in Scotland, which had an influx
of Viking settlers, the lights are sometimes called "the merry
dancers." Several of the Eskimo tribes also connected the lights
with dancing. Eskimos in Eastern Greenland attributed the northern
lights to the spirits of children who died at birth; their dancing
caused the dancing lights. The Salteaus Indians of eastern Canada
and the Kwakiutl and Tlingit of Southeastern Alaska also believed
the lights to be human spirits, whereas an Eskimo tribe living on
the lower Yukon River believed the dancers to be the spirits of
animals. Young Labrador Eskimos, who believed that the northern
lights were torches lit by the dead who were in playing soccer in
the heavens with a walrus skull, in turn, would dance to the aurora.
The belief that the northern lights were caused by ancient heroes
battling in the skies can be traced (in writing) as far as Pliny.
Beliefs that the aurora were portents of war and sickness also can
be read in the Greeks; one can only imagine how frightening these
mysterious lights must have been in places where the lights were
a rare phenomenon. Tacitus recorded in his description of Germany
the belief that the fires were the Valkyries riding through the
air. In the Americas, the Fox Indians of Wisconsin also believed
the lights to be an ill omenthey believed the lights to be
the ghosts of slain enemies waiting to take revenge.
Perhaps the loveliest of the beliefs comes from the Algonquin
Indians. They believed that Nanahbozho the Creator, after he finished
creating the earth, travelled to the far north, where he still builds
great fires which reflect southward, to remind those he created
of his lasting love.
For a scientific explanation of what actually causes the Northern
Lights, visit the NORDLYS
site in Norway. For more wonderful photographs of this phenomenon,