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Behind Aurora Borealis: Legends, mythologies and folklore

Posted By Transun on 12/09/2014


“When the sky falls, we shall catch larks.” – Proverb.



Aurora has long fascinated onlookers, for both its spectacular beauty and its legacy. For many thinking of visiting parts of the Arctic, you may be unsure as to the best place to see aurora borealis or what to expect. Throughout history, Aurora Borealis has been both feared and respected. Its origin has been subject to various explanations across folklore and mythology. The age old question of ‘what is aurora borealis’ has been dancing through the skies and hanging on the lips of people for many years. Hunters of the Aurora Borealis can be found following the trail of the Merry Dancers (as they’re also known) and the colourful bands of light through the solar winds. There are numerous explanations of the reasons behind the reflected lights; from Norse mythology to old Inuit folklore, they’re all equally as fascinating. Here we take a look at some of the most notable discussions throughout history.


The myth of Aurora.

Aurora Borealis translates from Latin to “Northern Dawn”. There is some confusion as to who first coined the expression ‘Aurora Borealis’. It’s been observed by many, and some attribute it to Italian scientist Galileo Galilei who is said to have seen the major aurora of 12 September 1621. However, it was the French astronomer Pierre Gassendi who is credited with being the first to name the ‘Aurora Borealis’ or the Northern Lights, to depict the luminous glow of the lights in the night’s sky.


According to the Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea and Sky, the name aurora comes from classical mythology – the Roman personification of dawn. Roman Aurora was the goddess of dawn and mother of winds, who is believed to have announced the arrival of the sun each morning by racing her chariot across the sky.


An old Finnish myth. 

The name for aurora borealis in Finnish is ‘Revontulet’, which literally translates to ‘Fox Fires’. This Finnish myth believed that the lights were caused by the magical fox swishing his tail across the snow, spraying up into the night’s sky. A later version of the Finnish folk tale explains how the moonlights reflection on the snowflakes swept up by the fox’s tale caused the arrangement of the lights.


Ancient Chinese culture.

The folklore from ancient China explained the strange light frequencies of the Aurora Borealis as dragons dancing or fighting in the sky.


Norse mythology and the Valkyries.

In Norse mythology the Aurora Borealis is believed to be associated to the Valkyries – the immortal, female warriors. It was said that they would come galloping upon horses equipped with spears and armour that would glow in the darkness of the night’s sky.


The legend of the Lapps.

The Lapps, or the Saami, are people who live in Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle. Tradition has it that the lights were energies created by the souls of the departed. They also believed that whoever disrespected the fires wou

ld experience bad fortune, such as sickness and even death. It’s been said by the Lapps that the fires had magical effects; using shaman drums to harness the fire’s energy.


The Saami people refer to the Northern Lights as ‘guovssahasah’ in their native language. It refers to the Latin word for dawn and means “the sun glowing in the sky in the morning or the evening”. The notions of the indigenous people circulate the theory that the lights are created by earth’s creatures. The word aurora can also be translated as “the fire lit by a bird, the Siberian Jay”.



Fertility and the lights. 

There is also romance and intrigue behind the mythology of aurora borealis. Fertility and childbirth have been linked to Aurora Borealis, with Chinese and Japanese cultures believing that a child conceived under the lights will be blessed with good fortunes.


For those wondering ‘where is Aurora Borealis’, it can be visible from the earth’s northern and southern latitudes. Transun’s Arctic Spirit experiences invite you to discover the land of the Northern Lights and see the spectacular Aurora Borealis for yourself.

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