Iceland gets polar nights
Ancient stories about the aurora borealis
The aurora borealis was primarily seen by the civilizations of the north. With no scientific explanation, wonder and fear were transformed into myths and legends when people tried to decipher the meaning behind the light show.
The mystical natural phenomena often aroused fear. For a long time, the aurora borealis was seen as a harbinger of impending doom, perhaps caused by glowing blood-red colors. Signs of war have been described in Poland, Prussia, Germany, Denmark and Estonia, as well as in the Sami or Lappen. In Norway, people were in awe of the northern lights. You couldn't wave, whistle, or stare at the light because it could come down and grab the person ... with unpleasant consequences.
Other tribes understood the Northern Lights in a more playful way. The Inuit imagined that souls were playing ball with a walrus skull. In East Greenland Eskimo folklore, the glowing lights are the souls of killed or stillborn babies. They are called "alugsukat", which means secret birth.
Ancient Finnish tales speak of an arctic fox that starts a fire when its fur sweeps along the snow, causing sparks to fly in the sky. To this day the apparition is called "revontulet", which means fox fire.
Icelandic folklore, on the other hand, says that if a pregnant woman gazes into the northern lights, her unborn child will squint.
Chinese saw snakes shimmering in the sky, and Native American tribes attributed the light to various causes, including the spirits of dead hunters, a friendly giant who catches fish in the sea, and fires kindled by dwarfs.
Many people believed that the Northern Lights could have had a great impact on them:
Chinese and Japanese cultures still believe that a child conceived under the aurora borealis will have a happy life and good looks.
Icelandic folklore, on the other hand, says that if a pregnant woman gazes into the northern lights, her unborn child will squint. It was also believed that the northern lights could ease the pain of childbirth.
People in northern Sweden believed that the northern lights were caused by huge schools of herring - a powerful spectacle promised the fishermen a good catch.
Many Eskimo and Native American tribes tried to lure the Northern Lights by whistling to whisper messages to their dead.
It is still not possible to predict the timing and appearance of the aurora borealis. One night it can be a milky green light so pale and thin across the sky that it can easily be mistaken for clouds, while the following night it can be red and purple and bright enough to read. Today's knowledge of the cause of the Northern Lights and where to see them most likely hasn't made it any less spectacular.
As you crouch in blankets in the snow waiting for the northern lights to show up, remember that the magic of the aurora borealis is based on the elusive and that is what makes the observation so unique.
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