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  • Writer's pictureJan Švamberg

Aurora Myth from Finland - Juhani and the Fire Fox

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

You might have heard about Northern Lights myths and legends. The stories spread around the world and passed over many generations explaining the cause of the Northern Lights. One of the most famous Aurora myths is from Finland.

"Revontulet, the Finnish name for the Northern Lights, can literally be translated as ‘firefox.’ To explain the beautiful lights displayed in the sky, that was only visible during the winter months, it was believed that Finnish Arctic foxes were responsible. They either ran across the snowy mountains so fast that their tails swept snowflakes into the sky, which reflected the light from the moon and stars creating colourful lights in the sky, or their large furry tails brushed against the mountains and created sparks that lit up the sky."

Have you ever thought about how this Aurora myth started? What happened that night? Keep reading the Northern Lights story about Juhani and the Fire Fox to find out more about the Aurora Borealis fox.

Juhani and the Fire Fox

Juhani is lost. He is cold and alone in the dead of winter. Being barely sixteen, this is the farthest away from home he has ever been. It was an accident, honestly! Juhani was out with a hunting party, one led by his father, when an awful snowstorm swept in. Somehow, Juhani was pulled away from the others, lost in the dense pine forest of Northern Finland. The snowstorm was terrifying. It battered him from all sides, threatening to slice through the heavy hunting layers that he was wearing, the fact that his clothing is designed for hunting in winter, was of no consequence during those long, long minutes. How long had it been? Juhani didn’t know. The snowstorm felt as though it had stretched on for an eternity. It felt as though it had stripped the sight from Juhani’s eyes and crushed him firmly beneath its heavy, ploughing winds. After the storm had ended, Juhani tried to find his way back to the hunting party and walked on for even longer, until his feet ached and the backs of his thighs burned. Desperation clawed its way through him, these stifling fits, leaving his skin feeling sallow and sickly, even beneath his clothing, tying his stomach into knots. The longer he spent wandering aimlessly, the more the feeling of fear gripped him. For a while, he called out for his father and for the other members of the hunting party, but it quickly dawned on him, that they were not close enough to hear his calls. Still, Juhani had screamed and cried out for them until his throat was sore and his voice was now nothing but a mere rasp. Now he isn’t certain that he could call out, even if his very life depended on it. Juhani is now, more certain than ever, that there is no one else around.

Heavy deep white flurries of snow blanket the ground. The dense deep snow crunches under his feet, giving beneath the leather of his bear fur lined boots. This is the only sound that penetrates through the veil of loneliness. It’s a crunch, crunch, crunch sound that sinks into his brain, until he finds that even his breaths are trying to sync up with it. He curls his arms tighter around himself and tries to remember that he is practically an adult now and that it’s up to himself to find a way back home. He wants to be there so badly, next to the crackling fire with a hot mug of drink in his hands and a bowl of stew from the pot to sup at. Thinking about it just makes Juhani even hungrier and it makes him even colder, yet he cannot stop. It’s as though the thought is a hook, now woven into his skin and unwilling to come out. Juhani is not able to sit and cry about home, the tears will only make his cheeks and eyelashes feel that much frostier and that’s not something he can deal with.

Already the sky is starting to grow dim, bringing on the twilight hour, heavy shades of purple and deep red which are mixing in with the once pale blues. Twilight hour always brings with it a pretty sky, but there’s no comfort in the glow of it this evening. Juhani only finds comfort in the fact that there are no clouds in the sky any more, which is a blessing. Another snowstorm over night, might truly be enough to do Juhani in. It would just confuse him even more, when he is lost already and with the temperature dropping greatly, it might be enough to kill him and although his life is very hard and this year has been one filled with grief over the death of his mother, the illness of his sister and the sparse hunting this winter, that has sent parties out despite the inhospitable weather. Juhani is very certain of one thing, he does not want to die!

Juhani is so uncertain of where he is going. The forest is like a maze at the best of times, but even more so now that the shadows are jutting across the land in these vast, ugly stripes. They blend with the snow, making it harder to pick out the mounds of snow and keep himself moving in a straight line. Twice, Juhani finds himself walking in circles, encountering his own boot prints again in the snow as proof of his own mistake. It is soul destroying, but he is trying so very, very hard to not lose faith and to keep hope. If he had paid more attention to his father’s lessons, he would be able to use the North Star to get home however he’s never truly learned to navigate by the stars. Right now, he is just moving in an attempt at staying warm and maybe, if his luck turns, he will spot something familiar along the way. Juhani’s luck, as it turns out, is neither very good nor very bad. He does not spot anything that looks familiar, which of course means that there is no quick and easy way to locate the path that will take him home. Earlier, he thought that he saw two bursts of fire in the distance and he ran towards them, certain it was another hunter. The fires had blinked out before Juhani could find them. But the weather does not go sour, the winds die down to an almost eerie stillness, and there are no wolf cries echoing about in warning. His parka is heavy and well lined, the fur lined hood pulled up to keep his face warm and a heavy scarf around his mouth, to protect his bare skin from the frost. Deer leather gloves, also fur lined, keep his fingers from going numb. The only part of Juhani that is exposed to the bitter cold and snow, are his eyes. He keeps stopping to wipe at them with his gloves, clearing the snow from his brows and his lashes. Several times, he presses his palms against the bare skin, trying to make it a little warmer. It’s so cold that it stings and he has no doubts, that the skin has turned a lurid shade of red.

The sun finally sets beyond the horizon, though the thick mass of pine branches, keep the final blooms of the sunset from view. He has somehow found himself in such a dense part of the pine forest, that there is no way to see the stars. Unfortunately, this means that there is even less light to try and see by. Juhani needs to get to a different part of the forest, some place where the trees are thinner. He is so tired, and hungry. The hunger gnaws at the inside of his stomach like a beast, causing a gut wrenching pain. “It is alright,” Juhani whispers tiredly to himself, “I am certain, I will find a way out soon. The forest cannot go on forever. I am strong and brave, like mama used to say. I am strong and brave, just like father. He would not give up, so I will not give up either.”

Juhani must get home. He needs to be there to look after his sick sister and to help his father hunt. He needs to be there, because it is his rightful place, existing within the bounds of his home, where he can do his part, look out for others as the others look out for him. Juhani knows if he does not get back to the village on his own, the others will go out to look for him when the dawn breaks. If that happens, they might get hurt. Even if they don’t, it will take precious hours away from trying to hunt, something that is already such a challenge. So no, Juhani must make it home on his own.

No sooner had this thought been cemented in Juhani’s mind, the sound of branches cracking under foot echoed through the night air. His turned his head sharply towards the sound. At first, he could not see anything. But then suddenly twin lights peer out of the darkness at him through the forest. They are not eyes. They are burning fires. Juhani stumbles backwards, terrified slamming his shoulders into a nearby tree. Snow tumbles from the branches, directly over him, like a cold heavy blanket. It sends a shudder through him, letting out a startled sound from his cold lips, which he cannot help. The shape baring those twin burning fires, shifts, then it moves. It’s no beast of the night, but an Arctic fox. The creature has fur so white that it blends in with the snow, apart from the very tip of its tail, which is as black as a shadow, with small, grey tufts on each ear. With those foxes eye that seem to burn. The fox seems to be just as startled by Juhani’s presence, as Juhani is by the foxes. The creature screams at him, the sound echoing in the otherwise silent night. Those who have never heard the shrill scream of a fox, will never understand the way that it curdles the blood. It is not fearsome, like the howl of a wolf. Rather, it sounds like a teenage girl, screaming in misery and pain. It makes Juhani think of his own sister back home. His heart skips and thuds about in his chest like thunder claps, like a hammer striking onto wood. The fox lets out another shrill cry, eventually turning and taking off into the night.

What Juhani does next is so surprising to him, what possessed him, he just didn’t know! The smart thing to do would be to move on in the direction that he had been walking, or even to try doubling back and going the way that he had just come from. Instead, an over whelming sensation flooded through him. As though possessed by some other being, one that is primal and one that does not have words to describe it. Juhani takes off into the forest, pursuing the Arctic fox. The little creature is much faster by far. Still, he’s able to follow the little thing’s paw prints, which are embedded in the snow ahead of him. The fox bounds through the snow, so each of the foxes paw prints are far apart, and immortalised deeply in the snow. It makes the trail much easier to follow. As Juhani runs, his breath comes in hot breaths trapped against his skin by the scarf, he is consumed with the knowledge that this surely cannot be a simple Arctic fox. Why would it have cried at him, instead of trying to stay still and hoping that Juhani, a predator, did not leave? Why would it not simply have slipped away into the shadows, as Arctic foxes normally do? Perhaps more importantly, why was it so close to him and moving around in the first place? Arctic foxes are like many animals. They fear people and use their white fur as camouflage, to stay hidden from predators. Perhaps it could even be his mother, watching over him and trying to guide him. Whatever the truth of the matter is, Juhani finds himself chasing after the fox now.

Above him, the branches clear and he can see the first slivers of silver starlight peek through onto the snow. The trees are now starting to spread out, making it easier to run faster, now that he doesn’t need to try and navigate the tree trunks and ducking beneath low hanging pine boughs. Then, miracle upon miracle, the trees are simply gone. Juhani finds himself running out into a clearing. There is a small frozen over lake in the centre of the clearing, with a shallow river that runs to, what Juhani thinks, must be the east. Piles of snow now lay upon the surface of the frozen lake, in soft mounds that would be hard to spot if one was moving in a hurry.

To Juhani’s great surprise, the tracks of the Arctic fox appear to have vanished. If Juhani were thinking rationally, he would think that the fox had crossed over the frozen lake. He was curious to see if he could spot the paw prints on the other side. Juhani shuffled forward to the icy bank of the frozen lake. He squinted into the darkness to see, but the lake is too wide and the shadows of night too deep, for him to tell if the foot prints resume on the other side. He tries to remember if there are lakes anywhere near where he lives. Has he just been going in the wrong direction this whole time? Fear starts to swell inside of his heart, a great and choking fear. Juhani grabs at the back of his head, fingers curling tightly into the thick fabric of the hood that he’s wearing and he tries to calm himself. He knows that getting upset, will only make surviving that much harder, but the panic still rises inside of him, brewing like an angry storm. A tight knot forms in his throat and he can hardly breathe. With a terrified moan, Juhani finally sinks down onto the ground, crouching there, bent over his own knees. He slams his eyes shut, desperately willing his heart to slow down and his body to cooperate once more.

Suddenly, the screech of the Arctic fox pierces the night again. It surprises Juhani so much, that he falls backwards, landing on his rear end in the snow. The cold quickly soaks through even the heavy insulated fabric of his trousers, making him shudder. He looks around, trying to spot the fox. A part of Juhani still hopes that the fox might be his salvation, somehow. Then, before his very eyes, the fox bursts from the shadows on the other side of the lake, its bushy tail sweeping snowflakes up into the air. They flow unnaturally high, seeming to glow with the same firelight as the strange creature’s eyes. A strange shimmering begins to take place above him. Juhani’s head snaps back, enraptured by the sight of strange lights curling against the dark of the sky. The lights are brilliant shades of green, that seem as though they are curling above his head, light and dark hues spread out through the skies above, as they drift over the stars, not covering them, but accentuating them, stretching out seemingly across the entire sky.

The bright silver lights dot through the darkness to either side of the colourful array. The tops of the pine trees cut black jagged shapes onto the horizon. It’s the snow! Turned into brilliant bursts of light by the fox! Never before has Juhani ever seen such a thing and yet he knows exactly what it is.! Suddenly, he knows why that Arctic fox seemed so important. More and more snow is swept into the air by the fox’s tail, as it runs across the clearing and then vanishes into the woods that are opposite the lake. This is how those brilliant green lights were formed and he knows that no one else has ever born witness to such a thing. As Juhani sits beside the frozen lake, lost and cold, hungry and alone, staring up at the lights, he knows this is something he will never forget. The lights are not still. They seem to shimmer and sway above Juhani, casting the oddest sort of glow onto the snow below and onto the surface of the frozen lake.

A word comes to his mind, unbidden: revontulet. Juhani loses track of how long he sits there, staring up at the glow of the lights above him.

He thinks it must be a gift from the fire fox, reassuring him that he cannot give up. Though he is even colder now than before and his limbs are stiff from kneeling at the side of the lake for so long, Juhani rises back to his feet. He takes a few steps backwards, away from the lake, but cannot yet bring himself to turn his gaze away from the lights. They are not smooth but jagged bursts of colour, the shades of which seem to change the longer that Juhani stares up at them. The imagery of the lights is gorgeous and it engulfs him with a warmth that should not exist. As surely as Juhani knows his own name, he knows that the fire fox created this light for him. He knows that this light will guide him home. Seeing the fire fox’s light show, reminds Juhani that he has already overcome so much in the world. That his family has already overcome so much! So he takes one last look at the lights, trying to let them penetrate his eyes, into his memories. Taking in the way that they cascade down onto the surface of the lake, a double image that can never be replicated. This is something that Juhani knows he will never see again, something that he knows most people are never lucky enough to witness. The sight is now imprinted in his mind and it physically pulls the lump from his throat and pulls it apart, so that Juhani can breathe easily once more. Reinvigorated and now confident that he can find his way home now, Juhani turns and begins his trek again. He follows the green glow created by the fire fox, trusting that it will lead him from the clearing and to his village. From the forest behind him, the fire fox lets out one last cry, a jubilant cry. Now, Juhani is certain that he will find home before the morning.

Share this story with your friends to keep this Aurora myth alive for the next generations.


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