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  • Writer's pictureJan Švamberg

Aurora Myth from Iceland, Crossed-eyed child

This world we all call home is vast and amazing. Filled to the brim with the wonders of nature. This story has taken one of those countless incredible things in the world – the

Northern Lights.

Those shimmering hues of lights that appear in the sky at night have fascinated people for so long as people have existed on this earth.

Every culture that has ever laid eyes upon these waving lights of green through the sky has formed stories that could possibly explain the existence of these spectacles of nature. Some of these stories have been passed around for generations, and some of them have explanations that seem fascinating to those of other cultures. Our goal is to ensure that these stories continue to spread.

We share with you today one of many Northern Lights stories. Aurora myth from Iceland:

"The Northern Lights were a true blessing for pregnant women, according to Icelandic folklore. Back then, they were believed to be a natural means to ease the pain of childbirth, but of course, a powerful phenomenon like this could not come without a price. Pregnant women were warned not to look directly at the Aurora under any circumstances, as they feared it would result in their child being born cross-eyed."

Crossed-eyed child

They are on a journey north, seeking out family in a small settlement near Lake Myvatn, and Sigridur knows they will not make it there in time. The high noon sun shines down on her and her husband, who have stopped to give the Icelandic horse pulling their wagon a rest. It’s nearly winter, and the horse has grown its fur out in long shags.

Gunnar wraps an arm around his wife’s shoulders and pulls her close. “It won’t be long now, my dear. Soon, we will be at my sister’s, and then you will be able to sleep in a bed again, and you will be able to know that our child will be raised in safety, with the love of many around us.”

Sigridur gives her husband what she hopes is a reassuring smile. “How much longer, Gunnar?”

Gunnar tells her, “by tonight, we will be at the lake, and by this time tomorrow, we will be at my sister’s home.”

“Gunnar. I think…” She presses a hand to her belly, hanging heavy with child. “I think we might not have that long. I can tell. In my heart, I know that it will be time soon.”

Gunnar insists, “We will make it, Sigridur. We only have a little longer to go. I am sure that the horse is fine for travel now. It’s been fed and watered. We can go now. I will run her fast.”

Sigridur looks at their mare. She is an old thing, her bay fur gone gray about the eyes, and her shaggy mane unkempt but untangled. There is love in those deep brown eyes and a sense of warmth and understanding.

She moves to press a hand against the side of the horse’s neck, sliding her fingers through the long fur. And then she says, “no, no. Don’t run her fast, Gunnar. Ragna has served us well over the years, and it would not be fair to treat her ill now. She will do her best to get us there in time, and I will do my best to wait.”

Though a part of Sigridur knows that she will not make the journey. A mother can tell when her child will soon be among the living, and Sigridur’s heart tells her that she will hold a bundle of kin in her arms before the morning light shines on the plains of Iceland again.

They finish letting the mare eat, and then Gunnar helps his wife into the back of the wagon, where she sits with the few belongings they opted to bring. The journey has been a long one; two weeks, that’s how long they have been on the road so far—two long, hard weeks.

She sits heavily on the bear skin blanket in the back and tilts her head back so she can look at the clouds. Her husband takes the reins, clicking his tongue and urging the old mare into motion once more. The wheels catch on dips and hollows in the uneven, dirt road and make the whole thing shudder and jerk about beneath them.

The clouds are soft and pillow in nature; like the wool of a sheep ready to be sheared, perfect to lay the head upon. Sigridur closes her eyes and tries to imagine that. If she pretends hard enough, she can almost ignore the ever-present ache that has settled in her spine and the way that her legs tremble when she is on them for too long.

She has always wanted to have a child.

A family all of her own!

Sigridur’s parents died when she was very young. She has never known the warmth of a true family, although Gunnar swears that his sister and her kin will welcome Sigridur into the midst with open arms. Shes’ nervous. What if Gudrun doesn’t like her? What if they do not get along? It will surely break Gunnar’s heart to discover that – and worse, it will make this long journey in vain.

No, decides Sigridur. She will have to just make sure that this works out. Both hands settle on the curve of her belly, resting against it. She can feel her child kick out, and the unborn babe has grown restless the last few days.

For the sake of her family, Sigridur will make sure that this works.

* * *

Sigridur doesn’t remember falling asleep, but she wakes up with a splitting headache and a wetness between her legs. She struggles to make sense of the world around her. She is still in the back of the wagon, and it has grown dark. The night hangs heavy above them, the white clouds from before vanished. The silver specks of starlight have taken their place, scattered through the black of the sky like bits of shining snow.

She blinks a few times, struggling to bring herself into awareness. The wheel of the wagon catches on a rut in the road, and the way it jostles everything is enough to make Sigridur cry out in pain. Her husband is instantly twisting around, worry heavy in his voice when he questions, “Are you alright, Sigridur?”

Sigridur wants to tell him that he’s fine. She wants to tell him that there is nothing to worry about. But the doula of their former village, who helps with all birthings, was very clear in her teachings, and now that Sigridur is more awake, she knows what is going on.

“Stop the horse,” says Sigridur. She’s surprised by the steadiness in her own voice. It doesn’t betray the fact that her heart is racing fast as a storm cloud might sweep through the air or the way that her stomach has just twisted itself into knots. She sounds put together and in control.

For that, she is glad.

Gunnar is an excellent hunter and a loving husband… but he’s also of the nervous sort, and he has fretted terribly since Sigridur took with child. Gunnar’s mother died giving birth to her third child; one who did not make it to be even a year old.

Though he wants his own family, the idea of losing his own wife in such a manner plagues him.

He’s quick to pull Ragna to a stop. The horse snorts, grateful for the rest. Gunnar hurries to get out of his seat and rushes around to the side of the wagon, reaching over the low cut wall of it and taking his wife’s hand into his own. “What’s wrong? Tell me, please.”

“The baby is coming,” says Sigridur. “And I cannot have it here, among our belongings. Help me out of the wagon, Sigridur.”

“What? No! We are almost to the village, Sigridur! A few more hours, and we will be there! Look, the lake is just beside us now. See?” Gunnar gestures to the nearby lake, which stretches out like a yawning pit in the dark. The waters are still enough to reflect the light of the stars. As she looks at the lake, a strange sensation overtakes Sigridur.

She tightens her grip on Gunnar’s hand, insisting, “help me from the wagon and take me there, Gunnar. To the shoreline.”

“Why?” He asks, clearly baffled.

The first wave of pain hits her then, hard enough to make her gasp and steal away her breath. Sigridur’s grip on her husband’s hand goes clamp tight, and he gives a sharp hiss of his own.

“Now,” she insists.

And so Gunnar helps his wife from the wagon and gathers the bear skin blanket up as well. He drapes it over his shoulders, ties it in a knot around his neck, and then wraps an arm around Sigridur’s waist, supporting her. The other hand crosses both of their fronts and tangles with his wife’s own fingers.

“I have you,” he promises. “I will make sure that we get through this.”

“I know you will,” says Sigridur, though the fear is starting to settle in now. They would have already been at the village, but a storm sprung up miles ago and held them up for nearly five days. The thought of giving birth in the wilderness hadn’t crossed Sigridur’s mind.

And yet now it seems to be the only option that they have.

Together, they start the slow walk from the road to the shore of the lake. Once there, Gunnar unties the bearskin from around his neck, lays it on the ground, and then helps Sigridur onto it. He presses his hands to either side of her face, promising, “I must go fetch the horse. She is a good mare, but I don’t trust her alone for long. I will be right back, Sigridur. I promise.”

She leans forward and kisses him, drawing comfort from the chaste press of their lips. The winter chill doubles once it gets dark, and Sigridur cannot help the way that she shivers as they part. Her husband holds her face for a moment longer and then pulls away, hurrying back towards the road to fetch Ragna and the wagon.

And for several long moments, Sigridur is left alone.

She braces her arms against the soft fur of the blanket and leans back, staring up at the sky above her. The position does not alleviate the pain at all. For the moment, the contractions are still far apart – but when they hit, it’s as though she is being pulled apart at the seams. It doesn’t just hurt. It steals away all of her breath, making her pant in the seconds that follow, and causes every muscle in her body to tighten and latch with the effort of bearing the pain.

Sigridur knows that giving birth will not be a pleasant experience, but there’s something about doing it alone in the wild that makes it so much worse. She longs for the warmth of a fire to help heat her skin and the softness of a bed beneath her rather than a single blanket and the ground. There is comfort in being so close to the water, though Sigridur isn’t entirely sure why.

Perhaps it is just one of those things that a mother can do – knowing that you should be in one place over the other.

Still, there is no greater balm than when her husband returns. Gunnar settles at her side and then shifts again, settling between her legs instead. He reaches up and takes one of her hands, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “I have unhooked Ragna and tied her to a pine. She will be fine to deliver us to the village in the morn; all three of us.”

“All three of us,” repeats Sigridur, refusing to let any other concern be entertained.

In the long minutes that follow, creeping close to nearly an hour, the contractions come with shorter and shorter pauses between them, and they last for longer each time. The pain is so great that it makes Sigridur cry, tears running in warm tracks down her face. The wind quickly causes the wetness to grow chilly instead.

Her shoulders shake with the force of her sobs, and she digs her hands into the bear skin blanket, twisting it into knots that make her knuckles turn white. Just as she is starting to worry that the pain will be too much… a strange thing happens.

The sky above them begins to grow bright.

It is not the same brightness that comes with sunlight nor the same brightness that comes with the full moon. This is a light that spreads across the sky in a wave, as though summoned by the sound of Sigridur’s wailing.

It is green. All manners and shades of green, dark and light, spilling over the sky in massive waves. The color spreads like a blood droplet spilling in water until the whole shoreline is lit up by the glow. It catches on the surface of the lake and shines into the world twice over.

Gunnar looks above them, fear in his voice, “What is happening?”

But there is no fear in Sigridur. Instead, relief rushes through her, just as the colors rush through the sky above. The pain seems to ebb away, and the lights shimmer and pulse in time with her contractions. There is still a great pressure within her belly and at the base of her spine, but the pain itself has vanished.

“It’s helping,” breathes Sigridur, her voice reedy with effort. “The sky is helping, the lights.”

“It’s helping?” Gunnar curls his hands tighter around his wife’s knees, where they are clutched like iron clasps. “Are you certain?”

“I’m certain,” she says. “It’s helping.”

The pain is gone. The fear flees with it. Sigridur has a much easier time breathing through the contractions now. Each tense of her body seems to be in time with the fluctuating lights above, and she knows that the lack of pain is their doing.

It is easier, after that, giving birth to her child. Sigridur’s gaze stays locked onto the shimmering lights above her – and before she knows it, there is a bundle of flesh and blood in her husband’s arm. The world is still and quiet for a terrifying moment. Gunnar hefts the baby up by the foot and gives it a sharp swat to the bottom. And just like that, the newborn begins to wail.

It is the most amazing sound that she has ever heard.

Exhaustion sweeps through the new mother. She sags back against the blankets, letting her husband rush through the process of cleaning the child and swaddling it in blankets. Laying prone on her back like this, Sigridur has a perfect view of the green lights above.

They are like nothing she has ever seen before. The lights shimmer, no longer bound to her contractions, and ghost over the sky like a fine mist. They are brighter than any star that she has ever seen, and Sigridur knows that it is the doing of the lights she was able to make it through childbirth with so little pain.

What would have happened without them?

Sigridur fears that the pain might have been too great for her to bear. She gives a quiet thanks to the lights above her, and closes her eyes. When she opens them again, Gunnar is kneeling at her side. He has a mass of blankets tucked to his chest, held there with one arm. The other hand is pressed to Sigridur’s cheek, rousing her from an uneasy slumber.

“It’s a girl,” says Gunnar. “Would you like to hold her?”

“More than anything in the world,” admits Sigridur. Her husband helps her sit up, supporting Sigridur as she reaches out and takes the bundle into her arms.

A small, wrinkled face stares up at her. Twin brown eyes blink – both of them glanced towards the nose. Sigridur’s brows furrow. She leans from side to side, and the baby follows her with its gaze, but the eyes never straighten.

“Cross-eyed,” says Gunnar. “An oddity, but one that shouldn’t affect her health.”

“Cross-eyed,” echoes Sigridur. Mothers have a stronger sense than anything and anyone else in the world, and when she looks up at the lights above them, she is certain that it is their doing as well. Still, she is grateful for the way the green shimmering eased her pain and for the seemingly strong health of her child.

The baby coos at her, and warmth blooms in Sigridur’s chest, overshadowing even the exhaustion. She presses a kiss to the tip of her newborn’s nose and then announces, “Hekla. For your mother.”

“Hekla,” says Gunnar softly. He presses a kiss to his wife’s forehead and then leans down to press a kiss to his daughter’s as well. “It’s perfect.”

They sit by the shore of the lake for nearly two hours before Gunnar is able to get both Sigridur and Hekla up and into the wagon. They sleep there beneath the light of the green waves in the sky, letting it wash over them as they slumber, and come morning, they return to the road once more, bound for the village.

All of Sigridur’s concerns are proved to have been for nothing, as Gunnar’s sister welcomes them with open arms – and Sigridur makes sure to tell the other woman, heavily pregnant with her second child, about the way that the strange green lights beside the lake had helped ease the pain of child birth.

And then she warned, “just be certain not to look at them for too long, or else your child will come out like my little Hekla. Crossed in the eyes, never to see straight.”

This Aurora story is shared with you, here, and it’s our hope that it will then be shared with

others, so that the tale of the Northern Lights can continue to be passed on from generation to generation.


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