Northern Lights myths and legends - Top 19 myths
Updated: Sep 15
It is obvious why the Aurora Borealis have impacted myths and legends throughout history. Imagine staring up at dancing green, red, and purple lights. Captivating? Scary? Oh, yes. While back then, Northern Lights myths depicted everything from departed souls to animals and terrifying spirits. Similarly, these myths and legends have travelled along with human evolution. Read on to learn about the top 19 Northern Light myths!
1. The dancing maids - Norway
In Norway, legends tell the stories of dancing maids in the heavens. Also, the people of that time believed they were waving at them.
Lastly, the myth developed because of the exciting nature of the Northern Lights and how they can dance across the sky.
2. Torches of spirits - America
Long before Columbus discovered America, the natives had their own beliefs about the Northern Lights. They believed the spirits were holding the torches to guide their recently departed loved ones to the land of plenty.
Furthermore, the legend also tells us that the natives thought the spirits communicated with the people on Earth. And the only way to talk to them was through whistling.
Native Americans in the America frequently used whistles to persuade the Northern Lights to come closer so that they might whisper messages to the dead.
3. Communication with ancestors - North America, Canada
The Cree Indians who lived in North America and Canada had their myths about the Northern Lights. They believed in the circle of life, and when they saw the lights, they thought it was a way to communicate with their ancestors. And when the dogs would bark at them, they believed they recognised their ancestors.
4. Myths and legends of Sámi - Old Sámi Land (Lapland)
Sámi are native people of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. They covered northern parts of these countries.
Unlike other legends, Sámi had different beliefs about the Northern Lights. They thought they were a bad omen, and singing, dancing, and whistling under them was dangerous. The lights brought them bad luck, and they preferred to stay indoors during the night when lights were visible.
Sámi thought that the lights were the souls of the dead. And if they got their attention, they would reach down and pick them up.
Some Sámi people still stay indoors to escape the clutches of death that come with the Northern Lights.
5. Mythical fire foxes - Finland
In Finland, the Northern Lights are referred to as Revontulet, which means "firefox" in English.
The legends tell us that people believed that the Northern Lights were the cause of the fire foxes' tails brushing against the mountains and when these flying fire foxes brushed against the mountains with their long, furry tails, the snowflakes they produced lighted up the sky.
Furthermore, according to a variant of this tale, snowflakes and moonlight were also firefoxes' doing. Given that there is no snowfall during the summer, this version would have also helped the populace understand why the lights are only visible during the winter.
6. Icelandic folklore - Iceland
According to Icelandic legend, the Northern Lights were thought to lessen labour agony. However, the expecting mothers were advised not to look directly at them otherwise their child would be delivered with crossed eyes.
7. Lanterns of Demons - Canada
In old times at Hudson Bay, Canada, the natives thought the lights near the Bay were demons' lanterns pursuing wayward souls.
Furthermore, thousands of miles away, the Fox Indians who lived in Wisconsin believed the lights to be the souls of their dead enemies whom they had killed. And now those souls are trying to rise again for revenge.
8. Merry Dancers - Scotland
The old natives of Scotland gave the Northern Lights the pleasant name "Merry Dancers." According to the legend, they represented fallen angels or sky warriors engaged in a fierce conflict.
Moreover, bloodstones are a typical sight in the Hebrides. Also, these lovely green heliotropes have red spots all over them. At that time, the Scots thought these scarlet dots on the stones were blood drips that had fallen from the sky during the combat between the Merry Dancers.
9. The competing swans - Denmark
The Northern Lights myths frequently used tales about animals and the natural world to explain the lights. However, the Danes, who were the original natives of Denmark, thought the lights were brought on by swans competing to fly as far north as possible.
The story goes that some of the swans were stuck in the ice, and as they struggled to get out, they flailed their wings, scattering light throughout the sky.
10. Good Omen tale - Sweden
Not everyone thought of the Northern Lights as a bad sign. The Aurora fascinated Swedish fishermen because they believed the lights were the reflections of vast schools of herring nearby.
Furthermore, for them, they believed the Northern Lights brought good luck and fortune and when they saw the lights, they thought they would catch more fish that day since lights were a sign of large schools of fish.
11. Bad Omen Myths - France and Italy
In the old days, a legend of death a conflict encompassed the minds of poor citizens of Italy and France. They thought that the lights were a bad omen that gave a warning of death and suffering.
Some myths and legends reveal that the beginning of the French Revolution in the late 18th century shook the nation. A vivid red Aurora was spotted over England and Scotland weeks before the monarchy was toppled, and others claimed to have heard enormous armies clashing in the sky. The terrified witnesses thought it portended impending death and conflict.
12. The legend of the dragons - China
In China, the Northern Light sightings were not frequent and were very rarely seen. Also, due to the rarity of Auroral sightings in China and the likelihood that a significant solar event triggered them, it is only natural that the ancient Chinese were astounded by the lights that occasionally lit up their night sky.
You might already know that dragons have a deep connection to Chinese culture and legends.
So, naturally, when the ancient Chinese witnessed the Northern Lights, they thought that the good and evil dragons were at war and the lights were a result of them breathing fire at each other.
13. The fortunate child - Japan
Auroral sighting is not common in Japan. Similarly, they believed In Japanese tradition, it is said that a child conceived under the Northern Lights will be endowed with attractiveness, intelligence, and luck.
So, naturally, they made special preparations to conceive a child whenever this phenomenon occurred in Japan.
14. Playing ball with Walrus skull - Arctic
Some of the native Artic tribes believed the Northern Lights are souls of people playing a game of ball with a walrus head or skull.
For some unknown reason, this Aurora myth is told the other way around in Nunivak Islands.
15. Walrus Spirits playing ball - Alaska
Around 30 miles away from the Alaskan shores in Nunivak Islands lived fascinating native Alaskan people.
When they saw the Northern Lights, they believed in a similar story to their peers. They thought that walrus spirits were playing a game of ball with an unfortunate human's skull.
16. Spirits of generations yet to come - Native Americans, USA
Among the Native American people, Lakota had their own beliefs about the Northern Lights. They thought that the lights were the spirits of their unborn generations. And they will welcome them soon in the future.
17. Whale spouts - Finland
As per the myths and legends, the Finnish Sámi claimed that the Aurora appeared when whales played games. Furthermore, they thought that the Aurora seemed due to the whale spouts when they threw ocean water in the air.
The whales are enormous living beings on Earth, and when the Sámi saw these giants - they were nothing less than amazed. Naturally, they had to associate them with something significant.
18. The scorching of hair - Faroe Islands (The Kingdom of Denmark)
The Faroe Islands are located between Norway and Iceland. The natives of these islands had an exciting legend that concerned their hair.
They warned their children always to wear hats when walking under the Aurora; otherwise, the lights would scorch their hair.
19. Spirits of animals - Alaska, USA
Inupiat was a group of native settlers in Alaska. They had one of the most interesting Northern Lights myths.
Since they used to hunt for their survival and clothing, they thought that the Aurora was the spirits of animals they had hunted. And now they had come back to lit up the sky.
Furthermore, according to myths and legends of Inupiat, the sky was the realm of those animal spirits.
Northern Lights Myths and omens of death
All born cultures in North America did not welcome the Northern Lights, and many thought they were evil omens.
The Great Plains Indians held a similar belief but thought the lights were caused by massive flames, not by a loving god. Similarly, they reflected enormous fires that northern tribes had set ablaze to roast their enemies.
Northern Lights myth - Clap your hands.
The most well-known "no-no" in the north is to refrain from singing, whistling, or waving at the Aurora Borealis.
In the past, myths and legends revealed that spirits of the dead would appear and take them away. And while most people today don't believe this, you seldom ever run into someone who does it nonetheless. Clapping your hands will ward off the spirits if it happens to you.
Northern Lights in Norse mythology
In Norse mythology, the Aurora Borealis was linked to conflict. Every single Viking held Odin in the highest esteem since he was the supreme god of Asgard.
Also, they thought he was in Valhalla getting ready for Ragnarök, the end of the gods and the beginning of a new world. Ragnarök, the final battle, was supposed to be Odin's most significant battle; thus, he would need the most courageous fighters at his side.
Odin personally selected the fallen heroes of each Earthly conflict who would eventually join him in Valhalla. Also, the Valkyries were female warriors who rode horses armed with spears and shields. They were responsible for escorting the fallen earth warriors to Valhalla, where Odin awaited them.
The lights were thought to have been caused by sunlight reflecting off the polished shields of the Valkyries as they guided the warriors' souls to Valhalla.
Alaska, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland are all excellent places to watch the Northern Lights. Some myths and legends concerning the Northern Lights started in the Baltic States, the British Isles, and the remainder of the USA, Japan, and China when the Aurora was rarely witnessed in these parts.
If you wish to understand why people of those times believed in these legends, you need to put yourself in their shoes. They were simple folk, and they feared what they could not understand. So, do you know of any myths and legends we might have skipped? Thanks for the read!