The source of many myths and legends down through the ages, the incredible light shows of the Northern Lights hold a fascination which transcends time.
They can appear year round around the Arctic circle but are far more likely to be seen during the long dark days between August and April then during the longer days of light during the rest of the year.
Myths & Legends of the Northern Lights
The Vikings celebrated the lights as earthly manifestations of their gods. Other Norse peoples feared them as dangerous and held many superstitions associated with them. The Vikings saw the lights as the breath of the fallen and a bridge to their afterlife while other Norse cultures saw them as souls of the dead to be avoided.
Finnish lore saw the lights as being created by fire foxe who ran through the sky so fast their tales brush against the mountains creating sparks to light up the sky.
The lights would help in childbirth for Icelandic women as long as they didn’t look at the lights. If they did, the child would be cross-eyed. In Greenland they were seen as the spirts of children who died in childbirth. In Norway, they were old maids dancing in the heavens.
Many of the stories by the Indigenous peoples of North America around the Northern lights centered around the souls of the departed, sometimes even departed animals they had hunted.
The Inuit and Cree believed the lights made whistling sounds for them to answer and talk to their departed ancestors. The Algonquin tribes believed the creator of Earth moved to the far north and the lights were his fire letting them know he was still present and thinking of them
Conversely, tribes like the Great Plains Indians believed the lights were from the fires under huge cooking pots lit by northern tribes to cook their enemies. Tribes in the Hudson Bay area saw them as lanterns of demons chasing lost souls.
Folklore and Myths around the world are rich in stories about the lights.
What Are the Northern Lights?
Also called Aurora Boreali, occur near the magnetic poles. They do appear in the southern hemisphere but I’m only looking at the Northern Lights.
The earth’s magnetic field pulls charged particles toward the North Pole. Most of the time the magnetic field forms a protective layer shielding earth from solar winds. Sometimes they will break through.
Charged particles travel at high speed through the upper atmosphere (the ionosphere) colliding with atoms and molecules. The collisions transform their kinetic energy into visible light. The particles will continue on slower but with enough energy to continue, often aided by solar winds.
The atoms in the atmosphere increase closer to Earth. The particles will slow more and more as they continue to hit atoms until finally coming to a stop about 100km above the Earth.
The more active the solar winds are the greater the intensity will be seen of the lights and the further south they will be visible. They will decrease in intensity as solar activity drops off.
Sometimes the winds will create a magnetic reconnect ion as the particles reconnect around the back of the earth away from the sun and then snap back like an elastic band. The snapping effect creates massive energy toward the pole and creates stunning displays in a range of colours.
Do the Northern Lights Emit Sound?
Sound from the lights has figured in many of the myths and Legends about the Northern Lights. Many during the 20th and into the 21st century reported hearing sound coming from the lights.
Efforts to determine if they were emitting sound or not were often controversial. In 2004 a study in Finland isolated what they believed to be sound coming from about 70 meters above the ground. This is the recording:
A Latvian composer used journal extracts from an American explorer and a Norweigan statesman who had both claimed to have heard the northern lights to inspire this composition:
You can read more about the question of the lights emitting sound here
Regardless if they make sound or not, what is undisputable is the Northern Lights create one of the greatest light shows ever produced. And have been appearing for millennia.
Shadowspub is a writer from Ontario, Canada. She writes on a variety of subjects as she pursues her passion for learning. She also writes on other platforms and enjoys creating books you use like journals, notebooks, coloring books etc.
NOTE: unless otherwise stated, all images are the author’s
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