We know today that the aurora borealis, commonly called the “northern lights” occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun zoom into Earth’s atmosphere. The phenomenon is most commonly witnessed during fall and winter months at high-latitude locales, including Alaska and northern Canada. When you witness the lights streaking across the sky, reaching a height of up to 620 miles, surely you can understand how so many cultures came to develop mystical stories about them.
Here are just 15 such tales:
1. When they witnessed the lights, many Inuit, the Arctic’s indigenous peoples, believed they were spirits of the dead playing a game with a walrus skull as the “ball.” The Inuit of Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea flipped its take on this story believing that it was walrus spirits playing with a human skull.
2. Indigenous Greenlanders believed that the lights were dancing spirits of children who had died at birth.
3. For Wisconsin’s Fox Native Americans, the aurora gave them a sense of foreboding—representing their slain enemies preparing for revenge.
4. In Alaska, some Inuit groups saw the lights as the spirits of the animals they had hunted, namely beluga whales, seals, salmon
5. In Norse mythology, the lights were the spears, armor
6. The Inuit of Hudson Bay dreaded the lights, believing they were the lanterns of demons pursuing lost souls.
7. In Finland, a mystical fox was thought to have created the
8. Some Algonquin peoples believed their cultural hero, Nanahbozho, relocated to the far north after he finished creating the Earth. He lit large fires, which reflected back to his people in the form of the northern lights. This let them know he was thinking of them, even though they were far apart.
9. In perhaps the best oxymoron in British folklore, Scottish legend refers to the lights as “Merry Dancers” engaged in bloody battle.
10. Native Americans of the Great Plains
11. Inuit in Point Barrow, Alaska’s northernmost spot, believed the aurora was evil. They carried knives to protect themselves from it.
12. In Estonia, one legend said the lights appeared when whales were playing games. Another said they were sleighs taking guests to a spectacular wedding feast.
13. Wisconsin’s Menominee Native Americans saw the lights as torches used by benevolent giants used when they speared fish at night.
14. Fishermen in northern Sweden took the lights as a good prophecy, believing they were reflecting large schools of herring in nearby seas.
15. If you whistled at the