I absolutely adore the awe-inspiring northern lights*, that spectacular phenomenon created by our own magnificent sun. The name of the effect itself (aurora borealis) comes from the Roman god of the dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas. The northern lights have been intriguing people since the dawn of time. They have offered mesmerising fascination for generations of humans living in the north of our globe, (probably for animals too, but of course we haven’t asked them yet..)
Each appearance of aurora borealis is a unique, stunning experience. The lights often appear as flickering, luminous, green curtains of curling smoke. On very special nights, the green is edged with pink and occasionally with beautiful tints of azure blue. The northern lights often appear suddenly and are gone in minutes, creating a powerful, inexplicable feeling, which cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end. I experienced a similar, strange feeling when I witnessed a total eclipse of the sun. The sun is the culprit behind the formation of these fantastic auroras. During large solar explosions, particles are thrown out of the sun and into deep space. These particles meet the earth’s magnetic shield and are dragged to the North Pole (or South Pole in the case of the southern lights). They release an energy creating the magnificent northern lights about 60 miles above us.
Like many strange phenomena, myths have grown around the northern lights to explain away their mystifying presence and they have been the source of many legends over the centuries. Every northern culture has legends around aurora borealis. For instance, the Sami, the indigenous people of Norway, described them as “the light which can be heard”, a perfect description I think. They believed the lights were the souls of their beloved, departed relatives. The Vikings believed the northern lights were the armour of the Valkyrie warrior virgins, shedding their strange flickering light.
In Finland, the lights are known as ‘Fox Fires’ from an ancient legend where a magical fox creates the lights by sweeping his tail across the snow, spraying it up into the dark sky. In Scotland, the lights have been called the ‘merry dancers’. Some Eskimo tribes had a sad explanation for the lights and attributed them to the spirits of babies who died in childbirth, while others attributed them to the spirits of departed animals. Native Americans in Wisconsin thought the lights were a bad omen because they were the ghosts of their dead enemies, who were ready to exact their revenge. It is easy see why the aurora borealis stirs the imagination of our souls. Perhaps stories of magical foxes are easier for us to take in than the complicated scientific solar particle malarkey.
I was lucky enough to live in Norway for three years and can recommend a visit there for anyone wanting a unique, enigmatic, even spiritual experience. Of course, there can be no certainty that you will see the aurora on any given night if the weather is inclement, but if you are lucky enough to witness the northern lights, I can guarantee the experience will stay with you forever.
And I looked and behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud and a fire unfolding itself and a brightness was about it and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber out of the midst of the fire.
(*Note from Ed: In the second book of the Sophie Radcliffe series, the Northern Lights are a feature of the story)
Visit Norway to see the northern lights http://tinyurl.com/p6red2l