The Aurora Borealis has naturally been subject to many myths and superstitious beliefs through history.
It features prominently in norse mythology, as well as in old inuit folklore and Chinese and Japanese beliefs.
The Old Testament mentions the northern lights, and so do scholars such as Aristotle, Galileo, Goethe, Halley and Descartes in their work.
In the really old times
In Norse Mythology northern lights were believed to be the reflections of the shields of the Valkyries racing across the sky on their way to their resting place, Valhalla.
War and Destruction
Further down the continent, the Aurora Borealis was associated with even more bloodshed. The few times northern lights can be seen in the south of Europe, it is normally red. This very rare and terrifying sight made people see it as an omen of war and bloodshed to come.
In fact, weeks before the French revolution broke out dramatic red northern lights were seen in Scotland and England, and people reported of having heard and seen massive armies fighting across the skies.
Northern Lights as a Sign of Good Luck
Many beliefs around the northern lights see the phenomena as a good omen.
Fish and Fuitful Crops
For example, in the old days, many Scandinavians believed the Aurora was the reflection of huge schools of herring in the sea. And that fishermen would enjoy good catches of fish.
The Swedes used to believe a winter with much northern lights gave good crops the next year. Some Eskimos in Canada also believed the lights were the gods of harvest and hunting, and therefore took extra care not to offend the northern lights. Whatever that implies.
Northern Lights and Sex
The Aurora Borealis have also been linked to fertility and childbirth, and in Chinese and Japanese cultures it is still believed that a child conceived under the northern lights will be blessed with good fortunes.
In old Icelandic folklore it was also believed that northern lights would ease the pain of childbirth. At the same time though, they believed that pregnant women looking at the Aurora would have cross eyed children.
Northern Lights as a Sign of Bad Luck
In addition to the fear of cross eyed children, and being and omen of war and destruction, the northern lights have many other less happy myths relating to it.
Clap your Hands
The most widely known ´no-no´in the North is o avoid waving, singing or whistling at the northern lights.
People used to believe that the spirits would come down and take you away. And although most don´t really believe this nowadays, you very rarely come across anyone who would do it still. Should it happen to you – the way to fend off the spirits is to clap your hands.
Urine and Dog Poo?
Many Sami people would keep their families and children indoors during the display, or if they were outside they would cover up and try to hide from the rays.
Some Alaskan Inuits were similarly scared, but had a more ´practical´approach. They would hide their children, and sometimes try to throw dog excrement and urine up in the air to make the lights go away.