Seeing the Aurora, in dreams and reality

One of the most intriguing things about that Arctic Life is the Aurora. In other words, these are the Northern lights, some mysterious statical or dancing shining on the night sky. Only visible inside or close to the polar areas (Arctic or Antarctic), these lights are some of the most common reasons for the desire to travel to these parts of the world.

I was not that lucky to see the Aurora when I visited the Arctic circle. The weather was cloudy and snowy, so I could only see the lights through the clouds.

Read also: What is it like to feel the Arctic Life?

Physics and imagination

Although the world wasn’t as connected millennia ago as it is today, the first written evidences about the aurora were found in China and Greece thousands of years ago. Aurora happens due to particular winds-storms on the Sun’s surface that trigger particular particles in the Earth’s magnetic field. Although the phenomenon looks like a magic, it is a simple science.

Nevertheless, before the science found out what exactly causes the aurora, people were using their imagination. Their stories resulted in myths. The term aurora borealis was coined by the 17th century astronomer Galileo who used the ancient Roman goddess Aurora and the Greek word “borealis” meaning “northern wind”. Curiously, aurora does relate to the wind. It just doesn’t relate to the winds on Earth but those on the Sun!

Aurora
Behind that clouds, it looked more or less like this. For a higher likeliness of seeing the best auroras, it is better to visit the area in September, October, March, or April. Auroras don’t occur during the polar day (from mid May to late July, approximately), and the peak winter months may just be too snowy. Photo by Nicolas LB on Unsplash

Read also: The most Ancient Innovation

The Goddess Aurora

Aurora was the Roman goddess of dawn. The name derives from one of the earliest Italic (pre-Latin!) languages, from the word ausos. Obviously, the natural phenomena were often described through the divine and mythical beings in these ancient culture, so the Aurora represented the moment of a new day coming.

Antoon Derkinderen: The Building of the Argo, around 1900, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. As the construction of the ship continues, the dawn is showing up to announce a new day, in the form of Aurora.

In Greek mythology, Aurora was called Eos. She was a common figure in erotic poetry from Homer onwards. In the same vein, the Romans treated the goddess as a symbol of lust. Subsequently many poets and writers mentioned her in some kind of dramatic love stories, and it includes Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

But all so soon as the all-cheering sun
Should in the furthest east begin to draw
The shady curtains from Aurora’s bed,
Away from the light steals home my heavy son…

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, what Montague says about his son Romeo…

Note: I will write more about this topic of love and lust in ancient myths in some of my next articles. Stay tuned.

Eos, the Greek goddess of dawn and a symbol of lust. Eos and the slain Memnonon an Attic red-figure cup, ca. 490–480 BCE, the so-called “Memnon Pietà”. Louvre, Paris.

Northern lights as a rare event

Most importantly, Northern lights – auroras usually happen only on the far North (borealis, Arctic) or South (australis, Antarctic). However, in some rare circumstances, they might occur far away from the two polar circles. These occasions often triggered stories and interpretations.

Aurora Borealis, Charles H. Whymper
The Aurora Borealis. Coloured wood engraving by C. Whymper, Wellcome Collection

For example, pheasants are a quite symbolic animals in Japanese folklore and traditions. According to literature, 1500 years ago pheasants’ tails with details feathers showed up shining on the sky. Recently the science found out this event might have been a rare aurora.

Aurora Australis, the Southern lights, occasionally appears above Australia. For the indigenous Australians, most notably Aborigines, these lights represent fire in its many mythical meanings or gods dancing.

Further, many mythologies had dragons in their repertoires. In China, rare appearances of auroras was associated with evil dragons as signs of bad luck. In contrast, most Europeans had some precise fears related to the rare auroras, such as wars, plague, poverty, etc.

Northern lights and Northern people

Read also: The Sami, wise people of the North

While auroras might dance on the sky and look like a fire, as Aborigines perceived them, in Finland their meaning is even more specific. The Finnish word for the auras is revontulet, literally meaning fox fires. Fox is perceived as a quick and its tail brushes the dry Arctic snow into the sky, making it shine.

In any case, human cultures are differ in a way of what kind of natural phenomena are more common to them, or how their climate and landscapes look like.

Aurora Borealis - Art Of Discovery
Fire, fox tails, pheasant tail? Or just pure, cool, physics? One of the very first Art Of Discovery pieces related to the Aurora.

Above all, aurora holidays could be a fine idea for some pure relaxation and a stay far away from stress. Cold polar climate is not as unpleasant as it seems to be, so I think it is a fine alternative to tropical trips, or beach holidays in general.

Some sources


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