In this post, we’re going to explore the fascinating Norse mythology behind the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis.
Valkyries Riding Across the Sky
In Norse mythology, Vikings believed that the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis were light bouncing off the shining spears, shields, and helmets of the Valkyries. Valkyries were legendary women warriors who served the god Odin. These Valkyries were tasked with selecting the bravest and most honorable warriors who died in battle. They then brought these fallen warriors to Valhalla, Odin’s grand hall. Once there, Odin gave these chosen warriors the honor of fighting alongside the gods during Ragnarok, the final battle between gods and giants at the end of the world.
The Vikings believed that the Valkyries rode their horses across the sky. As they carried the chosen warriors to Valhalla, they left trails of light behind them. This belief was reinforced by the fact that the Aurora Borealis often appear as long, shimmering curtains of light that seem to dance across the sky, much like the movement of horses.
Heimdall Guarding the Bridge Bifröst
Another Norse legend states that the shimmering Northern Lights were the glowing bridge named Bifröst. Bifröst was a bridge which separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. The god Heimdall, known for his keen eyesight and sharp hearing, guarded this bridge. Vikings believed that Heimdall could see for hundreds of miles and could hear the grass grow. He would blow his horn, Gjallarhorn, to signal the beginning of Ragnarok and warn the other gods of danger.
The Vikings saw the Aurora Borealis as a symbol of the power and majesty of the gods. It was a sign of good fortune for those lucky enough to see them. They believed that their gods at play brought about the stunning light displays they saw in the sky. This belief was supported by the fact that the Northern Lights often appear in times of great change, like during the changing of the seasons, which the Vikings also believed was a time when the gods were most active.
In addition to their spiritual significance, the Northern Lights played an important role in the practical aspects of Viking life. Skilled seafarers used the Aurora Borealis as a way to navigate the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic. Vikings used the Northern Lights to determine their position and direction in order to safely navigate through the darkness of the Arctic winter.
What Causes the Aurora Borealis?
Today, we know that the Northern Lights are actually caused by charged solar particles colliding with the Earth’s magnetic field, creating a dazzling display of light in the sky. Did you know that the University of Alaska has a website where you can view the Aurora Borealis forecast? The website helps you see if it is a good time to view the Northern Lights. You can check it out here: Aurora Forecast | Geophysical Institute (alaska.edu).
Scientific explanations aside, the Norse mythology behind the Northern Lights is still fascinating and speaks to the enduring power of this natural wonder. Have you witnessed the beauty that we call the Aurora Borealis? We’d love to hear about your favorite experiences with them in the comments section below.
The next time you see the Northern Lights dancing across the sky, please take a moment to remember the Norse legends behind them and also imagine the Valkyries riding their horses or Heimdall guarding the bridge between the worlds. The Aurora Borealis are truly a sight to behold, and they continue to inspire wonder and awe to this day.
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- “Northern Lights Myths,” Norwegian Travel, https://www.norwegian.travel/inspiration/northern-lights-myths
- “Northern Lights,” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/science/northern-lights-atmospheric-phenomenon