I´m in the Arctic to watch the dancing spirits of fighting hordes in the sky
TROMSØ, NORWAY: I grew up under the Northern Lights. Now I’m back in the city of Tromso, North of Norway, one of the most active areas to watch the dancing spirits of fighting hordes in the sky. There are never any guarantees that the colourful lights will appear. I cannot sleep or sit in front of the television in my hotel room. I’m off to watch nature’s own silent movie show.
Even if we know that the Northern Lights, known as the Aurora Borealis, are caused by the interaction of the solar wind and the earth’s magnetic field, it doesn’t take away any of the magic as the sky blazes red, green, orange and every other colour of the spectrum. The myths and superstition of the phenomena are most important visually as their fantastic depiction in books and paintings. From time immemorial, people in the North have stopped in their daily round, their thoughts either hounded by fear or drawn to inspiration, as the flaming diversity of the northern lights filled the sky.
Dancing in the sky. They often created mythology and superstition to explain the dancing spirits of fighting hordes in the sky. Auroras were commonly associated with dancing in Norway, people believing that northern lights were old maids dancing and waving. During the Viking period, northern lights were referred to as the reflections of dead maidens. Later it was believed, that the Northern Lights must have been reflections from the Valkyries’ shields.
The Northern Lights can be seen within an oval zone around the magnetic pole, encompassing Northern Scandinavia, Iceland, North Siberia, Alaska and the northern reaches of Canada. Therefore all these regions have their own mythology, concerning this phenomenon. The well-known Scottish expression for auroras is “merry dancers”. Many Native Americans believed that they could conjure up ghosts and spirits by means of the lights. It was a common belief that the Northern Lights were the reflections in the sky of huge fires in the distant north, or that the mighty God himself was lighting up the dark and cold parts of the world.
Scared of the lights. One romantic conception found in Danish folklore is that these lights were caused by flocks of swans flying so far to the north that they were caught in the ice. Each time they flapped their wings, they created reflections which were then seen as a strange play of lights in the sky.
In ancient times, most people were afraid of the lights. Children would be brought inside when the mystifying flames of the auroras spread across the heavens, in the belief that the lights could descend and cut their heads off. They were also regarded as being especially dangerous for women. They had to stay inside during this heavenly display of light or at least not go out bare-headed; otherwise the Northern Lights might come and tear their hair out.
Dead and the living. In the famous sources of Norwegian mythology, which go back to the early middle Ages, the Northern Lights are described as a colourful bridge, connecting heaven and earth, the dead and the living.
Even today there are many different theories about the Northern Lights. Some say that if you wave to them, they will increase in activity or even reach down and touch you. Or that if you look at them, you will damage your eyes.
It was generally accepted that crackling and a rustling noise accompanied the Northern Lights. There is ongoing research by individual Norwegian scientists into the sound of the Aurora.
Where and when. To see the celestial disco in its full glory, you will have to head north towards the Arctic, above latitude 60 degrees at the least. The snowy wilds of Canada and Alaska are fine viewing spots, but for most of us it is more affordable, and convenient, to fly to Iceland or northern Scandinavia, commonly known as Lapland. Here it is possible to see the lights from late September to early April, with October to November and February to March considered optimum periods. The city of Tromso is just the place to watch the colourful skies.
The lights also have their southern counterpart, the aurora australis, but the principal audience for this is penguins.
Today the most interested “Northern Lights tourists” are the Japanese. No wonder – the Japanese believe the Northern Lights bring happiness and help to make beautiful children.
Pictures by Rodrigo Morin, 68Lofoten.no, Shigeru Ohki, Visittromso.no
Make it Happen!
Touch Down: Sas.no and Norwegian.no - two airlines offering direct flights from Oslo to Tromsø. Take bus 37 to Tromsø Museum and stroll along Tromsø Island's dark western side.
Stay: Rica Ishavshotel has a unique location on the quay, the hotel stretches out over the Tromsø strait with magnificent views of the harbour and the church Ishavskatedralen.
Eat: Cod, coalfish, halibut and haddock fresh from the sea, cooked and delivered straight to the table. Reindeer, goat and elk get their taste from the forests and mountains. The best food in Tromsø is prepared from these fresh raw ingredients, with all the skills of a chef – such as goat steak, Arctic char in Pernod sauce, seal meat lasagne. Lunch and dinner is served!
Play: The heart and soul of the town's social atmosphere are the many cafés around Storgata where people meet for lunch, after work, or in the evenings – to meet, talk, and just be together! A quick glass or two on a Friday afternoon might last until 3am or 4am the next day.
Mini Guide: Some times its enough to just look up, or visit to a dark place away from the city. Hosts provide a lavvo (traditional Saami tent) with an open fire, a hot drink and a slice of cake while you are waiting for the Northern Lights to appear.