Auroral legends

"The whistling crackling noise which sometimes accompanies the aurora is the voices of these spirits trying to communicate with the people of the Earth. They should always be answered in a whispering voice."
~ Ernest W. Hawkes, The Labrador Eskimo, 1916

Ancient legends
Every Northern culture has oral legends about the aurora, passed down for generations. The Eskimos, Athabaskan Indians, Lapps, Greenlanders, and Northwest Indian tribes were familiar with this mysterious light in the sky.

True heavens
Ancient Eskimo stories are often associated with notions of life after death. Some thought that the aurora was a narrow torch lit pathway for departed souls going to heaven. Others thought spirits happily playing soccer with a walrus skull caused the aurora.

Powerful spirit
To some cultures, the aurora was almost a living entity. Waving white handkerchiefs, whistling, or spitting at it would make it change shape. The elders of Barrow, Alaska recall wielding knives to fend off the aurora in case it tried to carry them away. To the Iglulik Eskimo, arsharneq or arshät was a powerful spirit who assisted shamans.

thumbnail of jade statue
Every northern culture
has legends about the aurora
click to see larger image
thumbnail of active aurora
The aurora seems almost
a living entity
click to see larger image


Geophysical Institute
903 Koyukuk Drive, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-7320
site last modified: August 2003 maintained by Asahi Aurora Web Author