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Arctic Legends behind the Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, have baffled people for centuries, sending bright waves of red and green streaks of colour across the sky. From warring gods to shoals of fish the aurorae were seen as being both good and bad omens. Interestingly, mythology surrounding the phenomenon often aligned between people who were thousands of kilometres apart.

We have collected a few of our favourite explanations to share with you. However, it’s not until you’ve actually seen this natural light show that you can truly understand why so much mysticism arises around it! We offer a particularly special Northern Lights Astronomy Voyage for those who have dreamed of seeing this sight for themselves.

Legends have not only come about because of Aurora Borealis, but also the less viewed Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) that can be seen (sometimes) in southern Australia and New Zealand. Look out for an up-coming article World Mythology about Aurorae to learn more.

The Northern Lights in the Arctic

Greenland

In Greenland, children born during the Northern Lights are thought to be more intelligent. The Inuit of Greenland believed that the lights were spirits trying to communicate with the living, while another legend told of dead spirits playing a game across the sky with a walrus skull.

Alaska 

Flipping that last legend on its head, the Cup’it Eskimo of Nunivak Island believed that the game was played by walruses with a human skull. Other Alaskan tribes were very afraid of the lights and would throw dog faeces and urine in to the air to make them go away.

Canada 

Hudson Bay communities believed that the lights were a celestial farewell, being torches of dead spirits as they made their way up into the heavens.

Russia  

The Chukchi see the Lights as an area of Heaven rarely seen, the home of those who died a violent death. Russian texts as recent as the 15th century discuss the Northern Lights as heavenly armies fighting.

Iceland

The Lights are said to relieve the pain of childbirth as long as the mother does not look at them while giving birth. If she does, her child will be born cross-eyed.

Finland

Perhaps one of our favourite myths, the Lights were believed to be created by a celestial firefox, that runs so fast across the snow that his tail showers sparks into the night sky. The word for the Lights in Finnish is revontulet which means firefox. The Sami of Finnish Lapland believed the lights were spumes of water from whales.

Sweden 

The Lights were seen as heralding good news, indicating a good harvest or being the reflection of a large shoal of herring that would now fill the ocean. They were also said to be benevolent gods providing warmth and light through a distant volcano.

Norse Mythology

There are disputed claims as to whether the Vikings had any stories behind the Northern Lights, particularly because there is evidence to indicate there was very low solar activity at that time and so the Lights would have been weaker, rarer and mostly red. One of the most popular myths is that the lights were reflections off the armour of Valkyries, peering down at earth to decide who would leave a battle and who would die. This has been disputed for the lack of evidence within Viking texts, as it only comes into existence in more modern writings on the Vikings.

The more accepted myth is that the Lights were believed to be the Bivfrost Bridge, a glowing pulsating arch that led fallen soldiers to Valhalla (although some believe this was describing a rainbow and not the Lights).


Contact Bentours today to book in your Northern Lights adventure! We have many great itineraries to offer or perhaps better yet, relax and admire the view on a Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage with our Northern Lights Promise.

Cruising into Canada

Follow in the wake of Viking legends and travel to the High Arctic in Canada. Home to the first European settlements in North America, this journey will encompass some of the most beautiful national parks that Canada has to offer.

Along a number of different routes through the Canadian Arctic, guests will have the chance to visit L’Anse aux Meadows, a sleepy fishing village that holds secrets to a Viking past. In the 1960s, the Norwegians Anne Stine and Helge Ingstad, together with their daughter, Benedicte, made the discovery of an ancient Viking settlement on this land. Perched on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978 and dates back to about the year 1000 C.E.

“Guests have a chance to follow in the footsteps of the first Viking explorers.”

This site has been linked with Vinland the attempted settlement of North America by pioneer explorer Leif Erikson. Benedicte Ingstad is now a 72 year old professor of medical anthropology who has spent her life devoted to research, and joins guests on some of the Hurtigruten voyages to Canada, to recount her family’s discovery of the site.

Learn about Canadian wildlife and culture

Hurtigruten expedition voyages emphasise activities, adventure and gaining insight into the wilderness around us. The Canadian Arctic voyages are no exception. From the ‘floating classroom’ guests will have the chance to learn about the fascinating Viking history, the Indigenous people of Canada, zoology, botany and environmental science. Plus Hurtigruten ships are perfectly equipped for adventure with lecture halls, a photographic and optics centre and are an optimal size for manoeuvring up close to the shore and all the action.

Canada is an exciting area to explore with a combination of beautiful nature and fascinating history. On some Canadian routes, guests get close to the Torngat Mountains national park, an Inuit homeland. The park is 9700 square kilometres and of great spiritual significance to the Inuit people – a place where they have lived, hunted and harvested for thousands of years. From onboard the ship, guests can admire sloping glaciers and keep a look out for polar bears and North American caribou.

Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the fishing village of Red Bay is on the itinerary. Guests can wander among picturesque streets and learn about the history of the Basque whaling operation that took place on the nearby Saddle Island.

Also along some Canadian routes are Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, small towns that preserve the strong French influence over parts of Canada in fashion, food, fine wine and delicious cheese. Nearby is Gros Morn, a national park of soaring mountains that are geologically unique. At The Tablelands, a plateau 600m above the sea level, guests are invited to hike on ancient stone that was pushed up from the Earth’s core after a collision of tectonic plates millions of years ago.

Conquer Iceland and Greenland…

Follow the trail of Vikings further with exploration of Iceland and Greenland. From Reykjavik in Iceland, guests can see the bird cliffs where Vikings would hunt. Take in the best of Iceland at sea, visiting archipelagos and the famous volcanic island of Surtsey.

Some routes may also visit the southern tip of Greenland, where the Norse Chieftan Eirik Raude is said to have lived or even the stunning Ilulissat glacier  on the Western Coast.

Itineraries include Exploring the Arctic Land of the Caribou, Baffin Island – High Arctic Jewel and Crossing Baffin Bay, plus many more cruise expeditions.


These incredible new routes will enable Hurtigruten guests the chance to discover Canada in the same way as the Nordic Vikings did many years ago. With Hurtigruten’s trademark hospitality, amazing cuisine and a number of Shore Excursions, a trip in the Canadian Arctic promises to be unforgettable.