Everyone knows about the Northern Lights — the breathtaking light show that fills the sky with vivid colors as lucky viewers get to watch the green, yellow, and blue lights swirl, dance, and flicker above their heads. During certain months and under perfect conditions, the light show can last for minutes, even hours. Other times, they are fleeting and can be here and gone in the blink of an eye.
For people who’ve witnessed the Northern Lights before, they would tell you it’s a sight they’ll never forget. They’re nothing like anything you’ve ever seen before, so much so that they almost seem otherworldly (people even assume they must be connected to extraterrestrial activity). Like anything that appears to be supernatural, there is a lot of folklore surrounding the Aurora Borealis. Below are five of the most common superstitions that are said to be true of the Northern Lights.
1. If you whistle at them, you’ll be snatched up
It is said that if you whistle (or wave or sing) at the Northern Lights, it alerts the spirits of the lights of your presence. That’s not so bad, right? Except when you alert the spirits of your presence, it’s believed they will come down to Earth and snatch you away. But if you do accidentally whistle, wave, or sing, you’ll be safe, but only if you clap your hands.
With that being said, North American Indians actually believed that whistling at the Northern Lights was a good thing. They believed that they could lure the spirits down to them and would whisper messages into the lights that would then be carried to their dead loved ones.
2. The souls of hunted animals
According to Inuit legend, certain Alaskans believe that the Northern Lights were simply the spirits of the animals they hunted for food or clothing. They could represent anything from beluga whales to seals to deer.
3. Luck and beauty for conceived children
In some cultures, the Aurora Borealis represented war, famine, and bad luck. Other cultures believe the opposite. In Japanese and Chinese cultures, for example, they believe that if a couple conceives a child under the Northern Lights, their child will be both beautiful and lucky for the rest of their lives. This superstition is so well-spread that tourism has actually surged in these areas when the Northern Lights are supposed to be at their peak.
4. Run if you see red
The Northern Lights can be a variety of colors, but they are rarely ever red. The only time you can really see red colors are when they appear over the south of Europe. Europeans see the red as an omen of blood and war, so if the Northern Lights flash red across the sky, it means something bad will happen. This is because Scotland and England once witnessed a display of red lights just weeks before the start of the French Revolution.
5. A more peaceful childbirth
In Iceland, there is a tale that the Northern Lights could decrease the pain of giving birth. And unlike the positivity associated with Chinese and Japanese cultures, Icelanders believe that if you look at the Northern Lights right before giving birth, the child could be at risk of being cross-eyed.
Believe them or not, but these superstitions prove just how mythical and dream-like the Northern Lights really are — and hopefully you have a chance to see them in your lifetime! If you’re ever in Alaska, one of the best places to see the Northern Lights is in Fairbanks. The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, which is located in Fairbanks, even gives forecasts about viewing conditions.