Myths and Legends of the Northern Lights

Visitors flock to Iceland from all over the world with long lists of things to see and do. For some people, trips to the Land of Fire and Ice are about seeing mighty waterfalls, glaciers, and Geysir. 

Others circle the ring road, stopping at quaint towns and villages along the way. Taking in the wildlife, from puffins to humpback whales, is a must for many more.

But perhaps the number one spot on most Iceland bucket lists is seeing the spectacular, awe-inspiring northern lights.

We love showing excited guests this dazzling natural light show, which is why we have numerous dedicated northern lights tours in Iceland.

If you have any questions about these tours or any of the other adventures we offer, please feel free to get in touch.

For now, however, let’s add an extra layer of interest to your future viewing experience by exploring some of the myths and legends of the northern lights.

Tourists and the Northern Lights in Iceland

The Northern Lights Were Welcome in Iceland!

There are myths and legends about the northern lights all over the world, but it’s only natural for us to start in the place we call home!

In Iceland, the appearance of the lights was welcome news if you were giving birth — at least, according to legend.

Our ancestors believed that the aurora borealis would relieve the pain of childbirth.

But this came with a caveat; if the soon-to-be mother looked at the lights, her child would be born with crossed eyes.

To increase your chances of seeing the northern lights, you need as much darkness as possible.

The lights are visible from September to mid-April, so midwinter is a great time to visit. However, we highly recommend mid-September and mid-March too.

The Northern Lights in Iceland

Aurora Borealis Myths and Legends from Norse Mythology

The northern lights also feature heavily in Norse mythology.

One legend claims that the shimmering green rivers of light were the glow or reflection of the Valkyrie’s armor and shields.

The Valkyrie were female warriors on horseback who chose who would die in battle, and who would survive to fight another day.

The lights were also believed to be the Bifröst, a pulsating, rainbow bridge connecting Midgard (Earth) and Asgard (the home of the gods). 

This bridge led warriors who died in battle to Valhalla and their final resting place.

If all this talk of northern lights, warriors, and Valhalla has made you hungry for even more adventure, read our tips for the most exciting things to do in Iceland.

Northern Lights in Reykjavik

Have You Heard About the Mythical Fire Foxes?

The northern lights go by many names around the world. In Finland, they’re called revontulet. This translates into English as “fox fire”.

The name comes from one of the more beautiful myths behind the aurora borealis.

According to Finnish legend, these foxes would run across the snowy Arctic landscape incredibly quickly.

And when their large, furry tails brushed up against a mountain, the contact sent a shower of sparks up into the night sky.

An interesting variation on this myth told a slightly different story. The foxes’ tails would sweep snowflakes skyward to create the northern lights.

This version helps to explain why the aurora was only visible in winter.

If these myths and legends have whetted your appetite for more fantastical stories, check out our blog on ghosts, specters, and zombies in Icelandic folktales.

Northern Lights Hunt Abandoned house

The Sámi Feared and Respected the Lights

Throughout Scandinavia, the Sámi (indigenous Finno-Urgi people) had a more distrusting attitude toward the northern lights.

Here, stories of bravery, heroism, and mystical animals give way to fear and wary respect. This is because the aurora was a bad omen.

Put simply, the lights were the souls of the dead. As such, people were taught not to talk about the dancing river of light overhead!

It was even considered dangerous to wave at them, or to whistle and sing in their presence.

These actions could alert the lights to your whereabouts. Once seen, they might reach down and carry you off into the sky.

Are you looking to explore more of our country’s natural wonders on your trip? Find travel inspiration with our recommendations for the most scenic waterfalls in Iceland.

The Northern Lights in Iceland during winter

But in Sweden, the Lights Were a Good Omen!

Let’s end our list of the myths and legends of the northern lights on a happier note! In Sweden, the aurora was usually regarded as a portent of good news.

One legend claims that the lights were a gift of light and warmth in the cold, dark winter, sent from benevolent gods via a volcano in the north.

In other parts of the country, people considered the northern lights a reflection of large shoals of herring. Naturally, this boded well for the fishermen!

Farmers also looked at the green river favorably. They saw its presence as the heralding of a good harvest in the year to come.

Northern lights in Iceland

Join Your Friend in Reykjavik for a Northern Lights Tours in Iceland!

The above is only a selection of the myths and legends of the Northern Lights that you can find around the world.

It’s clear how people have found this spectacular natural phenomenon spellbinding over the centuries.

Fortunately, when you join our northern lights tours in Iceland, you don’t need to worry about good or bad omens — just turn your face to the sky and let the wonder consume you.

And we have many more tours and day trips in Iceland to help you explore our incredible country!

For more information about any of our tours here in the Land of Fire and Ice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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