I recently discussed this month’s topic of light with WomanScape founder, Rose McInerney. My dear mother-in-law has been on long-time quest to see the Northern Lights.
She longed to witness the northern lights for many years. My sister-in-law lives in Alaska, so Mom frequently visited her and always made an excursion on her visits to see the northern lights.
Often, upon her return, I would ask eagerly, did you catch the lights this time? And, each time she would shrug and say with a gentle sigh, “Nope, hopefully next time.” Her perpetual hope that the next trip would fulfill her wish fueled many more visits north.
The Northern Lights are the end product when collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere and charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere occur. Color variations are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common color is a yellowish-green generated by oxygen molecules 60 miles above the earth. The rare all red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen from up to 200 miles above! Nitrogen creates blue or purple auroras.
Aurora borealis, the lights of the northern hemisphere, means “dawn of the north.”
Aurora austrailis, means “dawn of the south.” Roman mythology calls Aurora the goddess of dawn. Ancient Greeks referred to Aurora as the sister of Helios and Seline, the sun and moon respectively. Aurora raced across the early morning sky in her chariot to alert her siblings to the dawning of the new day. In medieval times, the auroras were seen as omens of war or famine.
In Norse mythology, one legend implies that the lights were the reflections from the shields and armor of the Valkyrie, the female warriors who would choose who would die in battle and who would live to fight another day. I like the fact that these special lights were associated with women warriors as far back as Norse mythology!
The Valkyries were powerful women and one of the few groups in mythology to have control over the mortal domain. The Valkyrie known as pillars of strength, descended from Valhalla dressed in swan feathers coated with iron chainmail, heads protected by helmets and imposing spears in hand riding down the heavens on their horses to the mortal world. When soldiers spied these ethereal warriors riding down to Earth, they were filled with both dread and wonder as these decisive women would dictate the fate of these troops.
The most well-known Valkyries in mythology are Brunhild and Sigrun. Brunhild famously was put under a sleeping spell by the god Odin after she disobeyed him.
Sigurd, a male warrior who was descended from Danish royalty and a relation to Odin, awakened Brunhild and gave her his ring with a promise to marry her. After a sequence of tragic events, Brunhild became involved in Sigurd’s murder and then threw herself upon his funeral pyre to be with him eternally.
Sigrun had a tragic love story as well. Her father betrothed her to a man she didn’t wish to marry. The warrior, Helgi fights her betrothed future husband to the death, thus winning her hand. Helgi was later killed by Sigrun’s brother, sealing Sigrun’s fate as one of the few Valkyries to die from a broken heart.
It is now thought that the Valkyries may have been based upon the Shieldmaidens-mortal women who were granted permission to fight in wars beside their men. It has been confirmed that these female warriors did exist in the world of ancient and medieval North and were thought to be very powerful and courageous.
Experts believe that the Valkyries may have originated from the stories of these brave women which were orally told for generations and made into legends that were ultimately recorded in the Sagas of the Icelanders and other mythological records.
Interestingly, last September, 2017, scientists confirmed with DNA technology that these legendary female warriors did indeed exist. They found the burial site of a 10th century female Viking warrior in the Swedish town of Birka. She was found with an array of weapons with her along with two horses, leading scientists to believe she was a high-ranking officer who would have led troops into battle.
It is interesting that the goddess of dawn is referred to as Aurora as far back as Roman times. It seems many women in history have carried light through the ages – bringing hope, love and truth to their people and ultimately the world.
This brings me back to my mother in law’s search for the lights. One visit, she was sharing some photographs she took on her most recent trip to Alaska with me. As I flipped through the album, tucked in the last pages were some pictures of the Northern Lights. “Mom, you finally saw the lights!” I exclaimed. She shook her head at me and admitted that the pictures were purchased from a gift shop. She didn’t concede defeat in her search for the lights, but put those photographs in her album as a place-marker for when she would one day witness them.
Mom was Danish and very proud of her heritage and I can’t help think that she would have loved the connection to the Valkyries! She has since passed on without seeing the lights, but I have no doubt that she views that beautiful phenomena from her perch in heaven above, while our family keeps her special light in our hearts.