The spring equinox has just passed, marking the start of prime viewing time for the aurora borealis, the curtains of light that dance above the Arctic and antarctic. The northern lights, as they are known, are more active around both equinoxes, but most visible at springtime, according to NASA.
According to the Canadian Association of Aboriginal Entrepreneurship, the Eskimos of the lower Yukon River in Alaska believed the auroras were the “dancing souls of their favorite animals: deer, seal, salmon, and beluga whales,” the group says on its website. The Nunamiut Eskimos believed that “if the sky is divided in half by auroral displays, animals will be plentiful in the area the next day.”
Inuit shamans used the aurora to help cure disease, calling upon it as a spirit, the site says, adding, “Inuit leaders would take ‘spirit journeys’ into the lights to obtain advice and rescue souls from death.”
Children in the north are to this day told not to whistle or sing to the northern lights: “The lights will come and take you away,” the say, according to the CAAE. “They are not to be trusted.”
Images of the aurora borealis decapitating unsuspecting people are a running theme throughout Inuit art, especially carvings.
“To people who lived in the spirit-filled world of traditional cultures, one fact was clear,” the CAAE says. “The forces that dance in the polar dark are awe-inspiring—alien, frightening, uncontrollable and immensely active.”