For instance, in the late 18th century, the onset of the French Revolution threw the country into turmoil. In the weeks before the monarchy was overthrown, a bright red Aurora was seen in the skies over England and Scotland and people reported hearing huge armies battling in the skies. The frightened onlookers believed it foretold of impending war and death.
The Scots called the Northern Lights “Merry Dancers”, but, despite the cheery name, the ‘dancers’ depicted fallen angels or sky warriors engaged in an epic battle. In the Hebrides, bloodstones are a common sight. These beautiful green heliotropes are speckled with red. The Scots believed these red specks were drops of blood that fell from the sky onto the stones as the Merry Dancers engaged in battle.
Not everybody saw the Aurora as a harbinger of doom. Many northern European cultures viewed the sight of the aurora as an auspicious sign. Estonians believed that the aurora lighting up the skies were wonderful sleighs taking guests to a spectacular wedding celebration in the heavens.
Often, the myths explained the lights using stories about animals and nature. Some spoke of the aurora appearing when whales were playing games, while the Danes believed the lights were caused by swans competing to see who could fly further north. According to legend, some of the swans became trapped in the ice and as they tried to escape, they flapped their wings creating flurries of light in the sky.
Swedish fishermen looked forward to seeing the aurora, as they thought the lights were the reflections of giant schools of herring swimming nearby. For them, an aurora sighting brought good fortune and the promise of a hefty catch.