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This Saturday is the Night of Museums in Hungary - all museums open all night, with fabulous programs happening everywhere! It is my favorite event of the year, and as usual, I am spending it with storytelling.
The Polaris Observatory in Budapest asked me to visit them and tell tales about the Northern Lights. Isn't that just the prettiest request a storyteller can get?! I threw myself into research, and I soon discovered something: While the Northern Lights inspire a sense of awe and magic in people around the world, most sources bring up the same couple of myths and legends about them over and over again. In addition, a lot of them are only brief descriptions of beliefs ("people used to think they are...") instead of actual stories that can be told in a performance. I had to dig long and deep; I love a challenge like this, but boy was it hard to do without access to Interlibrary Loan. Anyhow, a couple of days of intense research yielded some truly gorgeous results.
In order to organize my notes, and also to help other storytellers who run into the same topic, I decided to list some of the stories I managed to dig up. Enjoy!
1. The Legend of the Milky Way (Estonia)
(No wonder this one's hard to find with a title like that)
This is a folktale from Estonia, telling the story of a maiden named Lindu who took care of directing the birds in their migration. She is proposed to by various celestial bodies - the Sun, the Moon and the North Star - but eventually falls in love with the Northern Lights instead. A beautiful, graceful story, also adapted into a picture book titled Elinda Who Danced in the Sky. The folktale is probably related to the first song of the Kalevipoeg (I mentioned it during Epics A to Z this April).
2. The Nimble Men (Scotland)
This is one of those stories that is mentioned in a lot of sources, but only in passing ("in Scotland they believed the Northern Lights resulted from the Nimble Men fighting in the sky"). I managed to find the actual story with some digging (see the title link). It is a very visual tale with a lot of great imagery and bright colors - the Merry Dances having a ball in the sky that turns into a battle. The "Queen Beira" the story refers to is actually the winter spirit/hag Cailleach Bhéara.
3. Niekija and the Northern Lights (Saami)
The daughter of the Moon runs away from a marriage with the son of the Sun, and while she is in hiding, she falls in love with the Northern Lights. This story exists in a couple of variations, and can be found (among other places) in Far north tales, in The Sun Maiden and the Crescent Moon, and in a picture book called The Son of the Sun and the Daughter of the Moon.
4. Lights in a Bottle (Skolt Lapps)
Another hard-to-track but fascinating tale, collected by Robert Crottet and published in The Enchanted Forest. It involves a mysterious old man who keeps the Northern Lights (souls of the dead) in a bottle, and tries to steal a young man's soul to make himself young again.
5. Sleds in the Sky (Estonia)
This one I found in a Hungarian collection of Finno-Ugric folktales. It tells about a rich man who left home every Thursday night in secret, taking his sled and his horse alone. One night his servant spies on him and sees that the sled is glowing with the colors of the Northern Lights. The servant sneaks onto the sled and goes with his master, who flies up into the sky and spends the night racing other light-sleds, celebrating a celestial wedding. This is how the servant finds out that there are people in the world who lead secret lives as Northern Lights...