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Wisconsin's Northern Lights
The Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) are one of the most interesting phenomena to observe for those of us lucky enough to be living in northern latitudes. High-energy charged particles (or Ions) ejected from the sun reach earth and interact with the earth's magnetic field. Depending on the night and conditions, Northern Lights can range from a very subtle glowing to magnificent light shows of shimmering, changing colors. These pictures are kindly donated by area resident Neil Davey (thank you Neil!)
In ancient times, various peoples and cultures had myths to understand the Northern Lights. During the Viking period, northern lights were referred to as reflections from dead maidens. Some Native Americans believed that they could conjure up ghosts and spirits by whistling to the lights. It was a common interpretation during medieval times that northern lights were an omen of war, or disasters or plagues. An interesting story comes from the The Labrador Eskimo.
"The ends of the land and sea are bounded by an immense abyss, over which a narrow and dangerous pathway leads to the heavenly regions. The sky is a great dome of hard material arched over the Earth. There is a hole in it through which the spirits pass to the true heavens. Only the spirits of those who have died a voluntary or violent death, and the raven, have been over this pathway. The spirits who live there light torches to guide the feet of new arrivals. This is the light of the aurora. They can be seen there feasting and playing football with a walrus skull.
The whistling, crackling noise, which sometimes accompanies the aurora, is the voices of these spirits trying to communicate with the people of the Earth. They should always be answered in a whispering voice. Youths dance to the aurora. The heavenly spirits are called selamiut, "sky-dwellers," those who live in the sky."
The Fox Indians, who lived in Wisconsin, regarded the light as an omen of war and pestilence. To them the lights were the ghosts of their slain enemies who, restless for revenge, tried to rise up again. The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin regarded the lights as torches used by great, friendly giants in the north, to spear fish at night.
Many legends, myths and superstitions have revolved around the aurora throughout the history of mankind. The early dragon legends of China and Europe are said to have originated from the aurora. At most, people in these temperate regions would have seen the aurora only once or twice in their lives. In the 6th century BC, Ezekiel, a profit-priest of ancient Israel, saw the aurora and wrote that "...a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire." (Old Testament of the Bible, Ezekiel 1:4).
Regardless of the myths and science, the Northern Lights are an incredible beauty!
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