Author Topic: deep inside we are the northern lights  (Read 5485 times)


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deep inside we are the northern lights
« on: June 05, 2010, 15:41:29 »


Shinichi Nemoto, 24, is probably the only northern lights watchman in the world. He works at the Hotel Ylläskaltio in the Finnish north. Every night he sets his sights on the northern skies in the hope of seeing the colourful fireworks. If he does, he hurries off to wake up sleepy tourists with his cellular phone.

Japanese tourists are especially eager to see the northern lights show at least one time in their lifetime, so the natural fireworks have become a good cash cow for Finnish tourism during the low season. In Kilpisjärvi you can see the northern lights about three to four nights a week if the weather is clear. Tourists usually hedge their bets by staying on average three nights.

The Northern Lights are mother nature's own fireworks and one of the earth's most mysterious and awesome displays. Undulating between (yellow) green and deep red, the light comes in the form of draperies, beams and arches. The aurora borealis can be seen in the vast area that includes Greenland, Hudson's Bay and parts of Canada, northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Alaska, Siberia and Sápmi - the land of the Sami people in the north of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

In the Sami language the northern lights are known as guovsahasat, a name that is based on "guovso" the word for "dawn" or "dusk".

Viewed from outer space this phenomenon would most certainly look like a vast undulating halo of fire centered around the north pole. Ancient teaching says that guovsahasat is the cosmic blending of fire and water corresponding in symbolism and function to the thunderstorms of summer.

Indigenous peoples throughout the Arctic area combine their spiritual understanding of the northern lights with their physical relationship to them, often through stories. Teachings about death and struggle are common. The Russian Samit relate the movement of the northern lights to the torment of the dead, and Western Sami people see them as embodying the spiritual powers of competing noaide who represent the interests of differing siida. Some say that we become part of guovsahasat when we cross over the spirit world.

"My Finnish Sami mother told me that the northern lights are our ancestors," Aina, a young Oakland, California woman told the Sami magazine Baiki. "She said that deep inside we are the northern lights!"

Some say that guovsahasat has its origin in the moon. As the moon rises the lights emerge.

In the Finnish language the northern lights are called revontulet, "fires," or more rarely ruijanpalo, "fires of finnmark" referring to the Norwegian Sami area where the most spectacular activity takes place. Tulire, "foxfire" is also used because the shiney coat of the fox is thought to be the legendary source of the northern lights, and in the area of "Sami's mountain", it is considered a particular auspicious time to hunt foxes and wolves when the northern lights appear.

Fear often surrounds the appearance of guovsahasat because it can produce threatening light storms in which sheets or funnels of light swoop down and burn the careless. Women will not go out bareheaded when the aurora is bright, as its internal force can even become entangled in the hair. Silence is maintained within the goahti during these periods of extremely bright light so as not to irritate the force of the light storm, and. for the same reason, bells are removed from reindeer.

Signs from guovsahasat predict the weather and sound can influence them. If the lights arrive in the form of a fan arc, especially when the horizon is white, colder weather can be expected and the sharp chill that follows is not pleasant for humans or animals. Swedish mountain Sami in the Jokkmokk region as well as the forest Sami in the Målå region will shout something like "Northern lights, flutter, flutter!" to change the pattern of the lights and cause guovsahasat to flutter so the weather will warm up. In South Sápmi if guovsahasat is red there will be snow.

Early Arctic explorers, too, recorded close encounters with the northern lights in their journals. Reports form Norway often described how the aurora borealis seemed to touch the earth itself, producing a windlike effect on the faces of mountain travellers. In 1825 Sir William Edward Parry reported aurora reaching the height of 675 feet and in 1882 a Norwegian government official wrote in his journal: "The aurora this morning was a very low one, and we are, I think, the only party that could ever say we were in the midst of electrical light. At times the aurora could not have been more than 100 feet from the earth. I raised my hand instinctively, expecting to bathe in the light."
The phenomenon of guovsahasat hovering close to the tundra is very much a part of the Sami experience along with reports of hissing and cracking sounds. Nonetheless, these indigenous accounts are often doubted by Western scientists who tend to dismiss them as "legends" which for them means "inaccuracies". For example, National Oceanic/Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists working with state of the art equipment on the island of Svalbard concluded that traditional beliefs regarding the manifestations of the aurora borealis are merely "human psychological reactions to the awesome dynamics of strong light storms."

No other area of natural science has inspired so much experimentation and theoretical study, especially in Norway. Western scientists explain the aurora borealis and the solar winds as being the atmospheric response to the storms associated with sunspots. They believe that the "void" between the sun and the earth is actually a "maelstrom" with interludes of calm that is always bathed in the harsh glow of ultraviolet and x-ray light. The Space Environment Center (SEC) in Boulder, Colorado has developed techniques for forecasting solar disturbances which SEC scientists continuously monitor from a number of ground-based observatories and satellite sensors around the world. So strong is the outpouring of solar wind, they say, that the earth's magnetic envelope is distorted, creating geomagnetic field disturbances that may damage power systems, disrupt communications, affect navigation systems, and produce the phenomenon called the northern lights.

According to their findings, the magnetic activity falls into eleven-year cycles, with spikes of more intense flares occurring irregularly. There will be increased activity as we near the year 2000, they say.

As the flow of particles reaches the earth, the natural movement of the plane on its axis causes a waxing and waning of the aurora in both the south and north polar regions. Magnetic streams fall around the poles in the form of "the northern lights oval," a magnetic belt that is wider on the night side of the earth than on the day side and is tuned to the magnetic poles around which the earth revolves. Outbursts of the aurora borealis in any given region depend on the movement in and out under the effect of the northern lights oval, and within the oval itself, the effects of strong gusts of solar wind. One location of the tundra may have extremely intense activity, while another location at the same latitude may not have any at all. The cycling oval hovers and slips on as the earth turns.
In spite of efforts to interpret and explain the northern lights scientifically, western science may soon come to see that Sami tradition regarding natural phenomenon has something to teach them. If in the past the aurora borealis did come near to the earth as chronicled in the oral stories of the indigenous people and the written accounts of explorers, and if today scientific measurements are rarely closer than 90 kilometers, shouldn't this suggest that guovsahasat actually did come closer to the earth in the past than now? Mel Olsen