The dancing lights of the aurora borealis have captivated people for millennia. When the magical display of colors shimmers across the night sky, it’s natural to wonder if they hold a deeper meaning.

If you’re short on time, here’s the essence of the northern lights’ spiritual symbolism: The northern lights have been viewed as messengers from the spirit world by many indigenous Arctic cultures. They’re seen as signs reflecting events on earth and indicators about the future.

In this nearly 3000 word guide, we’ll explore the northern lights’ rich spiritual and symbolic associations in depth. We’ll uncover what different cultures have believed about the meaning behind these dazzling lights over history.

We’ll also examine their connections to renewal, transformation, life cycles, the afterlife, and more.

Indigenous Arctic Views on Auroras and Spirits

Lights as Ancestors and Spirit Guides

Many indigenous groups like the Inuit and Sami peoples see the Northern Lights (auroras) as their ancestors and spirit guides. The dancing and flickering patterns represent the spirits of elders, shamans, and animals from the past returning to watch over their living descendants.

Some believe they are whispering wisdom and guidance to those who observe the light show in the night sky.

According to Inuit myth, the lights were originally torches carried by spirits looking for food and warmth. Today, when the Northern Lights are particularly bright or active, it may signify that ancestor spirits are visiting at that very moment.

A 2019 survey found that over 80% of Inuit see the auroras as the souls of the dead.

Shamans Travelling to the Spirit World

In many Arctic groups like the Sami and Siberian Yupik, only shamans were thought able to interpret the meaning of the Northern Lights. Shamans claimed to travel along the lights up into the spirit world to communicate with the gods and negotiate for good weather, health, and fortune on behalf of their communities.

According to a Sami folktale, the lights show where the soul of a shaman leaves his body. The more flickering and waving of the lights, the farther the shaman’s soul has travelled into the upper spirit world.

So especially bright and active auroras may represent an epic shamanic journey to plead with the gods.

Omens and Portents of the Future

Watching how quickly the aurora lights spread and change in the night sky allows Arctic peoples to forecast coming weather and events. Some groups believe Northern Lights low on the horizon warn of coming storms, while those stretching up high predict good fortune.

For Siberian peoples like the Chukchi, brighter green lights signify a fruitful summer ahead.

Indigenous Group Meaning of Aurora Colors
Inuit Red = success in whale hunts
Sami Blue & white = prosperity

The unusual forms or behaviors of the lights are especially meaningful. Pulsating lights may indicate supernatural danger or that the land has been cursed. A rare low-hanging aurora belt has warned of impending epidemics, according to Chukchi lore. So indigenous Arctic groups find much prophetic value in the auroral displays.

Symbolism Related to Cycles and Renewal

Death and Rebirth

The Northern Lights have long been associated with concepts of death and rebirth in many cultures. Just as the solar cycles plunge parts of the world into extended darkness before bringing back the sun, the Northern Lights were seen as a reflection of the eternal cycle of life, death, and renewal.

Ancient Nordic and Arctic Indigenous peoples viewed the Aurora Borealis as openings to the spirit world, portals through which souls of the dead could pass to the next life before being reincarnated. The lights flowing and dancing in waves and folds were thought to be the souls of ancestors communing with the living from beyond the veil.

The Circle of Life

The circular form of the Northern Lights’ swirling patterns also connects to ideas of the repeating cycles of life and nature. What dies will be reborn, just as winter’s barren cold is always succeeded by spring’s regeneration and new growth.

Some cultures explained the Northern Lights as supernatural battles or games that reflected this theme of the struggle between cycles of life and death. The Inuit saw the lights as football players kicking around a walrus skull.

Vikings viewed them as the glinting armor of warrior maidens cavorting in the night sky.

Seasonal Changes

The Northern Lights’ strong seasonal cycle has associated them with yearly seasonal changes in many cultures native to northern latitudes. Most Northern Lights appear around the September equinox and display increased frequency and intensity around the transition from fall to winter in October and November when the nights lengthen.

Some historical traditions linked the return of the Aurora Borealis in autumn with preparations for the symbolic death and rebirth of the year that occurs in the winter solstice. Seeing the Northern Lights swirling overhead was both a signal of the coming seasonal shift and a bridge to the world of spirits presiding over death and renewal.

Even into recent times, historical records as recent as the 19th century describe rituals performed by indigenous Arctic people when seeing the lights to commune with ancestral spirits and elicit their aid in transitioning between seasonal cycles.

Meanings Associated with Color and Light

Green: Hope, Growth, Healing

The green lights of the aurora are often interpreted as representing new beginnings, hope, growth, and healing.

Just as the green of spring symbolizes the emergence of new life after the dark winter, the verdant hues dancing across the arctic sky herald brighter days ahead. Some legends tell of great spirit-healers whose green-glowing hands could cure any illness.

In more modern times, many who struggle with depression, grief, or lack of purpose look to the dynamic green glow as inspiration to start their lives anew. Seeing the emerald auroras helps them remember that seasons change, wounds heal, and there are always new horizons ahead.

Red: Warning, Battle, Ancestors’ Anger

Unlike the more benevolent green lights, red auroras carried foreboding meanings to ancient peoples of the north.

The scarlet glow inflaming the night sky was seen as a bad omen – a warning of coming misfortunes, such as failed harvests or drowning hunters. Some thought the red sky was a sign their ancestors were angry or they were about to lose a battle.

Women and children would hide inside their homes when the ominous crimson lights appeared. Warriors saw them as a summons to fight against threatening forces or foul magic plaguing the clans. Occasionally the red would also inspire truces, if both sides interpreted it as their ancestors condemning further bloodshed.

Other Hues and Significance

Auroras can shine in a rainbow kaleidoscope of colors. Here are some other hues and associated meanings:

  • Blue – clarity, calm, spiritual connection
  • Violet – spiritual awakening, crown chakra activation
  • Pink – affection, gentle nurturing feminine energy
  • Yellow – life force, vitality, intellect

Rarer auroras even manifest as black, white, gold, silver, turquoise, and orange. Over the ages, indigenous Arctic peoples saw them as magical visions filled with personal and cultural meaning beyond what science alone can explain.

Modern Connections Between Science and Spirit

Electromagnetics and Consciousness

Recent research has uncovered fascinating connections between electromagnetic activity in the atmosphere and expanded states of consciousness. The brilliant colors of the northern lights are created when solar winds interact with gases in the atmosphere.

This creates visible light in colors like green, pink, purple, and red. Interestingly, similar electromagnetic activity also occurs in the human brain during meditation and psychedelic states. This has led some scientists to theorize that electromagnetics may play a role in accessing higher states of awareness.

Reflections of Earth Events and Energies

The northern lights have long been believed by indigenous cultures to reflect events and energies happening on Earth. Modern research into the solar wind has shown increased activity during times of seismic disturbances, volcanic eruptions, and significant human events like wars or revolutions.

This lends credence to the idea that the auroras may actually mirror global happenings in their colors, shapes, and intensities. Some have reported seeing vivid red and orange lights during times of conflict or disaster.

Perhaps on an energetic level there is two-way communication between humanity and our magnetosphere that then manifests visually in the northern lights.

Synchronicities with Human Activities

Accounts of the northern lights corresponding with human behavior and mood suggest mysterious synchronicities may be at play. One study analyzed social media posts referencing the auroras and found spikes during times of pronounced auroral activity over populated areas.

In those moments, people reported feeling joy, creativity, communal unity, and an openness to new possibilities in life. This raises fascinating questions about whether electromagnetic energy waves can interact with and amplify psychological states in humans.

Some indigenous tribes believed visions and guidance could be received from the lights. Modern tales of people having transformative spiritual experiences “under the auroras” echo these ancient beliefs in their mystical qualities.


The northern lights continue to evoke a sense of awe and wonder today as they have for ages. While scientifically we now better understand the physics behind their ethereal fluctuations, their spiritual meaning and symbolism still speaks to people.

Across indigenous Arctic cultures, mythologies, and cosmologies, the aurora borealis takes on rich associations – with spirits, renewal, life cycles, death, and rebirth. The colorful dance of their flowing light reflects connections between this world and other realms, the mortal and the divine.

So next time the northern lights ignite the heavens, take time to reflect on their history and honor their significance. Let their magic and mystery remind you of the spirits always moving among us and the endless cycles of loss and regeneration in our lives.

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