Inuit myth on Northern Lights

Apex, Nunavut Photo Courtesy of Angel Konek

As an Inuk child who grew up in the 90’s, it was scary to see northern lights at night time, especially if you’re walking home alone in the dark. Imagine walking behind people’s backyards where there is no light, unpaved snow and nobody around because, well it’s late at night. In Arviat where I grew up, it used to get really dark because it’s such a small town at the time, today it’s much bigger and brighter all around town since the population grew.

I remember this one experience when I was around 10 years old, it’s late at night around 9pm in a cold winter February month, walking as fast as I could because I’m scared of the northern lights. We weren’t scared of anyone kidnapping us as little kids walking home alone in the middle of the night. We were taught to be cautious though for polar bears or wild creatures. It’s a small town, so we looked after each other, especially the adults, they would tell the kids to go home.

Anyways, I was walking home alone in the dark, I didn’t want to take the long cut because it’s too late at night for anybody to be out. I wouldn’t want to be caught by a polar bear or rabid fox, so I took my hockey stick and decided to take the short cut. The only risk of taking the short cut was the northern lights. As I started walking in between four 5 plex apartments where there is no light, I saw northern lights, they were very bright and active. I dare not to whistle and walk slow because they are very bright and they can move very fast in a pattern a snake and start to swirl down in a light green, purple and the sometimes red in it. When you grow up hearing stories of cutting people’s head off and they get really close to your comfort and start swirling down and brighter, it’s pretty damn scary, it was used by adults to say “it’s time for the kids to go home”.

Apex Nunavut, Photo Courtesy of Angel Konek

Northern Lights can cut your head off – It’s a traditional Inuit myth that I don’t hear very often now, probably the smaller communities in Nunavut tell it to their kids about it. I cannot wait to tell my kids all the myths I learned as a kid from my mom, aunts and uncles and adults around my life. The story of northern lights cutting your head off meant that if they get too close, they’ll cut your head off and the Inuit ancestors who lived before us are now spirits and they use your head to play soccer with it. Inside the northern lights are also animal spirits like the walrus and the other ones I forget. Going back to me walking home alone, I ran as fast as I could towards the street lights so I won’t get caught, but that was scary. When we saw northern lights as kids at night playing hockey outside near our friends place, we would go home earlier than normal because we don’t want to get our heads chopped off. I would always take the bright roads to prevent seeing the northern lights, because it seemed like they were afraid of the light because you could see them less active and further. As I walk home, I would look for adults to walk behind them as fast as I could so I can be protected by them in case they got too close. I don’t know if today’s kids believe it the same way we used to but I don’t hear the story as often as I did as a child. I think I would even be scared today to be alone in the wild around the northern lights too close because I grew up believing an Inuit old myth.

Northern Lights can dance for you As older teens and adults the northern lights are a fun thing to see more than you’re scared of them. Don’t be surprised when teenagers are walking around at night and they’re whistling to the sky because the northern likes can get very active in the dark, if you walk down to a dark spot you can make them move and come closer to you purposely. It’s something we used to do when we as kids were brave enough and walked together as a group. You whistle at them, like a song or any whistling like you’re trying to catch someone’s attention for a long time. They start to dance for you and move very fast in a snake motion and they get really big in motion too as they come closer. It can only happen in the dark too, where there is little light reflection. It’s quite amazing because they move so much, and that is why as kids we would even cry to run away from them believing the myth that they can cut your head off. So, one of the ways we would scare the northern lights away is we used our fingernails of both our hands, and slide 1 hand aggressively to the other where you would hear the fingernails scratching each other like you hear a zipper noise from it. So it’s like wiggling your nails together as fast as possible to make the noise of a zipper opening and closing. It also means that if your hands are cold, you could use your parka zipper and go up and down as fast as possible. So that’s how we scared the northern lights away and they would go further from you and disappear sometimes.

Northern lights are one of Inuit myths – they are called “Aqsalijaat” in my dialect also known as “soccer balls” because of how fast they can move and the story that was used to tell kids that your head can be cut off. You have to actually see them very close at night to really know how scary they can be especially when Inuit have a lot of myths that are unknown and that we lived on following the stories of our ancestors.


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One thought on “Inuit myth on Northern Lights

  1. I dont think this cut your head off thing is to far off from the truth. Like I don’t feel they can cut ones head off, but I know for a fact they are not good and can and will hurt you if given the chance. I lived in high level Alberta for a year with my dad and brother. The northern lights were out a lot during this time and bright across the whole sky. I once thought them to be so cool, that’s till one night when my boyfriend was whistling at them on our way to the store. I kept telling him not to whistle but he kept doing it. On our way home from the store he wasn’t whistling, but that really didn’t matter they already knew we were there.
    We were about 3 houses away from mine when something made us both look up. There it was as big as the biggest plane I’d ever seen! I can’t really explain what it looked like as I’d never seen anything that could compare. Best description I can give is, it was as big as a plane, swooped like a bird, it was made up of the northern lights, at the tips on each end really bright round lights! Although like I said it looked nothing like a plane or a bird this is just the best way I can describe what I seen. It had a loud crackle sound, and got louder as it swooped in at us. It scared me stiff my knees buckled and muscles all contracted for a couple seconds I couldn’t move or do anything. Then I managed to let out a short scream, just as it was street light level right above us and just as quick as my scream it vanished! I was able to move again and ran straight for my house. This was in 1995 and to this day I do not go outside if I see the northern lights are out, some nights while driving home if they end up showing the self’s I will not get out of my car until they are completely out of sight!
    They are one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever known. They are evil and sinister there is nothing nice or good about them at all. I could just feel it all around me. I often wonder what would’ve happened if I didn’t let out that scream. I never ever wanna give them a chance to show me!

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