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The Magic of the Northern Lights in Iceland

Experiencing the Northern Lights

The hotel phone rings, it’s the middle of the night and it’s pitch black in the room. I jump out of bed straddled, having no idea where I am,  if I’m awake or what in the world could be happening.  I somehow manage to find the phone and pick up “There are lights, aurora borealis!” a fast speaking voice with this great sense of urgency half yells before the line gets disconnected, and just like that I know exactly where I am.

We are located in the eastern part of Iceland not far from the famous glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón. It’s December 22nd, “we” is me and a group of adventure seeking travelers that have made the journey out here in the midst of winter to hike on glaciers, visit some famous sights and hopefully be graced with the presence of the northern lights.


Last night, after having waited around in the freezing cold for the northern lights to appear, without any luck, we decided to call it a night, knowing that the front desk of the hotel has a northern lights wake up call. We quickly go over the proper way of responding to such a call, it’s quite simple, you stand up, put on all your clothes, without ever looking in a mirror or even taking off your pajamas, and then you run outside to a predetermined spot with minimal light pollution and thus the best spot to view the northern lights. But for now, we call it a night and get some much-needed rest.

Which brings us back to my current state of confusion in a dark hotel room, in the middle of the night.

As I run outside I wonder if tonight we will be getting a good show, it may sound strange but I’m bursting with excitement, but that is the thing about the northern lights, they never become dull, they are never not special. Even when you have seen them night after night and guided countless northern lights tours, they still take your breath away.  When I get outside and look up I gasp. There they are, in all their glory, green, purple, yellow and red lights, dancing furiously across the sky, it’s hard to believe that something so beautiful can actually be real.


I run back inside and tell the reception, to wake up everyone, on the list or not, no one can miss this!

It’s impossible to see the northern lights and not be blown away by what is appearing before you. Before science was advanced enough to explain this phenomenon, every culture lucky enough to be graced with their presence had formed its own myth about what the northern lights where and why the sky would light up and dance. These are too many to list here but a few are simply too wonderful not to be mentioned.


What is the Auroras Borealis? How are they formed and why are they different colors?


In some cultures it’s believed that the Auroras Borealis are spirits that have been angered, to mend them and calm their angry souls, rituals of dance and song are performed. In Finland it’s said that the lights are caused by an arctic fox, as it runs through the freshly fallen snow its tail sweeps the ground, twirling snow up in the air, again causing the northern lights. In Alaska, the northern lights are believed to be the souls of hunted wild game, some believe that conceiving a child under the lights will bring eternal luck and others say the northern lights is our creator reminding us of his/her eternal love.

But let’s get back to this part of the world the far North. For this story, we will have to start with an introduction of the Valkyries.


Scandinavian Mythology

The Valkyries, an incarnation of female strength and power, these women warriors of the Norse mythology serve a mighty purpose. The night before a battle, they would ride around the sky, deciding who would live and who would die. The Valkyries then rode with the slain warriors to eternal life in Valhalla. To this day these women and what they stand for, still have a place in our culture, they are in a way a definition of ourselves and our nation, our beliefs and mostly our idea of the Nordic woman.

It goes without saying that up here in the most northern part of the world, Icelanders had also come up with explanations for the northern lights. As they looked up in the night sky, seeing it light up, they knew exactly what was happening. The Valkyries, in their elaborate armor, were riding around the sky preparing for battle, as these women raced across the sky, deciding who would live and who would die, nothing but the magnificent reflection of the armor was visible to us mere mortals on earth.

Standing out here, way up east, in what must be one of the best places possible for northern lights watching, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that what we are looking at is, in fact, the reflection of armor, a bridge to the heavens or some other type of fairytale magic.

These lights are special, they are elusive, unpredictable, they can last for a few minutes or hours, they come and go, they change colors, they are always worth the wait, the trip, the effort, the missed sleep, they never get old and they always leave you in awe.

More information about the Northern Lights 

Northern-Lights-Iceland-Tour (3)

Who would you like to watch the northern lights with?

Northern lights in Iceland

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