When the Dragon Stirs in the North: this week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Nov 5, 2018

An image from 1533 (before Galileo coined the term “Aurora Borealis”) which depicts the “wondrous dragons” that were seen in the air coursing through the night sky over a town in Germany.

Recently, a coronal hole rounded the surface of the Sun, stirring up the solar wind so that, as the wind raced earthward, scientists posted forecasts for possible geomagnetic storms, the kind that can cause beautiful displays of the aurora, or northern lights. 

In the poet’s world, the aurora are not associated just with the sun, but with dragons and serpents and monsters that threaten those who see them ~ but as an elusive and disintegrative reality, all they can do is threaten:

Shakespeare described the aurora as dragons cutting through the night in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; the American poet Wallace Stevens described them as a serpent shedding its shimmering skin, with eyes open and fixed on us from every sky; and Robert Service experienced them as monsters reveling in the sky in his “Ballad of the Northern Lights”.  

When the dragon or serpent or monster showed up, it was usually a sign that, despite the potential threat, an opportunity was at hand for those able to read the sign, and act with ready willingness. Such action was always met with great reward.

German poet and scientist Goethe described the same kind of idea in a scene in his Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, which is a fitting thought as we move through the current solar wind storm, as as we enter deeper into the darkness of the season. Goethe wrote:  “The old Man looked to the stars, and then began speaking: "We are assembled at the propitious hour; let each perform his task, let each do his duty; and a universal happiness will swallow-up our individual sorrows, as a universal grief consumes individual joys."

You can read Goethe's fairy tale here: The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.