The public's changing interpretation of the aurora



At the end of medieval times and the beginning of modern times, people in northern Germany and the rest of Europe were frequently terrified by mysterious optical phenomena in the sky [cf.Brekke, 1995; Schröder, 1984]. These included meteorites, unusual rings around the Sun and Moon, and colorful phenomena, all of which astonished them and often caused anxiety. These phenomena and their common interpretation took place against the political chaos of the Reformation, which added to the fears of the average person.

As the sky was previously considered everlasting and unchangeable, these phenomena—when “frightening faces” and “awful signs of miracles” appeared that were as diverse as they were unexplainable—seemed to forecast something terrible. Any deviation from the pre-determined, divine, cosmic order deeply shocked people during that time.