Jumala Aurora Sky Art

By Jheri St. James

The Republic of Finland is one of the Nordic countries and a member of the European Union. Situated in Northern Europe, it shares land borders with Sweden to the west, Russia to the east and Norway to the north, while Estonia lies to its south. Finland is bounded by the Baltic Sea, with the Gulf of Finland to the south and the Gulf of Bothnia to the west. The Aland Islands, off the south-western coast, are an autonomous province of Finland.

Finland was a province and then a grand duchy under Sweden from the 12th to the 19th centuries, and an autonomous grand ducky of Russia after 1809. It won its complete independence in 1917. During World War II, it was able to successfully defend its freedom and resist invasions by the Soviet Union, although with some loss of territory. In the subsequent half century, the Finns made a remarkable transformation from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy; per capita income is now on par with Western Europe. As a member of the European Union, Finland was the only Nordic state to join the euro system at its initiation in January 1999. Finland is ranked 11th on the 2006 United Nations Human Development Index. Along with Estonian, Hungarian and Maltese, Finnish is one of the few official languages of the European Union that is not of Indo-European origin.

Finland is one of the few countries in the world that is still geographically growing. Owing to the post-glacial rebound that has been taking place since the last ice age, the surface area of the country is growing by about 7 seven square kilometers a year. The Parliament of Finland is celebrating its centenary in 2006 and 2007. The 100th anniversary of the approval of the Parliament Act and Election Act by the Diet was on June 1, 2006. The anniversary festivities focus on the parliamentary reform of the early 20th century and the introduction of equal and universal suffrage and full political rights for women. So it would seem that Finland is an “enlightened” country of expansion.

Is this enlightenment the result of the aurora borealis, the display of colored lights and shimmering forms seen at night, most frequently during the equinoxes, in regions of high latitude? The aurora borealis, or northern lights, can be seen in northern Scandinavia, Canada, and Alaska, and the aurora australis, or southern lights, are seen on the borders of Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere. Fast-moving electrons from the sun are attracted to the earth’s magnetic poles, where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen ions in the ionosphere, causing them to give off energy in the form of light. The aurora most frequently appears following a major solar flare; the occurrence and intensity of the aurora is also related to the 11-year sunspot cycle.

Or is it the result of Finnish myths and legends? The Finnish chief sky god was Jumala, whose name, like that of the Indo-European sky god, refers to the phenomenon of light. Astonomical myths exist in the context of a complex Finno-Ugric cosmography, in which the world is surrounded by a stream and covered by a canopy centered on a North Star-capped pillar. In some stories, the end of the world can occur with the collapse of the pillar. A world tree with celestial bodies in its branches exists along with a world mountain and a world navel at the center of the earth.

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Finland numbers 5.2 million inhabitants and has an average population density of 17 inhabitants per square kilometer. This makes it, after Norway and Iceland, the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The biggest and most important cities are greater Helsinki (above; note light on head of building) metropolitan area (including the cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa), Tampere, Turku, and Oulu (see below; note rainbow).

Soil collecting is not always a “walk in the park, but when Chad Peterson responded to our spring mailing to U.S. Embassies in foreign countries and on August 10, 2006, he collected some soil from “Kaivopuisto park in Helsinki’s diplomatic area, it was easy for him. This park is home to many festivals and young Finns who enjoy the park’s many quiet and beautiful corners.” On our end, it took vmany months, but the soil from Finland is in the coffers, ready to become part of the final 50’x50’ fresco, incorporating the soils of all 191 countries in the United Nations.






The Observatory in the Park

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In Latin, the word “aurora” means dawn and “borealis” means northern, and the aurora borealis is a luminous atmospheric phenomenon appearing as streamers or bands of light sometimes visible in the night sky in northern or southern regions of the earth. It is thought to be caused by charged particles from the sun entering the earth's magnetic field and stimulating molecules in the atmosphere.

The Northern Lights and the aurora borealis are two names for the same thing. The term aurora borealis was first used by Galileo in 1619 to suggest the likeness of the northern lights to an early dawn in the northern sky, an appearance it sometimes has to those who live at low or intermediate latitudes in the northern hemisphere.

Once the term aurora borealis was introduced, Galileo and others used it as the name for the Northern Lights. The early history of auroral terminology is somewhat clouded because, at the time, Galileo was already under duress from the Roman Inquisition and was not supposed to be writing on astronomical matters. Therefore, his writings on the subject were appearing under the name of his student, Mario Guiducci. Galileo referenced the aurora as part of his arguments against the established idea that the earth was the center of the Universe. He wrongly thought that the aurora is caused by sunlight reflecting from the high atmosphere.

Galileo's original error has propagated through nearly four centuries to the present time. Misinformed by geography books written as late as fifty years ago, a surprising number of people still labor under the misconception that the aurora is sunlight glinting off the high atmosphere, off the polar icecap or off falling snow or ice crystals.

Instead, the aurora is an actual light source created in the high atmosphere. It is a glow given off by the atoms and molecules of which the atmosphere is composed. That glow is caused by the atoms and molecules being struck by charged particles, mostly electrons and protons, that originated on the sun. These particles stream out from the sun and normally are guided by the earth's magnetic field into the polar regions where they enter the atmosphere and make it glow.

The proper name for the aurora of the southern hemisphere is the aurora australis. Together the aurora australis and the aurora borealis are known as the aurora polaris. Nowadays the simple name aurora is mostly used, as is the name Northern Lights.

The thing that struck this writer was that the northern lights are one of the few forms of light not sunlight reflected off rock—the sun, stars, the planets, moon are all reflected lights. But the aurora borealis is not. It is a gaseous light, resulting from atoms, molecules, particles that originate on the sun, then stream out into the earth’s magnetic field where they enter the atmosphere and make it glow.

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In artistic endeavors of today, the presence of light is eagerly sought—painting, writing, sculpture, theater, movies, computer graphics, for example. This is a somewhat recent perception in art history. Before the Renaissance, there was no depth in painting. Looking back, it is clear that artists did not have the idea of the "space" in their works. They saw only what was in front of their eyes. There was no solid feeling of depth, therefore people did not give emphasis on light and shadow, two essential elements forming gradation, creating this space. The idea of three-dimensional space has been gradually evolving for thousands of years; artists do not have it congenitally. This awareness is what separates tribal art or children’s works from those of the masters.

Even soil, the medium in which Gary Simpson is realizing the Common Ground 191 project, sometimes has light in it, twinkling mica—or not. It has been interesting to look at the jars of the actual dirt side by side and observe the color gradations, the texture differences, and the amount of light present. Even more important is the enlightened concept of the soils of the earth coming together in one place for the first time to celebrate not our differences, but what human beings have in common.

The soil of Finland is one of the few from countries that experience the particular form of Jumala’s “enlightenment”, the sky art of light. With its own unique language, and growing borders, Finland is its own special place. We appreciate this collection and thank Millie and Chad for their efforts on our behalf, however truncated. We celebrate illumination. The word for peace in Finland is rauha.

The Puolanka Museum






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