The Legend of the Northern Lights

“Look to the light and swim to the top of the Great Mountain. There you will find your home. There you will swim in the eternal river of the sky.”

I worked on this legend (and video) for a very long time. I  included it in my book, Your Life Isn’t For You, with the sincere desire that it will help guide others forward. If it inspires you, please—as a special favor to me—share it with others.

I am profoundly grateful for Ashley Collett (for creating such amazing illustrations) and for David Tolk (for allowing me to use his beautiful music). Underneath the video is the FULL text of the legend.

It is said that not long after their creation, the salmon lost their way. Aimlessly, they swam in the rivers and waters of Alaska. But in their wanderings, they found neither home nor rest.

Overcome with fear and despair, they began to fight among themselves. But their fighting only deepened their fears and worsened their condition.

Then one day, a legendary being appeared to them at the base of the Great Mountain—a beast of unspeakable wisdom and healing: the White Bear. The Bear came to the edge of the waters and called to the salmon.

“Look to the light of the North Star,” said the Bear. “Look to the light and swim to the top of the Great Mountain. There you will find your home. There you will swim in the eternal river of the sky.”

The salmon wondered at such a thing. Could it be true? If they followed the North Star, would they be able to swim in an eternal river?

Some of the salmon ignored the White Bear, while others fled in terror. Bears often ate salmon; perhaps his offer was just a clever trap. The smallest of the salmon peeked out of the water and spoke to the Bear. “How can we swim upstream? It is against our nature. We do not have the strength.”

“If you look upward and fight onward,” replied the Bear, “you can conquer the Great Mountain.”

And so it was that those who chose to follow the North Star began the long journey to the summit of the Great Mountain. Swimming upstream was tiring, difficult, and painful. Some of the salmon turned back. Those who remained began to feel discouraged.

“Look to the heavens,” reminded one of the salmon.

The other salmon looked up. High above them was the night sky, filled with numberless glittering stars. Despite the darkness of the hour, the light from these stars reminded the salmon of the Bear’s promise.

With renewed energy, the salmon fought to swim upstream—growing in strength and desire with every passing moment. As they moved forward, the salmon discovered that they were being filled with a beautiful new light. Their bodies underwent a transformation, changing colors from silvers and grays to magnificent greens and reds.

After a long time of difficult swimming, the salmon made it to the very top of the Great Mountain.

And as they peeked out from the water to look upon the stars, they found—to their astonishment and joy—that they could touch the night sky. It was not an endless expanse of air as they had assumed, but an endless expanse of water.

The night sky was as the White Bear had spoken. It was an eternal river.

These former wanderers wanted more than anything to swim in that water, to live among the stars. But something inside of them held them back. They looked down the mountain to the valley below and distantly saw the other salmon lost in the darkness below. “What about them?” they wondered aloud. “We want to share this joy and happiness with them as well.”

As they said these things, the White Bear once again appeared before them. He told them that in order for the salmon to help those who were struggling below, they must swim in the eternal river and become a light for those who were wandering in darkness. But in order to swim in the eternal river, they would have to give up their lives.

Knowing what they truly wanted, the salmon let go of all their doubts and fears, and dove into the night sky—passing from this world into the next. Then, they who had become so full of life and light themselves became the Northern Lights—a river of light to guide the way for others who wander in darkness.

And from their death sprang a new generation of salmon, who swam down the mountainside to show others the way home.

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Seth Adam Smith

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