The Hyperborean Aurora: Reflecting the Northern Lights through Finngreek Etymology

The lands of the Uralic peoples are known for their loista (splendid!) Northern Lights, which fill the sky with fleeting arrays of colors, ephemerally dancing across the polar night. Because the Aurora borealis is such a stunning phenomenon, it would stand to reason that, if Greeks and Hyperboreans (our theorized Proto-Uralic population) were in contact, this could be shown through a shared term. In this case, we are going to explore three proposals which could potentially illustrate a mutual observance of these blazing Fox-Fires. Let’s take a journey.

Our first word for the Northern Lights is Arevothulés, the Finngreek form of Finnish Revontulet.

Literally meaning ‘fox-fires’, the Finnish name for the Northern Lights describes the tail-like blaze of the Aurora borealis. Revon<Repo (fox) has a decidedly IE origin, but from which language is unclear. Greek Αλεπού<Αλωπώ<Αλώπηξ fits as well as any other candidate, with the prefixing form Alepo-/Αλεπο- fitting the best – However, synchronicity may be an issue.

Tuli (fire), from Proto-Uralic *tule, is compared with Thulí/Θυλή (tʰulé) and θύλημα, meaning ‘burnt sacrifice/offering, incense’, and goes back to the verb θύω, from which a similar comparison – Wind = Tuuli = Thuulli = Θύελλη – is also derived, along with several other terms in Finngreek, such as Thuosko/Thuoks (incense/perfume), from Finnish Tuoksu and Greek Θύος-σκ-/ (Θυοσκόος, Θυοσκοπία, etc.). The term Αlepothulés/Αλεποθυλές does not currently exist in Greek, but it is constructed to follow the natural structure (eg: Alepopordí/Αλεποπορδή) of Alepo- with an -ή final noun as a compound term. If Tuli and Thulí/Θυλή are cognates, then the “fire” involved might be comparable with the meandering motions of smoke rising from burning incense, which evokes the Aurora.

Arevothulés/Αlepothulés: Northern Lights, Fox fires, Trail of incense smoke

The next term is Harp, which can end in -a, -e, or -i, due to multiple derivations.

Northern Lights = Harp/Χарп (Nenets) < *karpə <? *korpe- (‘to blaze/scorch’) =
Harpa/Harpe/Harpi =
Αρπ- (Απράζω, Άρπη, *Αρπετόν, etc.)

The question mark between Proto-Samoyedic *karpə and Proto-Uralic *korpe- indicates that their etymological connection is uncertain. If they are related, then Nenets Harp/Χарп is connected with Finnish Korventaa/Kärventää (to scorch), and possibly Hungarian Hervad (to fade).

On the Hellenic side, The verb Harpázå/Αρπάζω, meaning ‘to seize hastily’, has a variety of derived terms, like Αρπακτικός (that which can easily/suddenly seize or ignite), Άρπαγμα (prey, windfall/good fortune), Αρπαλέος (devouring/consuming; attractive/alluring/charming), and Αρπάλιμος (defined as Προσφιλής: Beloved, lovely, pleasing).

The etymology of Αρπάζω, and its relation to other Greek terms, is disputed. It has been compared with Harpy/Άρπη (bird of prey), which may or may not be from Proto-Indo-European *serp- (to creep, crawl), like the Greek Hérpis/Έρπης (“snake”, shingles) and Herpetón/Ερπετόν (snake, creeping animal), with Aeolic Orpetόn/Ορπετόν suggesting (h)Arpetόn/*Αρπετόν.

With these potential connections in mind, the semantic possibilities for Finngreek Harpe are:
1. Something that devours, seizes, or burns suddenly, or is seized/burned suddenly
4. Prey, or an object of desire: Something lovely, pleasing, and/or alluring
3. A bird of prey (Harpy)
4. Something that creeps and crawls, such as a snake

There’s not a way for me to say any one of these could be more certain than another, at least until etymologists can make final decisions on the Indo-European and Uralic sources which my comparisons are reliant upon. The Northern Lights, as they would have been observed by the Helleno-Hyperboreanic peoples, could have been compared with fire, a bird, a creeping animal, or even simply an alluring object.

My personal feeling is that, while Harpy/Άρπη bears perhaps the closest resemblance to Finngreek Harpe, I don’t imagine a bird, sickle, tooth, fish, etc. (other meanings of Άρπη) when I look at the movement of the Aurora. The motion of the Northern Lights very plainly appears to me as either a slithering snake (‘Ερπης, *Αρπετόν), or as a line of fire igniting across the sky, depending on the formation of the lights – as well as the aforementioned stream of smoke from incense. Since the Aurora is also very beautiful, ‘object of desire’ seems suitable as well. With all of this in mind, the Helleno-Samoyedic construction results in this Finngreek term:

Harp(-a/-e/-i): Aurora; Snake; Fire (when moving across distance); Allure/Object of desire

Finally, there is Sela. Sela is constructed from two sources:
1. Finnish Salama (lightning/flash), from Proto-Uralic *śala (to flash/lighten)
2. Greek Sélas/Σέλας (light/brightness) and Selá/Σελά (to shine), which is either from “Pre-Greek”, or Proto-Indo-European *swelō (to glare, burn). In this case, it would be cognate with Sanskrit Surati/सुरति (to rule, shine), Lithuanian Svìlti (to singe), and Proto-Germanic *swelaną (to burn).

In modern Greek, Σέλας also means ‘aurora’, such as the Bóreio Sélas/Βόρειο Σέλας, or Northern Lights. In Finngreek, this is written as Borjasela(ma), as if a Finnish compound Pohja(n)-salama. Because the Greek term is neuter, -ma might be a missing suffix in another variety as seen with Finnish Sala-ma. This allows for two plural forms: Borjasélata and Borjaselámata.

Sela(-ma): Aurora, Lightning, Shine, Flash

Practice Sentences
Arevothulés on Áranáimase = The Northern Lights (Fox Fires) are in the Autumn air
Alepothulémata on Sýskausínmose = The Northern Lights are in the Autumn air
Harpe selá hamaráse = The Aurora shines in the dark
Borjaséla borjoise on = The Northern Lights are in the north
Nóe borjaselámata phaná = See the Northern Lights shine

We now have three terms for the Aurora: Arevothulés, Harp, and Sela. It brings me great pleasure to enrich the Finngreek vocabulary with such a multitude of Helleno-Uralic proposals for the Aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, as nature has always offered a generous source of etymology and inspiration for this language project.

In the future, I would like to find a comparison with Sami Kuovskâs/Guovssahas, because its s-final morphology suggests to me an Indo-European source. However, I have yet to find anything convincing – but if I do, I look forward to editing it into this post!

In the case of observing the Aurora, it requires a historical stipulation that either a Hellenic people, or Uralic peoples (Hyperboreans) with knowledge of the Greek language, gave names to the Northern Lights from Hellenic sources (perhaps with the exception of Finnish Salama, which does not carry this meaning). This could place the northern (vs. Greece as southern) Helleno-Uralic contact zone somewhere within the arctic reaches of Fennoscandia and Russia – indeed very far north for a Greek population to reach if this contact occurred. Historical references to Hyperborea place it very far from Greece, beyond the Scythian steppelands, across the Riphean mountains – which have been associated in antiquity and modern times with the Ural mountains – until finally reaching the edge of the earth. Conversely, another northern contact period could have involved Mycenaeans in Scandinavia and the Baltic – of which more can be read about here and here – from where Greek language would have reached Proto-Uralic and/or Proto-Finno-Ugric through its western periphery.

All of these speculations depend on historians reaching a consensus about the time and place of the Proto-Uralic Urheimat (homeland), as well as the chronologies and ranges of its split into its descendant languages. Wherever the true Hyperborea was located, I hope to find it; and believe that its location may contain a wealth of archaeological treasures, as well as insight into how so much archaic Greek could have been loaned in the Uralic languages.

I wish you all Syyskausi Zilo, or Ara Onisi: Autumn Happiness!

The Hyperborean Harvest: ‘Fall’ in Finngreek

There are two terms for ‘autumn’ reconstructed in Finngreek: Sýskausi and Ára. In celebration of the new fall season, let’s explore how their etymologies illustrate Helleno-Uralic contact.

Autumn (1) = Syyskausi (Finnish) = Sýskausi = Σῦς+καύση

Being the simpler explanation of the two Finngreek words for ‘autumn’, we will first discuss the religiously-based Sýskausi. This is a compound term in both Finnish and Greek, but with divergent meanings. In Finnish, Syys simply means ‘autumn’, while Kausi means ‘season, period, term’. In Greek, Σῦς (Sys) means ‘pig’, and Καύση<Καύσι (Kausi) means ‘a burning’.

At first glance, while the phonologies of these terms are perfectly matched, their meanings do not seem related. However, the reasoning may lie in a historical basis: The Eleusinian Mysteries – in particular, the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, which were held once a year, in September or October, and lasted for ten days. One of the rituals of this celebration involved initiates bathing in the sea along with their individual sacrifices, which happened to be piglets. After the purifying bath, the piglets were brought by the initiates from Phaleron Harbor to the Eleusinion, a temple in Athens dedicated to Demeter and Persephone. When they had arrived, the piglets were sacrificed, and either eaten by the attendants, or fully charred as an offering. This explanation could give the necessary background to a term like Sýskausi, wherein an annual autumnal sacrifice of pigs to the pyre resulted in a semantic shift, with Syys (from Proto-Finnic *sügüs – compare Proto-Indo-European *suH- [pig] with Greek sys/hys, which I reconstruct as a long form *syhys) becoming an abbreviated form for ‘autumn’, and Kausi (of uncertain origins in Uralic and Hellenic) meaning a ‘burning’ that is significant to a certain time of year, which would evolve in Finnish to mean a season. I speculate that either bonfires and/or burnt sacrifices were a regular practice to denote the passing of the seasons, for a variety of reasons.

As a side-note on this topic, Finnish Syys – and especially Syksy – might have been influenced by a series of other Greek terms (if they were used in these senses during the time of contact) relevant to practices of the harvest, which start with the sy(-n-)/συν- prefix, meaning ‘with’ – such as Syksylos/Σύξυλος, meaning ‘all the wood together’, which could imply preparation for a fire. However, there is no clear way to qualify this possibility.

Now we can get into our more elusive, and perhaps elder, term for Autumn: Ára.

Autumn (2) = *äre, *ëde >*ërö > Ára/Åre = Ώρα/Ώρη > Οπώρα/Οπάρα/Οπώρη

While on the surface this appears to be a more simple equation than the previous one, it’s actually much more complicated. To start with the Uralic portion:

The reconstructed term *ërö is Proto-Samoyedic, which is considered the earliest group of Uralic languages to branch off from Proto-Uralic. This term is not found meaning ‘autumn’ in the Finnic languages, just as Syys/Syksy is not found in Samoyedic – but *ërö is compared with Proto-Uralic *ëde, meaning ‘year, autumn’. However, *ërö has also been compared with Proto-Uralic *äre, which is found in the Permic languages, Komi and Udmurt, as the term Ar, meaning ‘autumn, year’: So regardless of whether Proto-Samoyedic *ërö comes from Proto-Uralic *ëde or *äre, it comes from some word which potentially carried the meaning(s) ‘year, autumn’. This is where things get interesting, with the Greek word Οπώρα/Οπάρα/Οπώρη.

There are obscure etymological proposals regarding the PIE origin of this term:

Proto-Indo-European: *(s)h₁ós-r̥ ~ *(s)h₁és-n̥s, from *(s)h₁es- (harvest, crop, fruit)
Armenian: *(h)o(h)ár-a-
Old Armenian: ար-ա-ց (ar-a-cʿ)
Hellenic: *(h)ohər
⇒ Hellenic: *opohərā (contracted from *opi(h)ohərā, + *opi- (related to Ancient Greek ἐπι- (epi-), from *h₁epi (“on, at”)
Ancient Greek: ὀπώρα (opṓra, “end of the summer, start of autumn; harvest, fruit”)
“(Οπώρα) Seems to be a contraction of an original *ὀποσάρα (*oposára)”
“From the base of ὀψέ and ὥρα”; Or instead, “From ὄψ and ὥρα.”

Compare this with the following:
Proto-Indo-European: *yóh₁r-o-s, *yóh₁r-eh₂, from *yóh₁r̥ (year; oblique stem *yéh₁n-)
Ancient Greek: ὥρᾱ (hṓrā)

I have compiled these varied proposals from the etymological dictionaries of Anatole Bailly, James Strong, and Liddell & Scott. Based on their proposals, I cannot make any clear assumption about the origin of Οπώρα: However, I am willing to analyze Οπώρα/Οπάρα as Ώρα/*Άρα, with Οπώρη or Ώρη being the Ionic equivalent.

One thing that sticks out to me in this information is the exclusivity and similarity of the proposed Greek and Armenian reflexes: The only two descendants of the PIE term *(s)h₁ós-r̥ are the Proto-Armenian *(h)o(h)ár-a- and Proto-Hellenic *(h)ohər(ā). There have been varying proposals of a Graeco-Armenian Hypothesis, in which Greek and Armenian evolved from a common ancestor after Proto-Indo-European. This theory, depending on the proposer, can be accompanied with other IE languages, such as Macedonian and Phrygian, but their poor attestation leaves the correct classification unclear. I don’t currently have a stake in this debate; but I have noticed similarities between a few words in the Armenian and Uralic languages: For example, ‘Good’ (Armenian Bari, Northern Sami Buorre) and ‘Young’ (Arm. Nor, Proto-Finnic *noori).

It is generally accepted by etymologists that Proto-Uralic and Proto-Indo-European shared some degree of contact which resulted in the sharing of loanwords (with some going much further, to propose a common Indo-Uralic genetic origin, sometimes as a subclade of the Nostratic theory). The Finngreek or Helleno-Uralic theory does not support a genetic relationship between Indo-European and Uralic, but does support a PIE-PU contact period; as well as a later Helleno-Uralic contact period extensive enough to have significantly influenced the Uralic languages, as well as Hellenic spirituality, during a timeframe between Mycenaean Greece and the Late Archaic period of ancient Greece (approximately from 1600 to 500 BC), due to synchronous phonological developments, and my perception of the Uralic peoples as the likeliest candidates for having had been the Hyperboreans, given proposed cognates related to oracular activity, such as Ennustaa = Εννυστάζω (To tell the future, practice/undergo oneiromancy), Noita/Noaidi (shaman/witch) = Νοητά/Νοητής (controller of that which is imagined/of the mind), and Päivä/Peivi/Beaivvas/Piejjve (sun/day) = Φοίβος/Φοίβε/Φοίβη (Phoebus: Apollo, God of the Sun; and Phoebe/Artemis, twin-Goddess of the moon), with the Hyperboreans having had been renowned by Greeks for their devout worship to Phoebus, as well as for having set up religious institutions in Greece.

However, in regards to the potential of Uralic affinity with terms isolated to Hellenic and Armenian – if there is any truth to the Helleno-Armenian theory – this might suggest a separate period of contact, perhaps 1,000-1,500 years prior to Finngreek contact. This would be true only if it postdated core Proto-Indo-European exchange with the Proto-Uralic peoples (or perhaps if Proto-Helleno-Armenian was the final extension of the PIE language, after the departure of the Proto-Indo-Iranians, while contact with the Proto-Uralic peoples continued), and if the affinity of terms between Armenian and Uralic was not the result of an undocumented contact period between the two groups after Proto-Hellenic had already migrated into the Balkans. Generally, where Proto-Samoyedic comparisons in Finngreek are involved, there is demand for finer details to ascertain a distinction between the Hellenic and PIE terms: This would also be the case when considering the possibility of a third, intermediate period of Helleno-Armenian contact with Proto-Uralic. I will post an update about this idea if it continues to appear.

Getting back to Finngreek: Because this comparison ultimately comes down to Ára, equivalent to Greek Ώρα, this word can be used to describe time and seasons in general (especially at the peak or prime of a time/season: The Harvest), although its primary meaning is ‘autumn’, as well as ‘year’ (found in Ancient Greek and Udmurt). However, Ώρα in modern Greek means ‘hour’ or ‘time’, while Φθινόπωρο (Fthinópåro), or the rarer Μεθόπωρον, is used to refer to autumn proper, literally meaning ‘the decline of Οπώρα’, with the season Οπώρα originally having had been the time between the rising of Sirius and Arcturus, or from late July until the middle of September. However, its meaning shifted from ‘late summer, early autumn’ to plain ‘autumn’ over time.

Now that we’ve made it through the background of Ára, let’s take a deeper look:

Autumn/Harvest, Year =*äre, *ërö = Ára/Áre, Åros/(h)Oros = Ώρα/*Άρα/Ώρη, Ώρος

The Samoyedic reflexes of *ërö are:
Selkup: Ara (compare Ώρα/*Άρα, Οπάρα [Laconian Greek])
Kamassian: Ere (Compare Ώρη, Οπώρη [Ionic Greek])
Mator: Öröh (Compared Ώρος/Oros, masculine form, with s>h debuccalization)
Forest, Tundra Nenets: Ŋī̮ɬ’ū, Ŋēŕō
Enets: Narra
Nganasan: Narro
(Initial N-/Ŋ- in Nenets, Enets, and Nganasan is a regular innovation from Proto-Samoyedic)

This is all under my assumption that *ërö and Komi/Udmurt Ar still deserve comparison.

Before we finish this post, I’d like to go over the Finngreek seasons:

Summer, Fallow = Kesä = Kherse = Χέρσε
This comparison is favored against that with PIE *(s)h₁es-, due to the common meaning ‘fallow’.

Autumn, Pig Roast; Autumn/Harvest, Year = Sýskausi; Ára

Winter = *Tälwä (Finngreek reconstruction: *Tele) = Tele/Teli = Τέλη
I reconstruct *Tele due to the following reflexes:
Hungarian: Tél, Téli (adjective form)
Eastern Khanty: Tələg (perhaps from Τέλος)
Mari: Tel/Tele
Erzya: Tele
The -i found in Finnic and Samic is iotacism (e>i) as seen in -η. This word is directly related to the Uralic and Greek words for ‘perfect, complete, full’, as well: Finnish Täydellinen and Τετελεσμένος, Hungarian Tele/Teljes and Greek Τέλειε/Τελήεις, etc, meaning they are all, along with ‘winter’, from PIE *kʷel- (to turn).

As you can see, there is one season missing: Spring. I’ve yet to find a convincing comparison with Proto-Finnic Kevät or Proto-Uralic *keŋä – and there may not be one. Certainly, the Uralic languages are entitled to their own word for a season. There are a few words I’ve considered might be related, but none have stood out as being exceptional. However, there are still terms which can be used to describe springtime in Finngreek, such as Nosto (Rise/Return – compare Nostella = Αναστέλλω, and the rise/return of Persephone, for semantic and phonological contamination), Aksvi* (Plant/Growth; Kasvaa = Αυξάνω/Αύξω), and Arkha (Beginning; Alkaa = Άρχω).

(*Aksvi does not represent the proposed synchronous phonology, but is a consolidation designed for easier mutual recognition, versus Havks-i. This is an irregular comparison which is only suggested due to the greater proximity of *kasvada(k) and αυξάνω vs. other IE reflexes.)

The Finngreek seasons reflect what would have been the agricultural practices of their time: Fields kept fallow in the summer, the collection of ripe crops in the early autumn (along with a spiritual sacrifice of swine), and the completion of another agricultural cycle in the winter. It was an orderly practice of following the rhythms of nature – along with a reliable ritual culture – in order to attain sustenance, as would be expected of any ancient civilization.

Autumn has always been my favorite season. When the humidity of summer finally drops, the sky turns a deeper shade of blue, the leaves begin to burn with the flames of fall foliage, and the breeze carries the fragrance of fruits and fire, I feel serene – but the most precious thing about fall is its ephemerality: Three fleeting months that stay with me all year long.

Ára ánme
thúos ámbre
ónnisi katá
pyrínemí purá

Autumn air
an aromatic rain
happiness pours
my crimson core

I hope you all will have an Ehývasýskausi, and an Oikeiahára. Happy Harvest!

Finngreek and the Oracle of Delphi

(Top picture: Hercules and Omphale, by Jacopo Amigoni)

The etymological research undertaken for Finngreek suggests a possible connection between Helleno-Uralic contact and oracular activity.

Holy, Sacred = Pyhä = Pythā = Πῡθώ, Πῡθῐ́ᾱ

Pythā (the Finngreek form of Πῡθώ) means ‘Pytho(n)’. Pytho is the ancient name of Delphi, and the Python was the monstrous snake which lived at the Oracle when it was dedicated to Gaia (the Earth), until it was slain by Pythian Apollo, making the Oracle of Delphi instead dedicated to him. The Pythia was the high priestess of the Oracle, and the one who breathed the sacred fumes in order to give prophecies to her supplicants. Finnish Pyhä, from reconstructed Proto-Finno-Permic *pišä (with which I disagree), has an interesting duality along with its Uralic cognates: The descendant terms (except for Finnic and Samic) primarily have a strongly negative meaning, including ‘unholy, heathen, sin, dirty’, and ‘foul’. I wonder about whether this might have implications for the “evil” that was the Python; or even conversion from paganism to other religions. Regardless, the resulting Finngreek term is Pythā (-ā because ä = a, ā = ω). This analysis comes with more terms:

Man, Slave, Servant = Orja = Orjā(n) = Ορεάν/Ορειάν
Perfume, Incense = Tuoksu = Thuosku = Θύος/Θυοσκόος/Θυοσκοπία/θυΐσκη/Θύλημα < Θύω
Storm, Wind, Future; To come = Thulla, Thuuli, etc.* < Θύελλα/Θυέλλη < Θύω
(*There is a great deal of variety to this term: Thullea, Thule, Thulli, and so on.)

Starting with Orjā: The Finnish term Orja (slave) has been compared with ‘Aryan’, but it is unknown where both terms come from. Finngreek offers an alternative etymology for Orja, being Ορεάν(ες), which is the term for ‘men’ in the Pythia’s mystical language that she spoke at the Oracle of Delphi. The semantics of ‘slave, servant’ from Uralic reflexes, if stemming from Ορεάν, would not describe the life of a typical slave, but the male priest attendants of the Pythian high priestess.

The Greek Θύω (To sacrifice, burn, consult [an oracle]; to rush in, storm, rage), may have resulted in a wide array of terms in Finnish and Greek. This includes Greek Θύελλα (Storm), Θύος (Burnt sacrifice), Θυοσκόος (The sacrificing priest), Θυοσκοπία (Divination), θυΐσκη (Incense holder), Θύλημα (Incense), along with many other terms; as well as Finnish Tulla (To come), Tulva (Flood), Tuleva (Future), Tuuli (Wind), Tuulahdus (Breeze, Gust, Waft, Blowing), and Tuli (Fire).

I hypothesize that these terms all illustrate the experience of the Oracle: Receiving a prophecy from the holy “Priestess of the Python”, during which she was intoxicated with the sweetly perfumed, smoky vapors rising from under the earth.

Terpe!