Beware the marsh when night unfolds,
and darkness sends the sun in flight.
‘Tis no place for mortal creature,
but faerie, nymph, and ghostly light.
They have many different names depending on culture and location, but ghost lights have long been intertwined with magical things that go bump-in-the-night. Often referred to as ‘foolish fire’ for the propensity to lead night time travelers astray, these lights have various names including will-o-wisps, elf light, fox fire, and spook lights among others.
Commonly attributed to the Fae or elemental spirits, they rarely bring good fortune to those who see them. When viewed in a graveyard, they are called ghost candles. Dancing over marshy grounds and bogs, locals have dubbed them Jack o’ lanterns or friar’s lanterns. In some cases they’ve been said to mark treasure (assuming one is brave enough to go slogging through bog-muck in the middle of the night. *shudder* ).
The practical explanation is that ‘ignis fatuus’ is produced from swamp gases when organic matter decays. Not very lyrical, is it? I much prefer the views of country folk who lived on the edges of bogs and forests and whispered of glowing lights that bobbed and weaved through the darkness. You can almost hear the hushed warnings as villagers huddled in their cottages and locked doors to ward off the spellbinding bewitchment. The night came alive with a symphony of light, whispering of enchanted paths, restless ghosts, and unexplored byways.
I’ve always been fascinated by night time lights, particularly during warm weather months. There are so many attractive ways to add soft lights to our outdoor living spaces these days, I wonder if that isn’t a throwback to the enchantment our ancestors felt when they saw a dancing elf light or hinky-punk (the names are endless). So while I strategically dress my yard with ornamental lighting in hopes of conjuring a soothing, inviting environment, I can’t help wondering what a stray will-o-wisp might feel should it blunder into my little oasis.
Would you follow a disembodied light into a dark forest or swamp? Personally, as much as I love myth, I’ll content myself with writing about it. 🙂