Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Ghost Lights

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. 🙂

11 thoughts on “Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Ghost Lights

  1. I haven’t read much or heard tale of these lights before, especially all the names they have. I loved reading this and I’d have to say that I would NOT follow some strange light into who knows where. That’s crazy talk!

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    • I agree with you, Loni. I’d certainly write about it and have one of my characters do it but, if when it comes to me, I’d be doing the road-runner in the opposite direction! I wouldn’t be able to fly out of there fast enough, LOL!

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  2. Beautiful descriptiveness. Why is it that some things that should be a bit scary…like this…bring out this dreamy, romantic quality to my thoughts? It also reminded me, just for a moment, of the little girl from “Brave” who followed the will-o-wisp. She found them to be neither good nor bad.

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    • Oooh, I want to see Brave. I haven’t had the chance yet but am looking forward to it.
      Thanks for the nice compliment 🙂 Mythical elements always put me in a dreamy mood too!

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    • Thank you, Crystal. Many many (many) moons ago I used to play around writing poetry and verse. Mythical Mondays seemed like a good place to dabble in the occasional snippet again.

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  3. Mae, I have many memories of my favorite uncle, but the best is the night he sat with me at midnight on the bridge (that’s at the top of my blog) and we waited for the light that’s said to appear when true believers sit in awe and wonder. My uncle was in his late 80s at the time and he believed the light would appear and that she would talk with us – the light represented my aunt who was murdered at the age of 15 in 1924. I’d been researching my aunt’s murder for about 8 years at the time but had only recently heard the story about the ghost light. I’ve returned to the bridge many times but it has always been in the light of day.

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    • Sheri, this gives me chills. I remember you telling me about your aunt before but I had no clue she was so young and I didn’t know about the bridge. I’m not sure I could go back there in the dark of night, especially alone. What an amazing (and tragic) story. And I had no clue that the bridge on your blog was ‘that bridge.’

      There’s something mesmerizing about the tales and folklores those in our family (of older generations) spin. Heating about your uncle’s belief was perfect for a Mythical Monday. Thanks so much for sharing this. I was enthralled!

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