Wednesday Weirdness: The Brown Mountain Lights

pathway between large, gnarled trees with words "on the path of Wednesday Weirdness" superimposed over image

Just last week, I had the pleasure of hosting my good friend, Marcia Meara, with her latest release The Light—book four in her Wake Robin Ridge Series. If you missed, that post, you can find it HERE. You may also want to check out my five star review of this fabulous story on my January 7th Book Review Tuesday post, HERE.

The Light employs the legend of the Brown Mountain Lights, a phenomena I’ve written about in the past (If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I’m smitten with folklore). With that in mind, I thought it was a good time to trot out the history behind this fascinating legend once more. I hope you enjoy!


Brown Mountain is a low lying ridge tucked into the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. For hundreds of years (some say longer) a phenomenon known as the Brown Mountain Lights has been observed by countless witnesses. The illumination, which appears as multi-colored balls floating above the mountain, has even resulted in two surveys conducted by the U.S. Geological Society–one in 1913, the other in 1922. Many believe the Cherokee Indians observed the lights as far back as the 13th Century.

According to eye witnesses, the lights usually begin as a red ball which transitions to white before vanishing altogether. Sometimes a single orb will divide into several before reforming. Witnesses have also reported seeing blue, green, yellow and orange orbs, most lasting only a handful of seconds before fading or winking from sight.

A stony overlook extending into a treed gorge in

Overlook at Wiseman’s View in Linville Gorge, NC, one of the best vantage points for viewing the Brown Mountain Lights.
Photo of Wisemen’s View by Ken Thomas (KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The phenomenon is so consistent there are specific mile markers within the Blue Ridge Parkway overlook designating from where they are best viewed.

Usually “spooklights” of this sort occur in swampy areas where decaying plant matter produces methane gas. This in turn spontaneously ignites, causing mysterious light manifestations. There are, however, no swampy areas where the Brown Mountain lights materialize, and unlike gaseous orbs, those of Brown Mountain appear concentrated with the ability to maneuver about the mountain.

Naturally, theories have developed. Many involve ghosts, energy beings, UFOs and even aliens. Older folklore relies on stories passed through generations. One tale dates back to the year 1200, when a bloody clash took place on the ridge. According to that legend, a fierce battle between the Cherokee and Catawba Indians claimed the lives of many braves. That night, grieving for their fallen warriors, Indian maidens scoured the mountain by torchlight, searching for bodies. To this day, that eerie torchlight can still be seen flickering on the ridge as they continue their endless hunt for the fallen.

Another tale speaks of a cruel man who butchered his wife and child then buried the bodies on Brown Mountain where he thought no one would find them. Not long after he completed the grisly deed, lights began to appear and hover over the graves. The mysterious illumination drew others to the site, enabling them to discover the murder victims. The killer fled before he could be punished for his crime, and was never seen again. Perhaps the forest enacted its own fatal justice.

Whatever the source of the Brown Mountain Lights, they have been captured on film and video and witnessed from miles away.  As for the surveys conducted by the US Geological Society, investigators concluded witnesses mistakenly reported the oncoming headlights from trains and autos as something more mystifying.

In direct counterpoint, locals reported seeing the lights before autos and trains descended on the area. Additionally, in 1916, a flood wiped out area transportation routes for a full week. During that time the lights were still active and observed.

Fast forward to 1982, when a man named Tommy Hunter claimed to have touched one of the lights. Supposedly it bobbed up to the ridge where he was standing and hovered several feet off the ground. A few times larger than a basketball, it appeared yellowish in color, and gave him an electrical shock when he extended his hand. The light dimmed slightly at the contact, then floated off into the woods.

If you would like to know more about this puzzling phenomenon, check out Joshua P. Warren’s free booklet, The Brown Mountain Lights:Viewing Guide available for download in PDF.  As someone who has always been fascinated by spooklights, I found it mesmerizing reading!

What are your thoughts? Let’s chat in the comments below.

And if you’d like an interesting take on this phenomenon in an engaging book, be sure to check out The Light for inspired reading!

63 thoughts on “Wednesday Weirdness: The Brown Mountain Lights

    • I’ve done a bit of research on these lights, too, Jackie, though nothing so thorough and interesting as what Mae’s done. They don’t appear in the daylight that I’m aware of. And even their nighttime appearances are somewhat random and unpredictable. Let’s see if Mae discovered anything different, but I’m pretty sure it’s a nighttime phenomenon. Cool, eh?

      Liked by 3 people

    • No, they just appear at night, Jacquie, but that photo of one of the lookout points was clearly taken during the day. It is interesting that they appear as orbs. There is something about circles that have always beckoned me. I have a number of necklaces with circles and ovals. Of all the geometrical shapes, it’s my favorite.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Interesting idea, Priscilla. I’m not sure how algae could get so high up in the air. On occasions, the lights have been reported to zoom straight upward after bobbing around for a bit. Can’t wait to see what Mae says. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hmmm, interesting. They’re airborne so it would have to be something that could float/fly. Of course, I love mysteries that remain mysteries, and I have a feeling this one is going to stay unsolved. Somehow, when a solution presents itself, the whimsy disappears for me. I hope they never find Nessie in Loch Ness 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I love phenomena such as this! Just like the Marfa Lights in far west Texas, people haven’t found a satisfying explanation. Recent studies there concluded they are car lights but there weren’t automobiles in the 1870s! I expect they are some type of natural occurrence, but who knows. Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Maybe the same people were studying the Marfa lights as studied the Brown Mountain lights. Car lights, indeed. *indignant sniff* 😀 And I think they’ll turn out to be something with a natural explanation too, Joan, but so far, they surer haven’t pinned it down.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I love that you have your own unexplained light source down there in Texas, Joan. I think a lot of folks want to find logical explanations for these things, but not me. It’s also very cool that the Marfa Lights have been around since the 1870s. Definitely not cars!!

      Like

  2. Interesting. I have never seen them, though admittedly I’m not much of a mountain person, so there has only been a dozen or so number of times when I even could have. I’m trying to remember if I even heard of them. Fascinating though. Next time we head that way I will have to be on the lookout for them ☺️

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve been through the Blue Mountain Parkway before, but not that far south and not a night. I’m more of a beach person, which I think you know, but I do like exploring woods now and then. I did more of that in my younger days, but I could handle pulling off a lookout point and hanging out with a camera 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post, Mae. While I did a lot of reading about this phenomenon before writing The Light, I sure didn’t manage to find this much good stuff. You are a veritable goddess of research! I love learning even more about a subject that has interested me as long as this one has. And you can’t help but wonder why they’ve not been able to pin down an answer that makes sense! Cars and trains, indeed!

    Thanks for a super post, Mae. Can’t wait to read your responses to everyone. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Marcia. And I’m thrilled you discovered a few nuggets of new information in there. I wish I had more time to devote to researching topics like this—oh, and I just had a gem of story idea! As if I need another one, LOL. Replying to your comment just made my muse wake with a burst of creative energy. Thank you for that. You didn’t even know what you were capable of, LOL!.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes I surprise myself, Mae! 😀 😀 😀 Glad I gave you an idea. (You wouldn’t want to share, would you? I’m a bit short on them lately, myself. 😀 )

        And I definitely enjoyed this post and learned a few new things, too. I knew these lights had been spotted for a couple of centuries, but no idea they went back as far as they do. So cool! 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Your energy is contagious. I’m thinking of taking my love of all things odd and turning them into an anthology of short stories, or taking a certain character from one of my books and having him explore them in a number of ongoing novellas. I just need to start writing.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is fascinating, Mae! I am SO drawn to phenomena like this. Maybe you’ve heard of the Marfa Lights? Like the Brown Mountain Lights, they occur in a place that has no water at all. In fact, it is the desert. And they’ve been recorded and written about as far back as records go. Three years ago, I had the great fun of visiting Marfa and witnessing the lights for myself. They do much like these Brown Mountain orbs are described. Thanks so much for sharing this! I love it and it’s now on my bucket list to go and see for myself!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Interesting stories about mountain lights! Wouldn’t they make an interesting book in your hands Mae? The electrical shock that they gave shows that they could be real and connected with the earth. I would like to explore them next time I visit NC.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I would definitely love to play around with a story idea related to them sometime in the future, Balroop. And hope to see them myself someday. I’ve only been to NC twice, but I’m sure I’ll get there again.
      I like your idea of them being connected to the earth. Something natural has to be going on!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. It took me a minute to find how to reply:) You’ve changed your website. Really impressive! All of the legends are interesting, but I especially like the Indian story of the dead braves and grieving maidens. I’d love to see this phenomenon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Uh-oh. As far as I know I haven’t changed anything. I’m kind of a freaked you didn’t find the normal means of replying. If something is off, please et me know.

      I’d love to see the lights. I’m especially intrigued how far back the legends go in history!

      Like

      • Hmm. I experimented. When I clicked on your page from your tweet, I got the one single post about the lights with all of the buttons at the bottom and the comments under that, like I usually do. When I clicked on it from your comment on the sidebar and from my e-mail, I got a page with that post and more. I had to click on a number in the right hand corner to find the buttons and comments. I’m not sure why I get two different things, depending on what I click on.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think because Twitter is fed from WP with a direct link? I usually always get the post and have to click on the comment bubble or link when I want to comment on someone’s post. I’m going to have to pay more attention to this, though, moving ahead, and see if there is a difference when I visit blogs. Thanks for sharing!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hm, I don’t know about the guy who touched one of the lights… maybe he was just ‘touched’ 🙂
    I DO love the legend about the guy who butchered his family though and some kind of poetic justice led to the lights highlighting where the bodies were buried. That’s pretty cool!
    The scientific cynic in me though says it’s probably just some weird natural phenomena like aurora borealis or something.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting lore surrounding those lights. I’d love to read something like that in a fantasy book – it’s right up my usual read – but I’m afraid the cynic in me wants a logical explanation for the real life, with no supernatural aspects. I’m sure the indian tales has some merit though. I bet those torches could be seen indeed, back when the people were looking for survivors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Jina! I love folklore like this. More than likely these lights are the result of a natural occurrence, but I love thinking about all the what if possibilities. And I agree they would be great in a fantasy book—or even one that uses urban legends. I’m so glad you dropped by to check out the tale!

      Like

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