Saturday, October 27, 2018

Will-O-The-Wisp and Other Lights

Mr. S. and I sometimes walk around in the evening and notice orbs (balls) of light which are blue. We also see a glow of light around the lower edges of the house which look like stage lights in a theatre.  Once we watched as some light traveled from the ground to the roof and over to the other side of the house in a flame!  We have seen these cold flames in trees at night and on the outside walls of the sheds, and houses. The lights are also white or yellow.

They are seen close to the evening and more often in the pitch darkness, when most of us are asleep.

 We always wondered what it was, until recently someone sent us some information about the will-o'-the-wisps, which were often seen around damp areas with dead leaves, swamp lands, lakes,  foggy areas, and many other places. We live in an area that used to be a river, and now is an old river bed, so naturally there will be a vapor that comes at night.

 After learning more about the ignis-fatuus, an atmospheric light created by a combination of humidity, coldness and darkness, it does not seem so mysterious. Studies have been made of these "lesser lights"  and information on their science began back in the 1700's and more is available now.

These lights get their name from the appearance of someone carrying a lantern and the way the light bobs up and down as someone is walking along.  "Will" was apparently a name, and he was supposed to be carrying  some lighted wisps of hay, which looked like someone walking with a lantern: William of the wisps. Just the right amount of air around the ball of light can make it appear to be a lantern being carried along by someone.

Some sources say the will-o'-the-wisps,  a completely natural occurance, were also the origin of the name "jack-o'-lantern" because it looked like a man carrying a lantern: o' being a contraction of the word "of." Jack, of the lantern. These lights are seen in the autumn, which is generally darker, wetter and colder, creating the right condition for these dancing lights;  hence the superstitious celebrations in that season.

According to history, will-o'-the-wisps were wispy bundles of sticks or hay that were lit and glowed in the dark, usually in marshy areas, water logged places, etc. Old poems, songs and stories contained references to the will-o'-the-wisp, often turning it into the source of mystery lights and folk tales. People going on walks at night would see it but not understand where the fire was coming from, but it was quite commonly observed until more of the swamps were drained and turned into farmland. Still, it is possible to see this combustion-like display  between two trees where it is damp and there are a lot of fallen leaves.

A few winters ago we had a very foggy season, and a friend of mine told me I was the only person she ever knew that created a season and a fashion from fog. You might recall my fog capes, fog tea and fog celebrations.  I wonder what I could do with the will-o'-the wisp!  I must think I have nothing better to do!  I think I'll give that one a pass.

Popular songs of the 1920's  through the 1950's contained romantic references to the will-o'-the wisps.

As they occur at night, in country areas (swamps, wet land, woods), in cold weather, in the dark and in wet conditions, it is possible that many of you have never seen them,


Quite a few things that are still today viewed as mysterious, have nothing to do with anything sinister at all, and I think the will-o'-the-wisp falls into the natural science category. The old McGuffey Readers for Christian Schools had a reference to the will-o'-the-wisps. I think it is good to know some things about it so you can reassure frightened people that it is something natural.

While they appear to be flames or balls of fire, they are not hot, and never burn anything. They are a natural phenomenon that comes from certain atmospheric conditions which produce cold fire that appears to go out as soon as anything warm comes close to it.

The will-o-the-wisp does not prove other kinds of lights with people's shadows that show up at night on outside walls. That sort of thing has yet to be explained.

  Mr. S. is fascinated with these natural night-lights that appear as flames  (some people are fond of a good blaze) but I would rather be inside the house at night looking at the cold computer screen.








9 comments:

Mallorie said...

Wow, how fascinating. Thank you for sharing. I would like to see that someday. Amazing, the wonders and beauties in God's creation.

magnoliasntea said...

Very interesting! I've never seen any will o' the wisps, but my husband says he has. Thank you for sharing. Happy Lord's Day!

magnoliasntea said...

My husband says they called it swampfire where he grew up in Virginia.

Lydia said...

Yes, it has other names, including swampfire. It is the result of gasses above the surface that turn into cold lights.

There are other places like the desert, mountains, plains and prairiee that have lights, each of a slightly different nature.

I have not seen the glassy mirror-like light you used to see on the old highways, in a long time, and I wonder if there has been a change in the materials used. It used to look like a lake in the distance and was a result of the sun and heat and the highway materials.

amulbunny's random thoughts said...

Aw shucks, no aliens? We still see mirages on roads that are primarily asphalt but not so much on the concrete roads.
We've had dense fog warnings the last few nights till 10AM. Nice to have the humidity back. Hopefully the temps will go back to the 60's soon. I've had enough of summer temps in the fall.
Hopefully we'll have nice cool weather when we go to the midwest for Thanksgiving.

polka-dot peony said...

I read it to my husband and he really enjoyed it. He commented that in Ohio they called it swamp fire as well. :o)

Shared your post with another blog paring a Fall celebration with a meal. What a fun time to share this over the dinner table!

Dianne Plourde said...

So interesting!! I need to look up more about these! Thank you for sharing this!

Lydia said...

Diane, I'm always in for increasing my knowledge about things that didn't seem to have an explanation. I'm glad I found out something about these glowing lights. Another thing I read was that you should not attempt to follow them, lest your feet land in a puddle, because that is where these lights are produced.

Convivial Supper said...

I've never seen these - lived in the swaps and the deep south for ever. Even on the prairie - But I really like the mystery! Very interesting.

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