Ghosts lights or Will O’ the Wisps are a phenomenon that have been with us for centuries. In England, the lights were said to be lanterns or torches carried by the fae who, like the merfolk in other tales, were set to lead poor, weary travelers astray.
There are two places in the United States that are quite famous for their local ghost lights. The Marfa Lights in Marfa, Texas are a well-known occurrence that have been studied at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Reports include brightly glowing lights and basketball-sized spheres, that quickly dart around in many directions, appear in pairs or groups and disappear, reappear, merge and even move in patterns. The town is so proud of them that they have placed highway markers indicating where tourists can pull over to watch for the lights.
I remember watching a television show about the Brown Mountain Lights in western North Carolina. The lights have been seen for hundreds of years and many different legends try to explain the phenomenon. The Cherokees thought they were the souls of the Cherokee women searching for their men who had died in a great battle between the Cherokee and the Catawba that took place on Brown Mountain. Another story suggests that the lights are a psychic replay of search that took place in the mountains during a search for a murdered woman in the 19th century.
The most widely-known legend actually has its own song that was recorded in the 1950s, “Brown Mountain Light.” This legend tells the story of a man, accompanied by a companion, who becomes lost while hunting. The trusted companion continues to search for the man in the wilds of the mountains, even after his death. The lights are the glow of his lantern as he searches.
Now all of this is great, especially because it’s generally a phenomenon that occurs far away from your home, right?
It was late at night. I don’t remember why I was awake, but when I’m awake, the dogs are awake and their call of nature is awake. So, at about three o’clock in the morning, I was standing on the back deck and the dogs were running around the yard answering the call.
I remember it was a warm night and I could see the stars. In the timber, at the far end of our acreage I heard an owl hoot and then I heard a slightly squeakier response. It sounded like a mother owl was conversing with her child. The owl would hoot again and the juvenile owl would respond. It was charming and I focused my eyes on the copse of trees in the distance where I heard the squeakier response, hoping I would get to see the youngster fly out of the trees across the pasture.
Then I noticed a light. Just below the trees. At first I wondered if a car was going down the road, but I realized I didn’t hear anything. I immediately thought, “Crap! Flashlight! Someone is in our woods.” But as I watched the light dart and move, unless the person holding the flashlight could fly, it wasn’t a flashlight either. I watched the light flutter around the trees, almost as if it were dancing. Almost as if it were beckoning me to come and follow.
A chill ran down my spine as that thought entered my mind. I called to the dogs and they came immediately, and I retreated to the safety of my house, locking the door securely behind me.
The next day, I told my husband about my experience and, to my surprise, he confessed that he too had had an experience with the lights.
Several years earlier, but about this time of year, he had been out in the yard. It was late evening and he’d gone out to check on the chickens. When he got out of the barn, dusk had turned to twilight and the woods were dark. He started to walk back to the house when he saw a light darting around in the woods. Immediately thinking it was one of the kids, he walked toward the woods, calling out. “Hey, who’s out there.”
There was no answer. But, upon hearing his voice, the light held steady and remained in place. He walked closer to the light and as soon as he got within ten yards it started to move too, into the forest. He paused, and it would pause. There were no sounds of footfalls on top of the leaves and twigs on the ground. No sign of a person holding the light. Just the light.
He stepped forward again, and the light darted back. Then a cold chill went down his spine as the legend of the Will O’ the Wisp his Scottish mother had told him, entered his mind. He stayed where he was, watching the floating light for a few more moments, then retreated and hurried back to the house.
Ghost lights? Will O’ The Wisp? Fairy lanterns? Ancient torches?
Just like the Motel 6 commercial … they’ll leave the light on for you.