3 May 2013


Ignis Fatuus .....

* A phosphorescent light that hovers or flits over swampy ground at night, possibly caused by spontaneous combustion of gases emitted by rotting organic matter. Also called friar's lanternjack-o'-lanternwill-o'-the-wispwisp.

Something that misleads or deludes; an illusion.
- The Free Dictionary.

The light from Liam's torch played thinly over the ground as they walked cautiously forward, several times disturbing little clouds of darting insects that rose up.

"Like will o' the wisps" said Liam.
"Ignis fatuus," said Michael softly. "The foolish fire. Odd how the old English folklore stays around, isn't it?"
"In Ireland they'll tell you that will o' the wisps meddle with none but the guilty," said Liam.
- Roots Of Evil by Sarah Rayne: Page 163.

Ah, Will o' Wisp (originally Will-with-the wisp, will being short for William and wisp, formally a twist of hay or straw burnt as a torch) an atmospheric ghost lights typically seen over bogs, swamps and marshes by travellers at night.

Will-with-the wisp?

In many of the European versions of the folk story, doomed to haunt the marshes with a light for some misdeed they had committed, for some unknown reason the protagonists were often named Will/William. 

Take for instance K.M. Briggs's book, A Dictionary Of Fairies, in which ....

A wicked blacksmith who, leading such a bad life is doomed to wander the world forever, Will Smith is given a single burning coal by the Devil with which to warm himself but instead of which he uses it to lure foolish travellers into the marshes.

But what of other phenomenon similar to that of will-o-wisp?

Well, we've already covered Jack O Lantern HERE but what of ......

  • Lancashire's Peg-a-Lantern
  • Jenny with the Lantern as she's known in Northumberland
  • Joan the Wad (Cornwell and Somerset)
  • Hinky Punk (Somerset and Devon: 'He' also achieved fame as a magical beast in the Harry Potter series of books)
  • Will o' the Wikes (Norfolk)
  • The Ellylldan/Pooka (Wales)
  • The Herwisch (The Rhine region, Germany)
  • Aleya (Asia)
  • Hitodama (Japan)
  • Boi-tatá (Brazil)
  • Min Min Light (Astern Australia) 

perhaps most sadly of all ..... 
  • The Spunkies of Somerset who were believed to be the souls of unchristened children doomed to wander until judgement day. In the Netherlands it is said these children, should you chance upon them at night, will lead you to water in the hope that they may be baptised and thus enter Heaven.
Believed that the myth may well have come from our ancestors belief that the human soul lived on as a light, though many of the tales involve the deceased , some stories have these unexplained lights as supernatural (elves and pixies) and others (the DanesFinnsSwedesEstonians, and Latvians included) as spirits that, guarding treasure, lead people who are brave enough to follow them to great riches.

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Dizzy C said...

Very interesting, Tracy

Have a great weekend


Nina Gray said...

hmmmm.. Will of the Wisp eh? as Dizzy says very interesting!

Michelle Vintagecobweb said...

Interesting read Tracy and as I type I'm still looking at David Essex and cannot believe I was watching Eastenders all that time and didn't know it was him.

Sorry..I just can't get over it.

Betty Manousos said...

brilliant and very interesting, tracy!

i linked to you today!


Kelly said...

Ooooo...loved this post, Tracy! Very interesting!

I think many places, especially rural ones, have their own legends or examples of this. I remember as a child hearing about one that could sometimes been seen on a railroad track in our area. Of course there was a good, scary story about who was "carrying" the light, but that escapes me now.

Brandi Kosiner said...

So neat to see how myths show up in so many places

The Golden Eagle said...

I didn't know William and Wisp was the origin of Will O Wisp. Makes more sense with that explanation!

Suko said...

Clever post as usual, Tracy! I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Love these little tid bit posts! Fun!

Jinky said...

Learned something today! Thanks.

Stephanie@Fairday's Blog said...

Well- I learned a ton here today. Thanks for shedding light on this topic (I am sorry- but I had to say it). :) Fascinating post!

Claudine G. said...

What a coincidence. I recently read a children's story where a Pooka was mentioned. Very interesting on the will o the wisps, and how sad about The Spunkies. Love your posts on mythical creatures, Petty!

Happy Okta said...

interesting post, tracy
learned something new

StarTraci said...

I had not heard of the Spunkies. That made me sad. :(


Aunt Mary said...

A very lovely description, with a fun element, interesting as always :)