In mythology and folklore dating back centuries, there have been reports of ghost lights. I am not talking about the orbs that we catch on our cameras. These are lights seen with the human eye and have been documented since before cameras even existed. Let's look at some of the stories. Are they really ghost lights or are they something else?
Hitodama refers to ghostly lights in Japanese folklore. They are considered to be the human soul that have detached from their host bodies. They often appear in cemeteries and look to be red, orange or blue-white orbs. They float close to the ground.
They are often seen on warm summer nights and tend to be in areas where people have recently passed, such as a cemetery or house. Most of the time they are seen just before or just after the moment of death which is when the soul is considered to leave the body and return to the ether. The ether (the place above the sky).
Image: by Queen Carmine Posted in Onibi Physiology
Onibi also comes from Japanese folklore. These are said to be the spirits born from the corpses of humans and animals and appear as blue, white, red or yellow-coloured fireballs. Described as demon fire, they are thought to be resentful and float at eye level. They drain a person’s life force and sometimes manifest the faces and voices of their victims. The lights usually appear and lure a traveler into the forest where they meet their death by demon fire. The orbs surround their victim and suck the life from them.
They can be very small only the size of a candle or as big as a human. There can be only 1 or 2 or there have been reports of up to 20 at a time. It is often mistaken for a distant lantern much like the next tale.
Will-o-the-wisps date back to the 13th century but were identified long before it was documented on paper. In fact, they are probably some of the most well-known ghostly lights throughout history. Cornish, Nordic and Indigenous peoples would often warn of the dangers of these lights. Shakespeare referred to these lights using their Latin name ignus fatuus in King Henry IV. They were even referenced in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
This particular light is considered to be an omen. It appears as a ball of light which can sometimes be so bright, it can hurt your eyes. Other times it is so dim that you have to squint to even see it. It is often blue in colour, however red lights have also been reported. Some people have reported seeing a dark figure carrying the light like it was a torch or lantern.
The lights according to mythology are carried by spirits who are in purgatory and shut out of heaven and hell. The lights appear to predict the future and appear to people before their death and often lead them to their fate.
Reports of these lights are during warmer months in marsh and wetland type areas.
The story is said to be about a Blacksmith by the name of Will. He was a trouble maker and when he died and went to heaven, Saint Peter told him to be better in his next life. The second time around, he got into even more trouble. He was cursed to roam Earth forever. Much to the Devil's delight in Will's actions, he gave Will coal to keep him warm at night. Will used this to light his lantern and lure poor souls to their deaths.
Interestingly, I have had my own experience with what is described as Will'O the Wisp lights. I was with a couple of friends walking through a large cemetery one night (which is open all hours), to wind down after an investigation at a nearby location. We were walking on the large concrete path, when suddenly to the front left of us we saw what looked like 3 lanterns as if people were exploring the graves. We sort of stopped because we didn't know what they were doing and we didn't want any trouble to start as they weren't walking on the path, they were amongst the graves. The lights got quite close and it was then we realised that we couldn't see any people carrying these 'lanterns'. The lights suddenly disappeared. We immediately started looking for people or anyone that could have been walking through with lanterns. We couldn't find anyone around. It was also a bit weird because people generally don't walk through places at night with a lantern unless they are on some sort of historical or ghost-themed tour. Most people would probably be using their phone light or a torch. While it could have had a very simple explanation, I can see how the WIll'O the wisp is one of the more popular ghost light sightings reported all over the World, as it happened to me too!
Here in Australia, I have spoken to many who have witnessed the Min Min Lights. They are said to be fluorescent hovering balls that appear just above the horizon. Indigenous Australians believe that these lights are the spirits of their elders.
They are usually white, but they can also appear to be green, yellow red and very rarely blue. When you approach them, they seem to move away. The local legend was that if the light caught up with you, that was the end.
I wrote about the Min Min lights in more detail in the 2023 edition of Hallozween magazine.
Image: Sign at Boulia, Queensland
There is a large ORB debate in the paranormal community. While we know that our cameras can create this orb effect, people still claim to see these lights with their own eyes. In fact, many will argue that it is a true orb if you see it with your own eyes. People who are very sensitive to the paranormal claim to see them all the time during their paranormal investigations. I am not overly sensitive to the paranormal, but I have experienced this type of sighting and I don't have an explanation for it. I was at J Ward prison for the criminally insane where I was standing outside the underground kitchen. I suddenly saw what looked like a bright flickering orb-type light float down from the top of the window and then it disappeared. It was strange because it was like it was floating down, it wasn't fast like something was falling and it wasn't slow like a bug or spider. I said out loud 'Look at the light' very loudly. What made this experience interesting was that there were investigators upstairs recording an EVP session. They saw this light and saw it floating down and said so on their recording. You can then hear me faintly saying look at the light. So here was this strange light seen by 3 different people not influenced by the other. I don't know what this light was. There were no lights turned on and I didn't have a torch on so I don't think it was a reflection. Coupled with the fact noises were coming from inside the kitchen and no one was in there. I don't have an explanation for it and today it remains the only time I have seen a ball of light like that with my own eyes.
There are a few different explanations that scientists believe can account for this phenomenon. In the same way fireflies can react to light, they believe that there may be a type of bioluminescent fungus or algae that could produce light in the right conditions. Another explanation is a mixture of natural gases namely methane, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Methane is known to spontaneously combust when it comes into contact with air. Is this what causes a burning ball of light?
What is interesting, particularly with a lot of the cases relating to ghost lights is that many are documented during warmer months in areas where there is water, moisture or it is raining. Does this make it the perfect combination for atmospheric ghost balls?
Some say they are mistaken as headlights on the horizon, while other explanations are that they are UFOs. Regardless of what it is, what we do know is that it is a very real phenomenon, but I guess like much with the paranormal, the jury is out as to what exactly causes it?
Have you seen ghost lights with your eyes? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.
In this article we have explored ghostly lights through the eyes of myth and folklore. To explore this topic further, check out my article Light anomalies you see with your own eyes where I look at more types of lights that people see such as Floaters, Flashers & Auras, fireflies and ball lightning!
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