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Traditions of the Winter Solstice

 

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The Darkest Time

 

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Memories of Christmas Past

 

Ghost Lights

 

We Three Kings

 

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The Devils Footprints

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Ghost Lights

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost Lights

Ghost lights are points or spheres of light, which look, but do not act like either ball lightning or UFOs. In many cases (as with the Brown Mountain lights and the Marfa lights), legends have grown around them associating them with apparitions of the dead. In 1635, Nathaniel Crouch wrote about the Native American observation of a flame that appears in the dead of night upon their wigwams of those soon to die. And in 1656, John Davis, a vicar in Cardigan-shire, Wales, recorded coloured lights that foretold deaths. They could appear anywhere he said, in the open air, in doorways, or inside a house - a small light for the death of a child, a bigger one for that of an adult. Several lights together meant as many deaths. In 1897 R. Maclagan published a collection of ghost-light tales and reports from the Scottish Highlands. These, told by an Islay man are typical: "One time these lights were seen moving about at night on the rocks on the shore near Kilchearan. Shortly after that, a vessel was wrecked there, and the body of a man was washed ashore at the spot where the lights had been seen. One time lights were seen on Lochandaal, between Bowmore and Blackrock. Not long after, two young men were crossing the loch on a small boat, and at the place at which the lights had been seen the boat was capsized and the two lads drowned." Traditions of "corpse candles" continued into the 20th century. A Welsh informant said, "The death-candle appears like a patch of bright light; and no matter how dark the room or place is, everything in it is as clear as day. The candle is not a flame, but a luminous mass, light blue in color, which dances as though borne by an invisible agency, and sometimes it rolls over and over. If you go up to the light, it is nothing, for it is a spirit."

In early December 1904 a 38-year-old Welsh housewife, Mary Jones of Egryn, Merionethshire, had a vision of Jesus, and began a Christian revival which attracted international attention - not least because of the phenomena that accompanied it. The lights had an odd quality: sometimes - but not always - they were visible to some people but not to others who should have been able to see them. A London Daily Mirror reporter and his photographer experienced a sighting. They had gone to Egryn, hoping to see the lights. At 10 p.m. after waiting for 3½ hours, a light resembling an "unusually brilliant carriage lamp" appeared about 400 yards away. As the reporter approached, it took the form of a 4' wide beam close to the chapel where Mrs. Jones worked. "For a moment it lay across the road, then extended itself up the wall on either side. It did not rise above the walls. As I stared, fascinated, a kind of quivering radiance flashed with lightning speed from one end of the bar to the other, and the whole thing disappeared. "Look! Look!" cried two women standing just behind me, "Look at the Light!" I found they had seen exactly what had appeared to me. Now comes a startling sequel. Within 10 yards of where that band of vivid light had flashed across the road, stood a group of 15 or 20 people. I went up to them, all agog to hear exactly what they thought of the manifestations - but not one of those I questioned had seen anything at all!" He does not say what, if anything, his photographer saw, or why he took no photographs. (No photos of the lights are known to exist, and some claim that the lights can’t be photographed.) This was not the only journalist to report such an experience.

December 22nd 1904, 5:18 p.m. Three observers saw "a large light about half way from the earth to the sky, on the south side of Capel Egryn, and in the middle of it something like [a] bottle or black person, also some little lights scattering around the large light in many colors." Jan 2, 1905, 10:40 p.m.: "Hovering above a certain farmhouse, it appeared to me as 3 lamps about 3 yards apart - very brilliant and dazzling, moving and jumping like a sea-wave under the influence of the sun on a very hot day. The light continued so for 10 minutes. All my family saw it the same time." Early January, 10 to 10:30 p.m.: "I saw two very bright lights, about half a mile away, one a big white light, the other smaller and red in color. The latter flashed backwards and forwards, and finally seemed in the same place again, but a few minutes after, we saw another light which seemed to be a few yards above the ground. It now looked like one big flame, and all around it seemed like one big glare of light. It flamed up and went out alternately for about 10 minutes. "Beriah G. Evans of the Barmouth Advertiser wrote that while walking with Mrs. Jones and three others early on the evening of January 31st 1905, he saw "three brilliant rays of light strike across the road from mountain to sea, throwing the stone wall 20 or 30 yards in front into bold relief, every stone plainly visible. There was not a living soul there, nor house, from which it could have come." ½ a mile later, a "blood-red light" appeared in the middle of the village street 1' above the ground and immediately ahead. It vanished suddenly. A fortnight later a London journalist had an almost identical experience. He, and a woman nearby, saw a broad band of white light cross the road near the chapel, and come to rest on the wall. Half a dozen others present at the time saw nothing. Others have had an almost precisely similar experiences. Some manifestations claimed multiple and independent witnesses. Once, as Mrs. Jones was holding a revival meeting in Bryncrug, the downward rays of a ball of fire lit up the church. It was seen by passers-by. Another time, Mrs. Jones and three companions were traveling in a carriage in broad daylight when a bright light with no apparent source suddenly shone on them. The occupants of two other carriages including two skeptical journalists saw the sight as did Barmouth residents awaiting her arrival. On Feb 23 the Advertiser noted a report by two men, one a prominent farmer, of a "gigantic human form rising over a hedge-row. Then a ball of fire appeared above and a long ray of light pierced the figure, which vanished."

In February 1909, there was excitement in Stockton, Pa, over the "appearance at night of an arrow of flame, which hovers over the spot on the mountain where the dismembered body of a woman was found in a barrel two years ago. The light appears every night at about 9 o'clock and hovers over the spot until midnight, but it disappears when anyone approaches the spot to investigate. The superstitious villagers say it is the avenging spirit of the slain woman come back to keep alive the history of the crime so that the murderers may some day be apprehended."

Lights also were associated with appearances of fairies. A young Irish student at Oxford University told this story "Some few weeks before Christmas, 1910, at midnight on a very dark night, I and another young man (who like myself was then about 23 years of age) were on horseback on our way home from Limerick. When near Listowel, we noticed a light about ½ a mile ahead. At first it seemed to be no more than a light in some house; but as we came nearer and it was passing out of our direct line of vision we saw that it was moving up and down, to and fro, diminishing to a spark, then expanding into a yellow luminous flame. Before we came to Listowel we noticed two lights, about 100 yards to our right, resembling the first. Suddenly each of these lights expanded into the same sort of yellow luminous flame, about 6' high by 4' broad. In the midst of each flame we saw a radiant being having human form. Presently the lights moved toward one another and made contact, whereupon the two beings in them were seen to be walking side by side. The beings' bodies were formed of a pure dazzling radiance, white like the radiance of the sun, and much brighter than the yellow light or aura surrounding them. So dazzling was the radiance like a halo round their heads that we could not distinguish the countenance of the beings; we could only distinguish the general shape of their bodies; though their heads were very clearly outlined because this halo-like radiance, which was the brightest light about them, seemed to radiate from or rest upon the head of each being. As we traveled on, a house intervened between us and the lights, and we saw no more of them."

Ghost lights are often localized to one area. These become the focus of legends, of lantern-bearing ghosts searching for something they lost in life (like a head). Few have been properly investigated, but many turn out to be reflections of distant car headlights, or from stars and planets refracted through layers of air of varying temperatures. Yet even these yield puzzling reports. This may be due to faulty human perception, of course, but sometimes the witnesses are scientists and other trained observers. There are also unambiguously mysterious lights which serious, sustained investigations by sober field researchers have not been able to explain. Two major examples are the lights at the Yakima Reservation of south Washington and in the Hessdalen Valley of Norway.

The thinly populated 3500 sq. miles Yakima reservation has rugged wilderness in the west and flatlands in the east. In the late 1960s forest rangers, fire-control personnel, and others began reporting bright white lights low in the sky over rough terrain both north and south of Toppenish Ridge, which cuts through the east-central section. When these reports came to Bil Vogel, chief fire control officer, he was somewhat skeptical. Late one night, as he was on patrol south of Toppenish, he saw something above a hill. "It was easy to see then that the object most certainly was no aircraft," he said. "Also there was no discernible lateral movement. Even without binoculars the object's teardrop shape, with the small, pointed end above, was obvious. Brilliantly white in the center, the outer edges were fluorescent tan or light orange with a surrounding halo like glow. It had a mouse like tail or antenna pointing upward from the small end, as long as the object itself, and segmented into colors of red, blue, green, and white which were constantly changing brilliancy and hue." Over the next 90 minutes Vogel photographed the object, which eventually vanished to the south over the Simcoe Mountains. This was the first of a number of sightings for Bill. Soon he was busy investigating sightings on the reservation. Most of the reports he gathered were from his own fire lookouts, all trained and reliable observers, but he also interviewed many local people who had seen the lights.

Astronomer and ex-Air Force UFO consultant J. Allen Hynek persuaded the Tribal Council to allow David Akers of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), to set up equipment on the reservation to monitor the lights. On August 19, 1972, his first night on the reservation, Akers and Vogel, saw two round, glowing, red-orange lights circling, changing places, and going on and off as they maneuvered west of White Swan, a town in the north-central region. He took photographs. Other sightings and photos followed until Akers left at the end of the month. Technical problems prevented him from getting the other hard data he was seeking, but Akers left convinced that "something very strange and unusual is taking place." Some of the strangest cases involved apparent mental communications. Though most sightings were distant, some were from no more than a few hundred yards, yet somehow witnesses were prevented from getting closer. They reported "hearing" a voice in their heads saying, "Stay back, or you'll get hurt," and feeling restrained. One lookout saw a shaft of bright, purple light shining down around her cabin. When she tried to go out to investigate, she felt as if "two magnets were repelling each other" and blocking her exit. Puzzled but determined, she even ran at the entrance several times but could not get through. Observers often reported feeling as if they were seeing something they were not meant to see, and more often than not they removed themselves from the area. The Yakima sightings have subsided since 1986.

The Hessdalen lights also subsided in 1986, but for a period of several years they were the target of an investigation which combined the efforts of ufologists, scientists, and locals. The 150 inhabitants of the Hessdalen Valley, a 12 km stretch of central Norway near the Swedish border, began to experience odd luminous phenomena in November 1981 The lights sometimes appeared as often as four times a day, often below the horizon along mountain tops, near the ground, or on the rooftops. Usually white or yellow-white, they typically were shaped like cigars, spheres, or an inverted Christmas tree. In this last case, according to miner Bjarne Lillevold, the light was "bigger than the cottage beside it. It was about 4 m above the hill and had a 'red blinking light; there seemed also to be a curious 'blanket' over the whole thing. "The object moved up and down like a yo-yo for about 20 minutes. When it was close to the ground, the light faded, but at the height of the maneuver it was so bright that I could not look at it for long. When the light was near the ground, I could see through it as though it was made of glass." Often, other witnesses said, a red light was positioned in front. The lights hovered, sometimes for an hour, then shot off at extraordinary speed - mostly they traveled from north to south. On March 26 1982. UFO-Norge investigators brought residents together to discuss the sightings. Of the 130 who attended, 35 said they’d seen the lights. In 1983, Project Hessdalen secured technical assistance, including the participation of scientists from the Universities of Oslo and Bergen. Equipment was set up. The results of the vigil Jan /Feb 1984, were interesting. Lights seemed to respond when laser beams were aimed at them. On February 12, one object "changed its flashing sequence from a regular flashing light to a regular double flashing light, After about 10 seconds we stopped the laser and the light immediately changed back to its previous flashing sequence. After about another 10 seconds we repeated the exercise and again the light responded by changing to a double-flash sequence. In all we repeated this exercise 4 times and every time we got the same reaction from the light." Looking back on the episode, University of Oslo physicist Elvand Thrane, a research participant, remarked, "I'm sure the lights were real. It's a pity we cannot explain them."

Ghost lights seem to defy classification. Ball lightning, though accepted by physicists and meteorologists, also defies explanation, in that no one has been able to find a physical mechanism that accounts for all its features. We know that it nearly always occurs during thunderstorm activity, is seen just after and near a lightning strike, lasts a few seconds to (rarely) a minute or two, and often disappears in an explosion which leaves a sulfur like odor. Clearly, whatever the similarity in shape and luminosity, ghost lights are not examples of ball lightning. Other hypotheses, notably "earthlights" and "tectonic stress theory," hold that ghost lights are the products of subterranean processes, which not only create luminous energy on the surface but also generate hallucinations in observers. Neither explanation has won any significant acceptance.

By Sylvia Richards December 2009