Friday, March 2, 2012

Earth Lights

They are called Earth Lights-mysterious points of illumination seen all over the world with the naked eye, by millions of people throughout the ages...and still there is no definitive, satisfying scientific explanation for them. So what are they? Most cases of what folks think they have seen have proven to be the reflection of train, airplane or automobile lights, or even campfires.

Brown Mountain Lights (Photo courtesy L.E.M.U.R)
What is concretely known is that true Earth Lights are something other than what  is mentioned in  folklore as  will-'o- the- wisp or foxfire, which is caused by the creation of  combining methane and phosphorous such as produced by  decaying organic material in wetlands. Swamp gas is the more familiar term used in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the United States. The accepted theory is that the gasses combine to cause a moment of spontaneous combustion-hence the burst of flickering light seen as a flame under the right conditions. While the phenomenon is more often seen over brackish water, foxfire can be seen glowing on rotting wood almost anywhere. The name for this seemingly supernatural event varies from place to place, made mysterious by folk tales and legends of the area.   'Church folk' living deep in the in the mountainous back country of the Appalachian US who tenaciously cling to the superstitions and stories of haints blend those tales with extreme Biblical fundamentalism, evangelical or Pentecostal religions and Spiritualism, and often refer to them fearfully as 'devil' lights or demons. Occult practitioners generally tend to lump any type of Earth Light or similar mystery under the the heading of  soul lights or attribute them to the Ancestors or the  Fae.

It is posited that Earth Lights are something different all together  from will-'o-the-wisps because their appearance seems to be associated historically with mountainous regions. They have been seen in Europe and Asia, far to the north in areas of Scandinavia, and in North and South America. During a visit to Australia several years ago, the indigenous people I met in the region of Uluru (Ayres Rock) called them Min Min. They said their existence stretched back to the legends of  The Dreamtime (a time of creation before history). The Aborigines tell tales of orbs of light which would suddenly appear, approach men, then disappear-only to reappear again later at a distance. They were not frightened by the Min Min and were actually a bit blase about the experience because they have accepted them into their mythology as a form of nature spirit or possibly the spirits of ancestors. To them, Earth Lights are simply another part of Nature.

The subject of Earth Lights-and any natural phenomenon with a connection to myth-is intriguing to me. I am not a scientist by a long shot, but because I am a spiritual director with training in Jungian psychology I am keenly interested in folk stories because their superstitious nature is almost always a reflection of the spiritual practice and lifestyle of the people inhabiting that particular area.When I moved to North Carolina, one of the first of its many natural wonders I heard about were the famous Brown Mountain Lights. Brown Mountain is a low-lying ridge situated on the border of Burke County, in the Pisgah National Forest and is in fact a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area was previously inhabited by Cherokee Indians, and settlers from Scotland and Ireland whose descendants are Appalachian mountain people. Storytelling and folklore have a rich heritage which includes the usual tales of  revenuers and illegal moonshine stills, apparitions of ghostly Indian lovers, lost miners and  other things falling under the label of the paranormal including werewolves and the occasional appearance of Big Foot. It is beautifully lush and rolling green country dotted with naked granite peaks that evokes memories of the Highlands.I can see why my Scot-Irish ancestors felt at home. It is a place where the  Green Man dances and the Mother Goddess reaches up from the soil.

I did not know before I moved here that North Carolina has over 24 major energy vortexes, more than even Sedona, Arizona.( Mount Mitchell, not far  from Brown Mountain, is not only the highest mountain East of the Mississippi but it  has the distinction of being one of the largest electromagnet conduits on the planet according to author and renowned metaphysical teacher Page Bryant in her book The Spiritual Reawakening of the Great Smoky Mountains.(  Native American mythology places a Great Diva on Mount Mitchell, who insures  the protection of the area including the surrounding mountains and insures the proper function of the energy generator/ley line/conduit.( My personal experience with the vibration of Mount Mitchell is nothing short of magickal; the heady feeling of the vortex is at once disconcerting and exhilarating-not the same feeling as oxygen deprivation at all. It is clearly something else). Brown Mountain has a similar feel, but to a much lesser extent. The terrain is pockmarked with holes and underground caverns, and the feeling there is more likely produced by negative ions of running water than a vortex ( If there is a vortex, I suspect it is a very low level one).

The fabled Earth Lights of Brown Mountain are seen from just after dark right up to dawn. Reports are that they have appeared as bouncing balls of light: dancing, floating, gliding points of illumination in a rainbow of colors-blue, red, orange white and violet. Eyewitness accounts ( have been that the lights appear both singularly and in groups and can change colors as they are being viewed. They have been seen playing along the top of the ridge as well as farther down the mountain. One of the best places to view them is Wiseman’s View Overlook about five miles south of the village of Linville Falls, but they can also be clearly seen from the Lost Cove Cliffs Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway as well (which is where I saw them).  The locals will tell you that looking for Earth Lights during the autumn months-particularly after a rain- yields the most fruitful results. The phenomenon of The Lights have been examined twice by the US Geological Survey, the US Weather Service (NOAA), and many private paranormal organizations. They were featured in a 1999 episode of the X Files television show and a National Geographic special. Author Alexander H. Key was inspired to write the children's classic Escape to Witch Mountain when he moved his family to North Carolina by the Brown Mountain Lights.

The most extensive research to date on the Brown Mountain Lights has been initiated by  paranormal expert Joshua P. Warren, the founder of the League of Energy Materialization and Unexplained phenomena Research.  L.E.M.U.R. is known worldwide as a reliable investigative source: its work has been featured on the Discovery Channel, History Channel, Travel Channel, TLC, and Sci-Fi. They were the team that filmed the Brown Mountain Lights for the National Geographic. What does the L.E.M.U.R. Team think? Joshua P. Warren has theorized that because the optimum conditions for the appearance of the Brown Mountain Lights is during the months of October and November (usually after a rain storm)they could be a form of plasma created by the intersection of  charged negative ions from water running through the vast amount of  granite, quartz and magnetite found in the layers of soil making up the mountains with carbon in the air. The L.E.M.U.R. Team experienced heightened activity on Brown Mountain under just such conditions after forest fires saturated the atmosphere with carbon. However, due to some anomaly with their Geiger counter and some other meters they could not necessarily rule out alpha, beta or gamma radiation as a source. The summary of that investigation is posted here ( ).

Joshua P. Warren's opinion generally reflects that of those who have been living  near Brown Mountain for years. Warren, born in Asheville, is quite familiar with the ghost stories and legends of North Carolina. Leading an investigation of the Brown Mountain Lights was a natural for him. We met in Asheville about 3 years ago when he spoke at a conference and I found him to be refreshingly  self-effacing. He is a level-headed, reasonable man with an interest in the paranormal since his High School days, and he has a wait and see attitude that I appreciate. He's not inclined to jump to conclusions about hauntings  and the like, and he's personally debunked some of Asheville's most revered legends with just such an attitude.

But what do I think? I think the folks around Brown Mountain are doing what people have done since the beginning for time: cloaking things of Nature in a myth that makes sense to their spiritual selves and making the unknown a little less strange and frightening. I agree with Wiccan author Scott Cunningham and others who declare the 'supernatural' is non-existent because to be supernatural something must exist outside or beyond Nature. In my humble opinion,the Brown Mountain Lights, although mysterious and still sensationally appealing to the curious, are just a benign occurrence of the natural world. I like to think of them as the Goddess' gift of fireworks and a little reminder that Nature does, indeed, extend its glories beyond the limited imagination of humans.


  1. Truly fascinating phenomena... great post!

  2. Great post! I love this type of information.

  3. I love Asheville! In general I enjoy visiting & camping in the mountains, but Asheville is definitely the grooviest place I've ever been.


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