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Witch Lights | Part 1

Mason Winfield’s Twilight on the Western Door: The Spiritual, Supernatural and Paranormal

Witch Lights | Part 1

© 2015 Mason Winfield

The lights have been with us since the beginning of time, and they will be with us until the end of time.

DuWayne Leslie Bowen

Some of the 20th century’s most prominent paranormal scholars started their careers in search of the answer to the UFO phenomenon whose early peak was in the 1960s. Two original thinkers, British authors Paul Devereux and the late John Michell, were among them. The UFO mess was so mind-boggling to them that they despaired of ever solving it. In the desperate search for any consistencies at all, they found other levels of complexity to the matter that proved more fascinating to them and led them in new directions.

Like a profiler stalking a serial killer through a file of correspondences, Michell started out tracking parallels in UFO sightings, including those of the witness-experience. Where the sky lights and discs were spotted – and where witnesses stood when they reported them – had connections to a broad pattern of sites Michell called “places of ancient sanctity”: burials, monuments, natural shrines, and temples. Michell started studying the sites themselves, and today may be most remembered for his development of understanding about ancient landscapes, particularly his insights about the “ley” system – alignments between sacred sites. Not only was his book A New View over Atlantis (1969) a flower-power landmark that hooked a lot of Continental hippies on ancient mysteries, but it led to a broad new wave of interest in archeoastronomy and geomancy (“earth magic”) and directly rooted the work of next-generation scholars including Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval (figures who have made their way solidly into American TV).

Devereux took a different direction with UFOs. He started backtracking reports and re-interviewed as many of the UFO witnesses as he could. Not all of them were describing the classic “sky lights” reported in the media as UFOs – presumably extraterrestrial vehicles. Devereux came to conclude that two different types of things were getting lumped into the UFO mix. A great many of the witnesses in published UFO reports were describing other, more terrestrial, types of lights. The confusion was likely caused by hasty newspaper reporters who had so little belief in UFOs that they didn’t bother to get the stories straight.

Devereux studied these “Earth Lights,” as he called them, and concluded that most of them came from the natural energies of the earth. Earth lights became the subjects and the title of his first book. He separated them into categories:

1) BALL LIGHTNING. This is a nexus of light, usually spherical, often many-colored, that manifests, cavorts, and then escapes or dissipates. Once widely thought to be paranormal, ball lightning was generally accepted by the 1960s. It often shows itself inside enclosed spaces like buildings or airplanes. Its causes are still debated.

2) WILL-O-THE-WISP. This is the famous “swamp gas” personified in the British Isles as “Will of the (lighted) Wisp,” sometimes “Jack of the Lantern,” fated to wander the world’s lonely places with his woeful searchlight till the Judgment Day. Caused by decomposing organic matter whose gases can ignite into a glowing burn, this ignis fatuus (“fool’s fire”) has been understood for a long time. Because it appears so often in the forbidding conditions of a swamp or bog – you run to it at your peril – the folkloric projection to a witch or an isolated soul is a natural one.

3) EARTHQUAKE LIGHTS. Abbreviated EQLs, these strange lights sometimes turn up on or near the surface of the earth above fault lines just before seismic disturbances. Even “the father of American phenomenalism,” Charles Fort (1874-1942), listed appearances of EQLs in his books at a time when they were considered paranormal. EQLs are accepted today. Grinding tectonic plates beneath the earth can create enormous electric charges – piezoelectricity – that can manifest as murky light-forms or a general glow by the surface. It’s like the nick off the flint that sparks the tinder. The phenomenon has been photographed and filmed a number of times.

It’s not hard to see how Devereux’s phenomena could become figures of folklore that could only grow under the influence of storytelling. But Devereux’s categories don’t fit everything people say they see, especially in regions that lack peat bogs or seismic turmoil. When the appearances of these mystery lights steep a place or a region, it’s often regarded as a sign of many ghosts, particularly if there was once a battle there or any tradition at all of occultism. Their folk names in English are most often “ghost lights,” “spook lights,” or “witch lights.” Stay tuned for Part 2.

© 2015 Mason Winfield

Mason Winfield is the author of eleven books on supernatural-paranormal subjects. He is the host of a podcast program on the GPY network also called Twilight on the Western Door. At Twilight on the Western Door we welcome questions and comments.

Written by Mason Winfield

Mason Winfield

The founder of New York’s original “supernatural tourism” company Haunted History Ghost Walks, Inc., Mason Winfield studied English and Classics at Denison University and earned a master’s degree at Boston College. In his 13 years as a teacher/department chair at The Gow School (South Wales, N.Y.), he won a 50K cross-country ski marathon and was ranked among the Buffalo area’s top ten tennis players. A specialist in upstate supernatural folklore and an award-winning fiction writer, Mason has written or edited 11 books, including the regional sensation Shadows of the Western Door (1997) and Iroquois Supernatural (Inner Traditions International/Bear & Company, 2011). A lecturer whose talks have been sponsored by Poets & Writers, New York Council for the Humanities, “The Big Read,” and the National Endowment for the Arts, Mason is also a spoken word artist who has appeared at City of Night, Buffalo; Rochester Fringe Festival; and Piccolo Spoletto Festival (Charleston, S.C.).

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