Your Weekend Creature Comforts: Will-o’-the-wisp
Happy Saturday geeks, hope your weekend is gloriously filled with creatures, monsters, and all those adventures you couldn’t partake on during the work week. Here is your faithful Lilith trying to start your weekend off right again with another creature spotlight, this week focusing on a creature that is otherworldly while at the same time not extraterrestrial. Today I bring you the ever elusive Will-o’-the-wisp.
What the hell is the Will-o’-the-wisp you might ask? I was wondering the same once, until a dark and peaceful night when I found myself wandering the woods with my wolves, enjoying the smells and sounds of a healthy woodland whilst my companions were stalking some deer. The forest was relatively quiet, and all I could hear was the twigs under my feet or the rhythmic pull of my breaths. I was admiring the almost purple glow of the trees through the moonlight when one of the direwolves let out a howl and the sudden crashing of branches behind me as they broke in to a chase ruined the moment.
I was turning to face them and change directions towards their hunt when a flicker of brightness passed the corner of my eye. I turned back around and nothing was there.
The snaps and thrashing of branches had traveled farther from me and I slowly loped towards my wolves when another twinkle caught my attention. I only had to turn a little from my path to see it this time. In the distance, behind a large tree trunk, there appeared to be a flickering light. It was as if there was someone holding a lantern behind the tree and only a small amount of the light was visible from around the tree’s bulk.
Rather than walk straight towards the light and whatever person might be trespassing in my forest, I instead climbed up a nearby rock where I might be able to glimpse behind the trunk and see who was holding a light there. But by the time I got to the top of the boulder, the light was gone.
I scanned around again, only faintly realizing that my wolves could no longer be heard, and at the last second saw the light again, this time further away but again just off a path and behind a tree enough that I could not see where the light was coming from.
Dimming my own internal light that always drives Biff nuts, I decided to track this being down but from the tops of the canopy rather than the path on the ground. Climbing up the trees that must have had their ancestry in Middle Earth with how contorted and connected their branches were, I skirted along from tree to tree amongst the larger and lower hanging branches. Eventually I could tell that I was gaining on the light. But as I was nearly on top of it the branches were getting more thin, and it was exceedingly difficult to travel from tree to tree.
I glanced down towards the light and realized that was all that it was. It was just a flickering light. It would fade and throb, and hopped around from place to place like it was looking for someone. The reason for the thinning of the branches was the below where the light flickered there was a large pond. The pond was black in this light, and as the light flashed about over the water’s surface I could see briefly below the water’s edge that there were numerous water monsters lurking there. Monsters that I am fond of like all creatures (except trolls, I fucking hate trolls). But they were monsters that needed to eat, and I am sure anyone who touched the surface of that pond would end up a first course for them.
Suddenly the wisp of light stopped hopping about and moved to the back of the pond, and dimmed itself behind a tree there. It throbbed very slowly, almost mesmerizingly, as if it were waving from top to bottom rather than pulsating. I wondered what it was up to when I started to hear soft panting and footfalls from behind me. Turning back around I saw my wolf friends trotting along, muzzles covered in blood, tails up in anticipation as they glided through the trees.
Turning my light on full tilt I jumped down from my perch just in front of the wolves, and they snarled in surprise as they halted there. As their recognition that it was me there dawned on them they yipped and nipped at my fingers. I shushed them and spun around to face the pond. On the opposite edge I could still see the throbbing light behind another tree, and it dawned on me that from a distance the light looked, well, a lot like me. No wonder the wolves were headed that way!
Before I knew it the wisp darted out from behind the tree, bounced across the pond, and stated spinning around my hate with an annoyed buzzing noise. My wolves were growling now, and started lunging at the light, just barely unable to catch it. They chased it forward towards the pond and I was able to scream at them to stop just in the knick of time, before they hit the water’s edge.
Making a mental note not to visit this side of the forest until I knew more of what we were dealing with, I took off with my wolves on either side of me back towards the Evil Lair. Time to figure out what the hell that thing was and how to get rid of it!
Thanks to Dr. Google I was able to come across what I was looking for right away: what I had just witnessed in the forest had to be none other than a Will-o’-the-wisp! These are atmospheric ghost lights that flicker and fade as they are approached so as to lead travellers further astray, often towards some sort of peril. Well that pretty much sums up what happened to my wolves and I!
These creatures are quite the little evil spirits! And they have many other names in different parts of the world too: jack-o-lanterns (not the pumpkin type for sure), hinkypunks, orbs, ghost lights, and hobby lanterns are some of their names.
And they have been portrayed in some great stories already! A very famous hinkypunk is mentioned in the Harry Potter series. Here they look like a wisp of smoke and a lantern, and are impish magical spirits that try to lure traveller’s from their route, only to throw fireballs at them and kill them if possible when they approach too closely.
An entire nation of will-o’-the-wisps exists in The Neverending Story and one representative travels alongside the rock-biter and the snail-rider on their journey to visit the empress and appeal for help.
These creatures are also mentioned in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and in numerous fairy tales.
Disney of course had to go ahead and make a friendly version of these little tricksters in the movie Brave. I did very much enjoy the movie, but hope people don’t get the wrong idea about these creatures, they will not lead you to good fortune or your destiny, unless you have a destiny with death.
But my favorite depiction of this creature was from The Lord of the Rings. You might not have realized it, but it was actually glowing orbs just over the surface of the water that would hypnotize people like Frodo in the Dead Marshes, causing them to reach out and fall in to the water where they could be swallowed and transformed to join the dead there. That flickering orb was certainly the same one I witnessed in my forest. So it was the one I based my research on for exterminating them from my woods.
A little spellwork from Arthur, a little coaxing of the forest from me, and I was able to banish that creature elsewhere. Of course, I think it took up habitation somewhere in Troy, so be sure to watch out for any flickering lights at the back of an alley, it’s not something you want to investigate.
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