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Practically Light Work

Written by Kevin Woodrow



A strange ball of light in a cemetery, a pair of bright green eyes watching you from the woods, a weird glow coming from the top of a “haunted” house - we’ve all seen these things, right? Well, maybe we haven’t all seen them, but we’ve all at least heard of something like this, in some form or fashion. In some cases these sightings may indeed be a form of the supernatural. However, in many cases, it’s nothing like that at all. It’s merely something strange, maybe not widely understood, but definitely explainable. In this week’s installment, I’ll attempt to explain a few of the believed rational causes of some of these “ghost lights”. So, if you‘ll pardon my pun, allow me to shed some… light… on the subject.


This phenomena is most common in swampy areas of the country and is known widely as swamp gas or foxfire. Since the days of early Native Americans and European settlers, sightings have been reported of green or yellow blobs of light that seem to hover above the water, and often in the woods and roads near these areas.

Naturally, a sighting like this would immediately send ghostly chills of most spectators’ spines. However, as odd as it would appear, these are actually natural occurrences. The process of how this fairly rare ball of light is created is actually pretty interesting.

In a swamp, when vegetation dies and sinks to the bottom, it begins to decompose. During this decomposition methane gas is produced. The bottom of the swamp is basically a thick layer of moss. Soon, this gas builds up underneath the moss, and a piece breaks away, floating back to the surface. Before long, vegetation begins to grow on this new piece of floating land. All of this occurs over a good length of time, and it all is like a natural renewal cycle.

Although, this is a very beautiful display of Mother Nature at work, it also produces gas during the process, and that gas has to be released. That’s where our phenomena comes into play. Bubbles of gas are released, and usually they just float in the air above the water, not even visible, until they go away. However, sometimes they glow. And, apparently sometimes on even rarer occasions, they don’t remain still. Instead, they float into the woods, down a road, sometimes even into a nearby town.

It could be compared, I guess, to soapy bubbles being blown at a child’s birthday party. Most of those bubbles don’t last too long, popping on a nearby object. But, some of them just seem to stick around for a while, some even catching a ride on the wind and sailing right into the neighbor’s yard.

So, if you’re ever driving by a swamp and you see a green blob following you, it may just be a big ball of swamp gas, hitching a ride with the wind to the nearest town.


No, “St.Elmo’s Fire” is not just a song, it is actually a very strange natural phenomena that occurs during thunderstorms. It appears as a glow, usually blue-white, that projects from tall, sharply pointed structures, such as masts, lightning rods, spires, chimneys, and even airplane wings. This light is referred to as “fire”, because it often looks like fire, but it actually isn’t. It is, instead, a low temperature electro-luminescent plasma discharge caused by the ionization of air during a thunderstorm inside a strong electric field.

So, now we know what causes it, but who is this St. Elmo, and why is it his fire?

Well, many of the sightings of St. Elmo’s fire occur at the mastheads of ships at sea. And, St. Elmo is the patron saint of sailors. Sightings of these lights by sailors were sometimes taken as a bad sign, before it was known that the phenomena had a very natural cause.

An even stranger occurrence concerning this phenomena are reports of cattle workers seeing these glowing lights coming from the tips of bulls’ horns in the middle of a storm. Without having the knowledge that we have now, a sight like that may have driven a person to never eat beef again.


Ball lightning is, apparently, just as it sounds - a ball of lightning. I say “apparently” because not much is physically known about this phenomena. However, meteorologists are just now beginning to widely except it’s existence.

This phenomena appears, obviously, during thunderstorms, and very near where a lightning strike has occurred. Reportedly, it appears as a glowing ball right after the lightning strikes. It usually only lasts for a few seconds. However, in very, very rare instances it has even been reported to last a few minutes.

In this case, this IS lightning that we’re dealing with, so I definitely would not recommend hanging around outside during a thunderstorm with electrical recording equipment, in an attempt to document this type of occurrence.


Some living things have natural light sources built into them. This wonder of nature is called bioluminescence. There’s probably a certain insect that you’re thinking of right now, and that is a firefly or lightning bug. And, you’re correct for thinking of it, because that is one of the best examples of this type of phenomena.

However, most people aren’t going to mistake a firefly for a ghostly light, because most people are familiar with them. But, this type of thing isn’t common to just creatures like these, it also occurs with various types of fungi.

Some species of Armillaria, also known as Honey Fungus, are bioluminescent. This type of fungus can grow on various things. For instance, it has been known to grow on rotting tree limbs and sticks. Now, of course, we know that a rotting stick with glowing fungus on it isn’t going to just jump up and start scaring people. However, what if an animal picked the stick up and carried it? What if a bird carried it to it’s nest in the middle of the night? All an observer would see would be a glowing object moving through the forest. That would definitely, and understandably, be perceived as something paranormal.


The final example of a practical explanation for ghost light sightings is definitely the most boring of them all. However, this is probably far more common than the rest. It seems very simple to know when you’re seeing a reflection of light, but sometimes it’s not as easy as it seems.

These reflections can be caused by headlights, farm lights, house lights, street lights, moonlight, and any other conceivable type of light. Even a distant brush fire may be misinterpreted as something more than it actually is, especially if you’re moving (as if driving down the road) when you see it. Particularly if the area is not familiar and you are not used to the various lights than cause these reflections. Sometimes your eyes, your mind, and your surroundings can play tricks on you. It’s happened to all of us

That was quite a hike we endured through the realm of the rational. We trudged through gaseous swamps, walked through the fires of St. Elmo, dodged the balls of lightning, fought off the plague of luminescent creatures, and in the end… we even had time to reflect.

And, although we have talked so much about the numerous rational occurrences have been known to cause reported ghost light sightings, there still remains the mountain of those which still cannot be explained. I do believe that paranormal ghost lights do, indeed, exist. But, it is very important, if not absolutely necessary, to study these natural causes in order to better prepare ourselves for dealing with the real ghost lights.

I’m glad you took this journey with me, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. However, most of all, after all that we’ve learned about lights, I just hope that we’re all much “brighter” because of it.

Until next time,