© 2010 RC deWinter ~ All Rights Reserved
Dusk is rapidly descending into night, and you’re lost in a marshy thicket. You can’t find the path you were following home and sharp brambles grab at your sleeves. Your sturdy shoes are no match for the muddy marsh; your feet are slowly getting very wet, and your skin is beginning to prickle with unfocused fear.
Suddenly, small luminescences appear before you, each one seeming to call out ‘This way, this way!’ You freeze; the glowing lights have an otherworldly air. And you can’t decide which of the beckoning guides to follow.
Ignis fatuus (from the Latin for foolish fire) is another name for the will-o-the-wisp, the unearthly light sometimes seen hovering in bogs and marshes. The term will-o-the-wisp comes from an ancient folktale, still told in varying versions in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the province of Nova Scotia in Canada and among descendants of the early Scotch-Irish immigrants in the Appalachian region of the US.
In the British Isles, will-o-the-wisps are often defined as fairy fire held by pookas or, in Wales, pwcas (mischievous, sometimes malicious goblins). Others claim the story is about certain man named Will, condemned to walk the earth forever in the Land of Lost Souls.
Some tales, particularly in Ireland, regard the ignis fatuus as the guardian lights of a hidden treasure, comparable to leprechauns. If one is courageous enough to follow the lights, one will unearth the gold. The will-o-the-wisp is also known as signal of treasure in Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
Digital oil painting.