Sunday, December 14, 2008

from The Aerial World, 1875

(page 322; The Ignus Fatuus.)

... the ignis fatuus are the low-born progeny of bogs and stagnant waters. There is something spectral or ghost-like about their desultory wanderings in the midnight gloom of marshes and burying-grounds, and they thus furnish superstition with ample matter for many a dismal legend. Often have they been taken by the horror-struck wanderer who saw them moving among the tombs for departed spirits unable to find rest in the grave; and in Scotland, where they are called Elf-candles, they are supposed to portend the death of some inmate of the house near which they make their final appearance. According to another very common belief, they are goblins of a malignant nature who, by the delusion of a hospitable light, mislead the benighted traveller into some deep morass, where he meets with a miserable end; and it is to this superstitious notion, alluded to by Goldsmith, that the ignis fatuus of the naturalist owes its popular name of Will-with-the-wisp or Jack-with-a-lantern. 

'Turn, gentle Hermit of the dale,
  And guide my lonely way
To where yon taper cheers the vale,
  With hospitable ray.'

'Forbear, my son,' the Hermit cries,
  'To tempt the dangerous gloom;
For yonder faithless phantom flies
  To lure thee to thy doom.'

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