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Fireballs and Folklore

Even the most cursory study of worldwide folklore reveals that numerous, if not all, cultures, have stories attached to them of magical balls of floating light, seemingly under intelligent control, or perhaps even supernatural, sentient forms of life in their very own right. They travel the skies by night, while amazing, perplexing and sometimes even terrifying those that encounter them, very often in the vicinity of marshes, bogs and other watery bodies.

The specific, repeated locations of many such sightings has given rise to the not unreasonable notion that at least some of the lights may be nothing stranger than the results of methane bubbling up out of the marshes and mixing with Phospine, a flammable gas, and an inorganic compound called Diphosphane, which, when combined with the air, can briefly and spontaneously catch fire in spectacular fashion.

Others suggest the culprit may be a rare phenomenon known as ball lightning. A technical report published in 1949 by the Air Force’s UFO investigative unit, Project Grudge, detailed its findings with respect to ball lightning which, the military believed, was connected to regular lightning and electrical discharge. The phenomenon, it was noted, was “spherical, roughly globular, egg-shaped, or pear-shaped; many times with projecting streamers; or flame-like irregular ‘masses of light.’ Luminous in appearance, described in individual cases by different colors but mostly reported as deep red and often as glaring white.”

Thus, the ghostly lights, and their attendant legends, are well and truly born. These two, particular down to earth theories have not, in any shape or fashion, dispelled the belief that the majority of such lights have far weirder origins, however.

England, for example, has its very own squadron of ghostly lights. Depending on the particular region of the country that you care to examine, they go by the ancient names of the Pixy Light, Will o’ the Wisp, and Rolling Fire. The people of Wales have their own equivalent: it is known as Fairy Fire. The Chir Batti is an identical entity that haunts the land in and around the India-Pakistan border. Bengal is the domain of the glowing and flying Aleya. Brazil can claim the Boi-tata.

Throughout much of eastern Australia, tales are told of the Min Min Light. The Naga Fireballs are a regular phenomenon along the length of Thailand’s Mekong River. And in the United States, one can find entertaining stories of the Marfa Lights of Texas, and the Brown Mountain Light of North Carolina, amongst numerous others.

Many of these legends, despite originating amongst wildly varying cultures and countries and across numerous centuries, have one notable thing in common: the mysterious lights are near-unanimously believed to be the tormented souls of people who, having committed heinous crimes in life, or the victims of deep tragedy and / or suicide, are destined never to rest in peace and harmony.

And that goes, too, for Vietnam’s Han River, which has its very own ghost light. It is said to be the ethereal form of a rich nobleman who held sway over much of the area from the latter years of the 18th Century to the early years of the 19th Century. Furious at his teenage daughter’s relationship with a poor, young blacksmith in a small and equally poor village on the river itself, the man, one day, ordered one of his servants to secretly follow the girl’s lover to his place of work and spike his supply of drinking water with a deadly, fast-acting poison, which the servant dutifully, and appropriately cold of heart, did.

The servant then found a shadowy place to hide in the nearby bushes and kept a careful watch on the boy; patiently and eagerly awaiting the moment when thirst from working under the hot, morning sun guaranteed the blacksmith would take a large gulp of water and death would soon overtake him. But, fate and disaster intervened in a catastrophic way that none could ever have foreseen.

Suddenly, and to the horror of the servant, the nobleman’s daughter appeared on the scene – evidently having clandestinely slipped out of the spacious abode in which she lived with her father. She flung her arms tightly around her boyfriend, gave him a loving kiss, and then, dehydrated from her long walk along the riverbank, took a big swig of water from the poisoned container. In just mere moments she collapsed to the floor, proclaiming her eternal love to the devastated young blacksmith as she took her very last breaths.

The servant raced out of the trees to try and help, but it was all too little and far too late. The Grim-Reaper already had the girl in his vice-like grip. And he soon came to call upon her father, too. On hearing the tragic news, the distraught old man flung himself from the highest balcony of his palace, ensuring his violent and bloody death on the stone pavement below. But, he soon returned. Not, however, as a chain-rattling, moaning specter, but in the form of a glowing ball of light forever fated to wander the skies of the Han River by night.

And if you should ever visit the area and you are lucky enough to see the ghostly phenomenon for yourself, spare a deep thought or several for all those whose lives were snuffed out, or forever scarred, by this harrowing series of events. It must be said that a story like this might simply have been a story and nothing more. But, even if that is so, a strong argument can still be made that the tale was created to try and explain the presence of a very real and perplexing phenomenon: the ghostly, flying and floating balls of light that haunt just about each and every part of our paranormal planet…

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  • It might surprise some people to learn that, for the most part of my adolescence, I was a very devout Catholic.

    I even toyed with the idea of taking the vows. I truly did!

    So, while in high school, I joined a youth group where we performed some ‘evangelical’ work. With them I went to some rather remote and very poor areas. And in one of those trips the kind villagers –who were a better example of a Christian way of life than we city boys– told us about the strange balls of light they saw dancing around the hills from time to time.

    They called these lights ‘brujas’ (witches), and it was their belief they were the transformed apparition of evil sorceresses, who could take flight in this form to perform their nightly acts of mischief.

    Back in those days I was already very much interested in UFOlogy, and so when hearing such accounts I automatically ascribed them and extraterrestrial connotation.

    Now, I’m not so sure. But I wish I had seen these brujas personally 🙂

  • This article definitely caught my attention! and here’s my story: In 2008 or so, in the summer, my wife and I were driving to visit my parents in northwest Kansas. So in route, in the country side where it’s very dark at night, just fields and stars in the sky, to our left we saw something ahead that was very bright in the field that ran along the road. As we approached, right in the middle of the field was a still and hovering object about five feet above the ground; it was a perfect and very bright ball of…I can’t say fire, because this looked like a foundry of molten medals. Looking right at the object, it was a perfect circle, and around the edges it seemed as if the molten material was running down the side until it got to the bottom of the object and then just dripped off, pouring molten material to the ground. We both saw this as we drove, it was hovering, the hottest temperatures I’ve ever seen and yes the hairs were standing straight up on my whole body. I turned and looked at the road and said WTF!! My wife just said DRIVE! our whole space and time stood still for a second, then our bodies kicked into lets get the hell outta here mode; by nature we knew deep down inside it was a paranormal event. It’s always mind expanding to experience an event like that. I wouldn’t have called this a fire ball though, it was more a lava ball. a hovering one at that!

  • What size was the object, by your estimates?

    UFOs dripping molten metal is not unheard of. In fact, that’s part of the infamous Maury Island incident.

    Slag allegedly dropped by UFOs has been analyzed. Nothing conclusive has ever come out of it. But, like Jacques Vallee wrote in Confrontations, maybe that’s like trying to analyze a Lamborghini by the contents of its ashtray 😉

  • Many years ago my dad was driving on the Big Island of Hawaii and looked in his rear view mirror and saw a fireball hovering on the trunk. At first my dad thought it was the sun’s reflection but it was three dimentional. He couldn’t believe it. Then it disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. He went home and asked a relative what that meant and he was told that “someone close to him was going to die” and within weeks my dad’s uncle died unexpectedly.

  • LMB

    In Hawaii, these fireballs are called “akualele” and are considered bad omens intentionally meant to cause harm or death. If they land on your house, someone in that family will die, but if they land in the yard, someone will become extremely ill. I’ve seen akualele twice. The first time I was 15yrs. old and it was approx. 20 feet from me flying over a nearby house and was just about to land on the roof. It was about 8 inches across and had a tail and looked like a comet with sparks coming out of it. Tradition says you’re supposed to curse at it or pray, but I was so startled by what I saw that I cursed, at which point the fireball burst into sparks and disappeared making no sound whatsoever. As I found out later, the occupants of the house that it was hovering over was not very well liked in the neighborhood and my guess is that the akualele was sent to do them harm. Akualele was/is used in Hawaiian black magic by the kahuna (Hawaiian sorcerer).

    Having been born and raised in Hawaii you hear about these things from a very young age, and it is part of our culture. I remember being told stories from my grandfather about these things when I was little, but was still shocked when I experienced it myself and it gave me goosebumps!

  • kellie mack

    I saw fireballs twice in Hawaii also. Both times they were out over the ocean. On one occasion there were 3 separate fireballs that came up out of the water one after the other before hovering for a second or two, then streaking across the waves and disappearing. The interesting thing was that they were different colors…one blue, and two orange. The second time I saw two orange fireballs, also came up from the ocean before streaking over the waves and disappearing. What are they?