A will-o'-wisp is a ghostly light seen by travelers at night floating above land or water. They are usually seen over swamps .
It has a lot of names due to the spread and longevity of the myth over Europe. The name will-o'-wisp or will-o'-the-wisp comes from the word wisp meaning "a bundle of sticks or paper sometimes used as a torch" and the name "Will", thus meaning "Will of the torch" [2-4].
The name Jack-o'-lantern originally referred to a will-o'-wisp and there are many other names. In the United States, they are often referred to as spook lights, ghost lights, and orbs .
The will-o'-wisp is said to mislead travelers who believe they are lanterns and is metaphorically the hope that leads one but is impossible to reach .
Will-o'-wisp in Folklore around the World
The will-o'-wisp exists in a large amount of folklore. In European folklore, they are often like many other mythological beings believed to be the spirits of the dead, fairies, or other supernatural beings that lead travelers to their demise. In some tales, they are the spirits of unbaptized or stillborn children who are flickering between heaven and hell.
Sweden had a similar belief saying that they are the spirits of unbaptized children who try to lead travelers to the water in hope of being baptized .
There are also many stories where will-o'-wisps mark the location of buried treasure. In many of these cases you could only dig up the treasure when the wisp was there and in some, you may need the hand of a dead man to uncover the treasure. The Aarnivalkea in Finnish myth is a version of this myth believing it to be an eternal flame marking the spot of hidden fairy treasure. This treasure is also believed to be protected by a mystical glamour preventing travelers from stumbling upon the treasure by chance. The only way to see through this glamour is to find a seed from a flowering fern (which in reality doesn't exist) which would lead you to the treasure. This seed would also provide you with the same glamour making you invisible.
There are many very similar creatures or spirits around the world related to the will-o'-wisp. There are even other similar spirits in Europe. In Welsh folklore, it is said to be a fairy fire which is held in the hand of a pùca or pwca which is a small mischievous goblin-like creature. This is also very similar to the Scandinavian lyktgubbe which is a small elf-like creature floating around with a lantern.
The Aleya is an almost identical creature which is a strange light spirit which floats around over marshes in Bangladesh and West Bengal. These would confuse fishermen making them lose their bearings and fall in [8,9].
The Chir batti meaning "ghost-light" also spelled chhir batti or cheer batti is a strange dancing light found in the marshy wetlands and adjoining desert of the marshy salt flats in India near the Indo-Pakistani border .
In Japanese folklore, there is the Hitodama meaning "Human Soul" and many similar which are described as balls of flame or light. They are often associated with graveyards, kitsune, or other yōkai [11,12].
The Min Min lights in the Australian outback are also equivalent. These are found even in aboriginal myths pre-dating western settlements [13,14].
The children of the Native American Nalusa Falaya have also been compared to the will-o'-wisps .
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: Floyd, Randall (1997). "Historical Mysteries: Ghostly lights as common as dew in Dixie". The Augusta Chronicle. Retrieved December 8, 2007.
: "Ghost Lights and Orbs". Moonslipper.com. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2011.
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: "Will-o'-the-wisp". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Houghton Mifflin. 2007.
: The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires (Theresa Cheung), HarperCollins
: Pandey, Ambarish (April 7, 2009). "Bengali Ghosts". Pakistan Times. Archived from the original on October 25, 2011. Retrieved November 18, 2011.
: "Blog post by the author Saundra Mitchel of the novel "Shadowed Summer" at Books Obsession". Booksobsession.blogspot.com. October 9, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2011.
: D V Maheshwari (August 28, 2007). "Ghost lights that dance on Banni grasslands when it's very dark". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on January 14, 2009.
: Lombardi, Linda. "Kitsune: The Fantastic Japanese Fox". tofugu.com
: Mizuki, Shigeru. "Graphic World of Japanese Phantoms". 講談社, 1985. ISBN 978-4-06-202381-8 (4-06-202381-4).
: Pettigrew, John D. (March 2003). "The Min Min light and the Fata Morgana. An optical account of a mysterious Australian phenomenon" (PDF). Clin Exp Optom. 86 (2): 109–20. doi:10.1111/j.1444-0938.2003.tb03069.x. PMID 12643807.
: Kozicka, M.G. "The Mystery of the Min Min Light". Bolton Imprint, Cairns 1994
: Ajk’in. "What do you know about nalusa falaya?" scriptmyth, scriptmyth.tumblr, (2018-08-04), https://scriptmyth.tumblr.com/post/176629514492/what-do-you-know-about-nalusa-falaya. (2022-11-03).