Supernatural CLT: Brown Mountain Lights

Geophysical event? Paranormal orbs? They're known as the Brown Mountain Lights and the source is unknown.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A strange, celestial light pulses in the distance. The distressing yet ethereal flare fades in and out of the shadows as if to radiate a message from another world. Many have caught a glimpse, but to this day no one can explain the mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights.

On an icy-cold morning in November 1961, Steven Woody and his father set out on a hunting trip — trekking deep into the woods before sunrise. Headlights slowly approach from a distance…or so it seems. Could a car even access that area so far off the beaten path? The two watch in silence as orb-like bodies float together in a suspiciously symmetrical pattern, yet somehow traveling independently.

“I don’t know what that is, but it’s not a vehicle.” — Mr. Woody

For hundreds of years, countless theories have tried to make sense of this otherworldly phenomenon lingering in the Brown Mountain skies. Is it a mirage? Is it paranormal? One thing is certain: it appears like nothing on earth — a rarity that occurs like no other place in the natural world.

While the lights are said to be seen any time of year, it is apparently easier to spot during the fall months (October/November) and more often following a rainstorm. As each generation passes, there are numerous myths, legends, and scientific explanations as to what these mystifying forces may be:

  • One of the most-told legends was popularized by the singer Scotty Wiseman, composing The Brown Mountain Light in the 1950s. The songwriter based the lyrics on folklore passed down from his great uncle, “Fate” Wiseman. According to Uncle Fate, when a hunter became lost on the mountain, a faithful slave’s lantern illuminated his relentless search to find him — returning every night to search for him even beyond the grave.

“Long years ago a southern planter came hunting in this wild land alone
And here, so they say, the hunter lost his way and never returned to his home
His trusty old slave brought a lantern and searched, but in vain, day and night
The old slave is gone but his spirit wanders on and the old lantern still casts its light”

  • Around 1850, rumor has it a woman named Belinda and her child were murdered by her husband Jim who was having an affair. Soon after Belinda’s disappearance, lights began to appear that led to a pile of rocks covering the bones of a woman and child. Some say the lights remain as a warning to evildoers that their crimes will eventually be brought to light.
  • According to Cherokee folklore, after a great battle between the Cherokee and Catawba tribes in the area (circa 1200 A.D.), the lights reflect the souls of Native American maidens searching for their fallen braves.
  • A mountain man courted a woman each night, crossing dangerous patches of forests to meet her. To aid in his travels, the lady lit a torch to help him find his way. But on the eve of their wedding… he never arrived. The lights are said to be her torch — continuously burning to help him find his way.
  • A husband/father went off to fight in the Revolutionary War. Upon returning to his newly-settled home in Virginia, he discovers his cabin burned to the ground and his family nowhere to be found. The lights are said to be this distraught, frantic man still searching for his family.

Other scientific explanations most often relate to weather phenomena such as ball lightning; reflections/refractions of light; astronomical occurrences like meteors; or geophysical events such as swamp gas, nitrous vapors, and St. Elmo’s fire.

Most recently, modern theory puts forth that the lights may be UFOs/alien spacecraft. Since it is not uncommon for UFO sightings to be reported at areas of seismic activity (such as volcanoes and earthquakes), another theory speculates that the lights may be a phenomenon known as “earthquake lights.”

Man-made objects like trains or aircraft have also been considered as a possibility… Just one problem: The mountain’s lights have been reported long before many of these came to be.