Fulke's Meteors, 1563

William Fulke (1563), A Goodly Gallerye: William Fulke's Book of Meteors. pp.10-13.

Of lights that goe before men, and follow them abroad in the fields, by the night season.

There is also a kind of light, yt is seene in the night season, and seemeth to goe before men, or to follow them, leading them out of their way onto waters, and other dangerous places. It is also very often seene in the night, of them that saile in the Sea and sometime will cleave to ye mast of the shippe, or other high partes, sometime glide round about the shippe, and either rest in one part till it goe out, or else bee quenched in the water. This impression seene on the land, is called in Latine, Ignis fatuus, foolish fire, that hurteth not, but onely feareth fooles. That which is seene on the Sea, if it bee but one, is named Helena, if it bee two, it is called Castor and Pollux.

The foolish fire, is an Exhalation kindled by meanes of violent moving, when by cold of the night, in the lowest region of the ayre, it is beaten downe, and then commonly, if it be light, seeketh to ascend upward, and is sent downe agayne; so it banceth up and downe: Els if it move not up and downe, it is a great lumpe of glewish or oyly matter, that by moving of the heat in it selfe, is enflamed of it selfe, as moyst hay will be kindled of it selfe. In hote and fennie Countries, these lightes are often seene, and where as is aboundance of such unctuous and fat matter, as about Churchyards, where through the corruption of the bodies there buried, the earth is full of such substance: wherefore in Churchyards, or places of common buriall, oftentimes are such lights seene, which ignorant and superstitious fooles have thought to bee soules tormented the fire of Purgatorie. Indeed the devill hath used these lightes (although they be naturally caused) as strong delusions, to captive the mindes of men, with feare of the Popes Purgatorie, whereby hee did open injury to the bloud of Christ, which onely purgeth us from all our sins, and delivereth us from all torments, both temporal and eternall according to the saying of the wiseman, The soules of the righteous are in the bands of God, and nor torment toucheth them. But to returne to the lights, in which, there are yet two things to bee considered. First, why they lead men out of their way. And secondly, why they seeme to follow men and goe before them. The cause why they lead men out of the way, is, that men, while they take heed to such lights, and are also sore afraid, they forget their way, and then being once but a little out of their way, they wander they wot not wither, to waters, pittes, and other very dangerous places. Which, when at length they hap the way home, will tell a great tale, how they have beene led about by a spirit in the likenesse of fire. Now the cause why they seeme to goe before men, or to follow them, some men have said to bee the moving of the aire, by the going of the man, which aire moved, should drive them forward, if they were before, and draw them after, if they were behind. But this is no reason at all, that the fire, which is oftentimes three or foure miles distant from the man that walketh, should bee mooved to and fro by that aire which is moved through his walking, but rather the moving of the aire and the mans eyes, causeth the fire to seeme as though it moved: as the Moone to children seemeth, if they are before it, to run after them: if shee bee before them, to run before them, that they cannot overtake her, though shee seeme to be verie neere them. Wherefore these lights rather seeme to move, than that they be moved indeed.

Sean B. Palmer