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will-o᾽-the-wisp


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This is the commonest English name for faint, flickering lights seen in marshy areas. It implies a supernatural being, carrying a burning bundle of straw as a torch, to lead travellers astray; there are many other local names (Wright, 1913: 200–1; Briggs, 1976: 231). Tradition varies as to their nature; some informants spoke of them as ghosts, others as fairies. If ghosts, they were usually said to be unbaptized infants, unable to enter Heaven yet not deserving Hell; if fairies, they were usually regarded as a specialized species, but sometimes an individual trickster like Puck or Robin Goodfellow, or a local group such as the pixies, will be credited with this role.


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