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October 22nd, 2007
In the late autumn of the year the forest’s umbrella of summer green turns ten shades of red and as many hues of yellow – with some impossible combinations in between. As they fall to blanket the ground and reveal bare, spiny branches, the view opens up to reconnect the mountain earth with the sky. Right around Halloween and into November a mysterious phenomenon draws hundreds of watchers hoping to see some ghosts.
Mentioned in Cherokee legends originating as long as 800 years ago, the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights have dazzled watchers by zipping and dancing through Linville Gorge and along the Brown Mountain ridge near Morganton in Burke County, North Carolina.
They’ve been described as glowing balls of fire, bursting skyrockets, or pale, white ‘bubbles’. They”ve been seen to drift, fade and brighten, whirl like pinwheels, then dart away playfully. A short hike from a parking area along a gravel Forest Service is Wisemans View in the Pisgah National Forest.
Cherokee legend holds that their ancestors fought a great battle against the Catawba Indians near Brown Mountain in the year 1200 a.d. According to the legend the lights are spirits of maidens who search in vain for their loved ones lost in the battle. When the white frontiersmen came, they attributed the lights to the spirits of the Indian warriors on both sides who died in the battle. Others through the years claim the lights are candle-bearing ghosts destined to wander the mountain forever.
In more modern times the lights have drawn a number of researchers and paranormal investigators who attempt to explain them in less spooky terms. One theory suggests it’s a combination of minerals in the rocks reacting with gases in the air. Another thinks it might be uranium or pitchblende deposits in the rocks exciting gases.
Some skeptics have dismissed the lights as a mirage, reflected lights from nearby towns. Though that would hardly explain historical eyewitness reports. The U.S. Geological Survey concluded in 1913 that the lights were train headlights reflected from the Catawba Valley, but hardly anyone believed that. More recently the same agency revised their conclusion to claim it’s the spontaneous combusion of marsh gases, even though there are no marshes on or around Brown Mountain.
The lights have been popular with paranormal investigators and UFO fans as well. One fascinating report published in Alternate Perceptions Magazine details an expedition in 2003, when the lights were videotaped by Dr. Greg Little and his crew.
Little’s hypothesis is that the Brown Mountain phenomenon is a manifestation of “Earthlights,” which are luminous balls of light that appear over geological fault lines. They’ve been seen and photographed by seismic crews and satellites. It’s believed to be a piezoelectric effect of changing seismic pressure on quartzite rock deep in the fault, which escapes at relief points as charged plasma.
Little reports that Canadian neuropsychologist Michael Persinger, who has studied Earthlights for many years, has reproduced the effect in the laboratory. Persinger noted some psychoactive effects of the plasma’s magnetic field. Including altered states of consciousness and vivid hallucinations – ghostly apparitions, alien abductions, Bigfoot sightings and encounters with fairies, Leprechauns and gnomes.
The actual close-up encounters with the real Brown Mountain lights don’t mention Bigfoot at all, though one did claim the lights are created by aliens who live inside the mountain. Perhaps what he views as alien is what someone else would report as gnomes or Leprechauns or fairies. A couple of close encounter stories report a sizzling fire – a ball or a length, like the curtains of the aurora borealis (but smaller and closer).
Whatever the Brown Mountain Lights are, scientifically speaking, they are a well known phenomenon and genuine NC attraction. Still unexplained and perhaps unexplainable by science, still holding to those native and frontier legends that interpreted the lights to be unhappy spirits of the long dead.