My curiosity regarding the relationship between the earth, seismic activity and strange lights was piqued in 1957, when I was a schoolboy in Leicestershire in central England. In that year and county there was a significant earthquake, in which I saw the school walls bulge (but fortunately not collapse). A teacher who had taken a school party out on a field trip to nearby Charnwood Forest – a dramatic, fault-ridden and ancient upland landscape where later Triassic sediments sit directly on top of Precambrian rocks – stated that he and the kids saw lines of “tadpole-shaped” lights crossing the sky just before the quake struck.
It was no accident, then, that many years later a colleague and I chose to conduct an investigation of reports spanning a few centuries telling of strange phenomena, including curious lights, in our home county. It formed a two-part article entitled ‘Portrait of a Fault Area’ (Devereux and York 1975). Although fairly primitive, this geographical study nevertheless clearly indicated that over the centuries modern ‘UFOs’ (as the current fashion has it) and earlier “balls of light” or “meteors” in Leicestershire shared a common distribution with faulting, seismic activity and unusual meteorology.
One of the earliest modern investigators to raise awareness of such ‘earth lights’ was the American, Charles Fort. In assembling his compendious record of unusual events, Fort began to spy possible connections that virtually no one before him had the range of data or wit to perceive. He linked strange aerial lights with earthquakes, predating modern geological confirmation of ‘earthquake lights’ (EQLs). For example, he drew attention to the December 1896 earthquake in the Hereford – Worcester region of Britain (Fort 1923). He found reports describing such effects as “a great blaze” in the sky and a flying “luminous object” coincident with the quake. Fort acidly commented that “the conventional scientist” of his day had a “reluctance toward considering shocks of this earth and phenomena in the sky at the same time”.
John Keel, a later but similarly far-sighted American writer, came to the conclusion that ‘UFOs’ were more likely to be “soft” lightforms than “hard” metallic craft. As early as the 1960s, he was associating their appearance with areas (“windows”) of geological faulting, earthquakes and geomagnetic anomaly. In France at about the same time, Ferdinand Lagarde was also noticing a significant correlation between reported ‘UFOs’ and geological faulting. Although there was no book dedicated solely to this approach within ufology at this time, American author Vincent H. Gaddis published Mysterious Fires and Lights (1967), which had chapters such as “Earth’s Glowing Ghosts”.
Historical literature has revealed that people from all cultures and times have seen unexplained light phenomena (Devereux 1982, 1989). To the Irish they were fairy lights, to the Scots they were simply gealbhan (balls of fire), to Malaysians, pennangal (the spectral heads of women who had died in childbirth), to Indians they were local deities or the lanterns of spirits, to Africans they were devil lights, to Brazilians the “Mother of Gold” leading to buried treasure, to Chinese Buddhists they were Bodhisattva Lights. (The Indians and Chinese sometimes built temples where lights appeared with some regularity.) Europeans visiting some of these lands also reported seeing strange lights – they were not just local lore. On a visit to Gabon in 1895, for instance, the writer Mary Kingsley saw a ball of violet light roll out of a wood onto the banks of Lake Ncovi; it hovered until joined by another, similar light. The two lightballs circled each other until Kingsley approached them in a canoe. One then flew off back into the trees while the other floated over the lake surface. As Kingsley paddled quickly after it, it went down into the water, still glowing as it sank. Locals later told her such phenomena were aku, devil lights.
In Europe there had been debate about unexplained lights from at least the medieval period. In the way that the popular myth today is that unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) are extra-terrestrial craft, then it was that they were dragons. But some questioned this. In the 13th Century, for example, Albertus Magnus said the “dragons” were in actuality “vapours” that could roll into a ball and float up and down. In 1590, Thomas Hill said they were “fumes kindled” giving the simulacrum of a flying dragon. In 1608, Edward Topskell argued that “dragons” were really “a weaker kind of lightning”.
There are also early modern reports from Britain, such as the account given in his Journal of 1830 by the “peasant poet”, John Clare. He told how he encountered a lightball while walking one evening between the villages of Ashton and Helpston in Cambridgeshire. The light came towards him. “I thought it made a sudden stop as if to listen to me,” he wrote. It crackled and was surrounded by a luminous halo: Clare described the light as having “a mysterious terrific hue”. When it darted away Clare promptly took to his heels. He already knew that there was locally “a great upstir” about the lights, with up to fifteen at a time being seen over Deadmoor and Eastwell Moor flying back and forth, both with and against the wind. Clare said that his close encounter robbed him of “the little philosophical reasoning” he had about them.
In 1977, Michael Persinger and Gyslaine Lafrenière published Space-Time Transients and Unusual Events. Using a statistical approach, they correlated reported UFOs in North America with “seismic-related sources”. They argued that the enormous energies built up in tectonic strain, even without actual release in earthquakes, were sufficient to produce glowing, ionised, lightforms in the atmosphere above such areas. Bodies of water, especially reservoirs, could also produce strain on underlying geology.
Over subsequent years, Persinger and the U.S. geologist John Derr, together and individually, examined specific “windows” of recurring reported light phenomena, and amassed an impressive body of data to support this “tectonic strain theory”. One such study was of the Yakima Indian reservation in Washington State, USA, where, in the 1970s, fire wardens in lookout posts observed and photographed a range of unusual light phenomena (along with weird ground-based poltergeist-type happenings). They saw large orange-coloured lightballs, smaller “ping-pong” balls of light, luminous columns and flares, and white lights with smaller, multi-coloured lights apparently connected to them. Glowing clouds and flashes in the sky were also noted. Derr and Persinger showed that three-quarters of the reported phenomena were seen most often in the vicinity of faulted ridges and they correlated outbreaks of the lights with seismic activity.
Another area where nature similarly lent researchers a hand is the Hessdalen valley near Trondheim, Norway. From late 1981, local people saw lights spring into visibility near rooftops, or hover just below the summits and ridges of the surrounding mountains. The lightforms included spheres and inverted “’bullet” and “Christmas tree” shapes. Colours were mainly white or yellow-white, though small, flashing red lights on the top or bottom of larger white forms were also reported. Strong, localised white or blue flashes in the sky were also observed. All rather similar to Yakima. In 1984, a group of researchers formed “Project Hessdalen” and conducted monitoring in Hessdalen using radar, magnetometers, spectrum analysers and other instrumentation. The group conducted further sessions in 1985 and 1986. Many photographs (some sequential) were taken of the lights, and radar anomalies were recorded. Around a decade later a new Project Hessdalen was inaugurated using more sophisticated automated monitoring equipment. Under the directorship of Erling Strand, it is still operating and real-time observation can be conducted from anyone’s laptop by linking to their automatic station (www.hessdalen.org).
In 1980, Kevin and Sue McClure published Stars and Rumours of Stars, a thorough account of reported light phenomena in the Barmouth-Harlech area of north-west coastal Wales in 1904-1905. Beriah Evans, a local journalist of the time, published accounts of witnesses’ sightings, including his own: “Between us and the hills there suddenly flashed forth an enormous luminous star … emitting from its whole circumference dazzling sparklets like flashing rays from a diamond …”. Glittering diamond-shapes were seen on roofs, “bottle-shaped” lights hung over hilltops, ruby-red lights popped out of the ground, rose into the air and fused together, and columns of light emerged from the ground.
London newsmen from the national daily papers who visited to report on the kerfuffle lost their initial cynicism when they saw the lights for themselves. The Daily Mail correspondent saw yellow balls of light of “electric vividness” hovering 100ft (30m) above the Barmouth-Harlech road. A Daily Mirror journalist found himself engulfed in a “soft, shimmering radiance”. Looking up, he saw “a large body” overhead that had “suddenly opened and emitted a flood of light from within itself”.
As many of the reports contained location details, it seemed to me that this Welsh outbreak would be worth testing for geological links. So I teamed up with our Dragon Project geological adviser, Paul McCartney. It was our good fortune that a recent geological survey had been conducted in the area, enabling us to correlate exact sighting information with exact faulting information. It was found that there is the deep-rooted Mochras Fault almost linking Barmouth and Harlech, and that most of the lights events were strung out along it like scintillating beads on a thread.
Some sightings occurred off the main fault, but these were associated with tributary faulting. No reported light phenomenon occurred further than 700m (765 yards) from a fault, and incidence increased with proximity to faulting so that most events occurred within 100m (109 yards) of faulting. Indeed, some lights emerged directly out of the Mochras Fault. Further, it was found that the Welsh events began immediately after a local earthquake (in October, 1904).
Although this particular outbreak was an exceptional event in the area, the lights still appear occasionally. Harlech is adjacent to the Lleyn Peninsula, one of Britain’s most active seismic zones. In 1984, it was the epicentre of a significant (5.5 Richter-scale) earthquake. A local resident told me that the evening before the quake he saw a brilliant white light “the size of a small car” float in from the sea and disappear into sand dunes.
In 1982, I published Earth Lights (with Paul McCartney). It was heavily attacked by UFO enthusiasts of an extra-terrestrial persuasion, and even by normally more reasonable researchers who hadn’t quite got their heads around this ‘new’ approach to anomalous aerial lights. In the same year, academic Helmut Tributsch published When the Snakes Awake, in which he recorded bizarre light phenomena (among other events) in association with earthquakes. The following year author Jenny Randles cited earth lights, or what she called unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) sightings and made tectonic associations in her The Pennine UFO Mystery.
In 1985, David Clarke and Granville Oldroyd published Spooklights – A British Survey. One of its well-documented UAP haunts was at Burton Dassett, in south Warwickshire, the focus of outbreaks of light phenomena in 1922 and 1923. A reporter from the Birmingham Post, among other witnesses, saw a “steady and vivid” light travelling a few feet above the ground. Clarke and Oldroyd discovered that the location sits directly on the Burton Dassett fault, and that the mysterious light briefly reappeared on the night of 25 January, 1924. That very night, there was a powerful earth tremor around Hereford, 60 miles (97km) to the west. This tectonic coincidence was noted by the local Leamington Chronicle at the time. (This was a year after Fort had published his observations of apparent links between aerial lights and the 1896 Hereford-Worcester quake.) In 1989, I published Earth Lights Revelation. It included a section by David Clarke and Andy Roberts on Project Pennine, their study of the hill and moorland country running along the spine of England, an effort in which they were assisted by numerous other researchers. A geography of light-haunted moors, hills, valleys and reservoirs was mapped by the project, and phenomena described that ranged from balls of light to glowing hillsides. Clarke and Roberts expanded on this work in their Phantoms of the Sky (1990).
In the mid-1990s, under the aegis of the then Princeton-based International Consciousness Research Laboratories (ICRL), I was able to conduct some field expeditions with my wife Charla Devereux, another member of ICRL. We included a few of what in America are called “spook light” locations. These typically involve extremely long straight sections of road or former railroad corridors cutting through forests. The spook lights we investigated turned out to be distorted glimpses of distant vehicle headlights.
We paid two field visits to the famed ‘Marfa lights’ area of southern Texas, one along with the quantum physicist, Hal Puthoff. This turned out to be more complex. We conclusively showed that most of what people think are the Marfa lights seen from a designated viewing point are in fact distorted car headlights, 40 miles (64km) away, on the road going south to Presidio, or closer vehicles negotiating tracks leading to ranches out on the range, giving the appearance of lights dancing back and forth just above the slightly undulating ground. But there are reports of strange lights being seen in the vast region dating back to the 17th Century, and witnesses (including priests and teachers) we interviewed reported close encounters with spheres of lights. An ‘active’ area was seemingly the Chisos Mountains to the south of Marfa. There, I personally witnessed an anomalous light but it flickered out before photographs could be taken.
Finally, Erling Strand of Project Hessdalen and I investigated reported “min-min lights” in the remote Kimberley region of Australia. We gained insights from Indigenous Australians, and witnessed at least three probable UAP (one a beautiful, shimmering fan of golden light emerging soundlessly and momentarily from the desert surface). We managed to film only one of them, though – a moving white light that appeared as our magnetometer registered a strong geomagnetic reading – we identified this as relating to a powerful earthquake 800 miles away, so either that triggered the appearance of the light via geoelectrical changes, or it was a remarkable coincidence.
Some of these exploits, among others, were the subject of a 1996 Channel 4 documentary on British television (Identified Flying Objects, re-titled Earth Lights for Discovery Channel). It screened in November and marked an extraordinary coincidence that Fort would have hugely enjoyed: within twenty-four hours of transmission people began reporting bizarre light phenomena in Cornwall. There were soft, silent nocturnal luminous displays, rectangles of light moving jerkily through the heavens, and moon-like spheres that slowly dissolved. It went on all week, at the end of which Cornwall experienced its strongest earthquake of the century. (There’s nothing like having Mother Earth as a PR agent!) These phenomena were later logged by a member of the British Geological Survey.
In 1997, Peter Brookesmith and I co-authored UFOs and Ufology, in which we tried to sort out all the strands that intertwined in the scene formerly known as ‘ufology’, including earth lights research and “alien abductions” (an altered state of consciousness issue, we decided, not an extra-terrestrial one). It was welcomed by genuine researchers but rubbished by diehard extra-terrestrial believers.
While most reported sightings of strange aerial phenomena are surely the product of misperception of mundane objects, artificial or astronomical, or else mirage effects, hoaxes, or psychosocial factors affecting a witness’s interpretation of a perception, there can be little doubt that there is a rump of reports that relates to genuinely unexplained luminous phenomena. It is at least a percentage of these core sightings that I think is comprised of earth lights, mystery lights, anomalous luminescences, or whatever we choose to call them.
These light phenomena seem to have electro-magnetic (EM) properties – Persinger suggested that they are surrounded by EM fields that can trigger hallucinations and trance states in close witnesses. Also, there are accounts of poltergeist-like events accompanying some outbreaks of light phenomena (such as at Yakima) with objects flying around, door latches moving of their own accord, and gravel crunching as if trod by ghostly feet. Interestingly, similar effects have been occasionally noted during particularly vivid aurorae events (Grant 1984 ibid.)
So, overall, the association of unusual light phenomena and geological faulting is fairly well established by various types of evidence spanning centuries. The lights were noted by past peoples and given explanations that were culturally relevant to their times. This, as documented in The Powers of Ancient and Sacred Places (available from Amazon US or Amazon UK), seemingly included the building of monuments where lights were seen.
Take, for example, Castlerigg Stone Circle, in Cumbria, England. Situated about a mile east of the town of Keswick in the Lake District of England, the siting of this magnificent stone circle is amongst the most impressive in Britain, commanding a surrounding skyline view of rugged Lakeland hills. The site itself is well preserved, with its stones forming a flattened circle 33.5m (110ft) across its longest diameter. Inside the main ring of stones is a mysterious rectangular setting of up to ten stones, often referred to as ‘The Cove’. A gap flanked by two large stones in the northern arc of the circle was probably an original entrance. In all, there are thirty-eight surviving stones at the site, the heaviest weighing around fifteen tons.
During a 1988 visit by the Dragon Project (see The Powers of Ancient and Sacred Places for more on the Dragon Project), all the Castlerigg stones were checked for any magnetic anomalies with liquid-filled compasses. Only one of the thirty-eight stones affected the compass needle: the leaning westernmost stone. It’s inwards-facing side strongly deflects a compass needle in one area, and attracts it in another.
But the main reported ‘energy’ interest relating to this site occurred in the early years of the 20th Century. Writing in English Mechanic and the World of Science in 1919, a Mr T. Sington described an experience he and an acquaintance had around Easter time some years earlier. The two men were returning to their hotel in Keswick in darkness, after an ascent of Helvellyn. Here is Sington’s account:
When we were at a point near which the track branches off to the Druidical circle [Castlerigg], we all at once saw a rapidly moving light … and we instinctively stepped to the road boundary wall to make way for it, but nothing came … It was a white light, and having crossed the road it disappeared…
We then saw a number of lights possibly a third of a mile or more away, directly in the direction of the Druidical circle, but, of course, much fainter, no doubt due to distance, moving backwards and forwards horizontally; we stood watching them for a long time … Whilst we were watching, a remarkable incident happened – one of the lights, and only one, came straight to the spot where we were standing; at first very faint, as it approached the light increased in intensity … But when it came close to the wall it slowed down, stopped, quivered, and slowly went out, as if the matter producing the light had suddenly become exhausted. It was globular, white with a nucleus possibly 6 feet [2m] or so in diameter, and just high enough above ground to pass over our heads…
The lights we saw all moved horizontally, never vertically, or at an angle; they moved in opposite directions at the same time, therefore they were not affected by any air currents.
Sington concluded his account by wondering why the site of the stone circle had been selected. “Suppose, owing to some local condition at present unknown,” he mused, “such lights have occurred from time to time near the site, they would have attracted the attention of the inhabitants, who, awestruck, would have attached great significance to them, and might then have selected the site as a place of worship or sacrifice.”
So, for his time, Sington’s thinking was remarkably perceptive.