Paranormal Phenomenon Omnibus

Brown Mountain Lights

Article by Matt Allair

Mysterious Lights / Explanations

This phenomenon is hard to define; some consider it connected to UFOs, and others consider it a series of anomalous events. The season one episode “E.B.E.” made reference to the subject, the subject also seems to be implied initially with “Darkness Falls”. The season six episode “Field Trip” is in part based on the subject and makes references to Swamp Gas. Brown Mountain is situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina near Morganton. The lights appear to be self-contained, concentrated balls of light that can maneuver the mountainside independently. When they travel, the lights clearly appear not to be attached to a stationary “fuel port,” they can continue to burn for a minute or more, and the lights can be extraordinarily bright, even seen many miles away. They seem far too bright for what a natural gas can produce, and yet they often appear when conditions are dry. Visually spectacular, they occur on the side of a mountain where no swampy areas exist, and these events have never been known to start fires.

According to local legends of the Carolina mountains, the lights were first reported by Cherokee and Catawba Indians, dating back to the year 1200. Other reports came from Civil War soldiers and settlers. In 1771, a German engineer, Gerald de Braum, the first non-native man to explore the Linville territory, was intrigued by unexplainable sounds in the area. In de Braum’s diaries of the period, he speculated that such noises could be created by the spontaneous ignition of “Nitrous vapours.” The first known printed reference to the Brown Mountain Lights came on September 13, 1913, when the Charlotte Daily Observer cited the testimony of a group of fishermen who observed that the “mysterious light is seen just above the horizon almost every night…with punctual regularity it rises in the southeasterly direction just over the lower slope of Brown Mountain…it looks much like a toy fire balloon, a distinct ball, with no atmosphere about it…and very red.”

Three U.S. Geological Surveyors investigated the area, and one of them, D. B. Sterrett, concluded that locomotive headlights were responsible for the 1913 account. But in 1916, participants in an expedition swore that they had seen the lights just below the summit and, moreover, floating to the southeast in a horizontal direction and in and out of the ravines. Another Geological Survey scientist, George Rogers Mansfield, came to the area in March and April of 1922. He devoted seven evenings of personal observations, conducting surveys of the mountain and interviews with local residents. He attributed the events to automobiles, trains, stationary lights, and brush fires, leaving three percent unaccounted for. Mansfield was forced to acknowledge that no single explanation covered all of the phenomena. In 1977, researchers conducted an experiment and used a powerful arc light from a town 22 miles away to a location west of the mountain where observers lay in wait. The investigators concluded that refractions of distant lights were largely responsible for the sightings; of course, this focus was based on contemporary accounts of the time and didn’t really offer an explanation of the earlier accounts before artificial lighting existed.

Mysterious Lights / Explanations

Some theorists, such as Britain’s Paul Devereux, have maintained that the lights are evidence of the presence of a little-understood, so-far-unrecognized geophysical phenomenon called “earthlights.” A highly respected researcher, and the former editor for The Ley Hunter (which supports the theory of ley lines in the Earth), Devereux has argued that many strange, unexplained lights can be explained by the shifting of geological strata. Friction is caused by layers of rock rubbing against each other, which in turn release electrical discharges in the form of balls of light. This could explain why these events have nothing to do with the “swamp gas” argument made in other locations that are dense with water – the absence of methane to the geographical area of Brown Mountain.

The Brown Mountain Lights aren’t just a phenomenon of North Carolina. The Andes Lights of South America have been compared; reportedly streams of light sometimes appear around the peaks of the Andes. However, the phenomenon in the Andes does not occur below 15,000 feet. At that elevation, clouds rush around the peaks, building up powerful charges. For example, effects like St. Elmo’s Fire, when a corona of blue light develops around high points, are caused by moving clouds. At its highest point, Brown Mountain is only 2,750 feet. Could radiation be the explanation for the phenomenon? Although mysterious lights could be created by uranium, there’s no evidence of radioactive material on Brown Mountain.

Similar phenomena have been reported in other areas of the world, especially in locations with mineral characteristics similar to those of Brown Mountain. Researcher Brian Allan has written of the UFO hotspot Bonnybridge, a location where in October 1998, he and eight others witnessed a brief flash of blue light that seemed to emanate from the ground. The light appeared as a single ball before flashing outward from the ball in two opposing arms. Allan comments about Bonnybridge: “One thing worth noting is that there is a geological fault beneath the village, a belt of ultra hard quartz material. This fault created major problems with mining operations in the area and caused the tunnels to be rerouted to avoid this layer of almost impenetrable material. It is feasible that this substance is prone to the ‘piezzo crystal’ effect, generating electrical charges when subject to the mechanical stress of tectonic movement. This phenomenon helps lend credence to a current theory that many UFO sightings have their origins in highly unusual, natural, geo-magnetic anomalies that create an electro-magnetic field, which in turn affects the temporal lobe in certain sensitive people.”

One could look geologically for further explanations. The Brevard Fault, a major force in the shaping of the Blue Ridge Mountains, does run in the vicinity of the ridge. However, as pointed out by geologists, it hasn’t moved in 185 million years. Some have speculated that it is possible that smaller faults around the mountain could indeed move. Great pressure applied to all rock, but especially quartz, as before mentioned, produces electricity. Scientists have detonated dynamite on the mountain in an attempt to stimulate the lights, yet nothing substantial occurred. Many research teams, like the ORION team, researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and L.E.M.U.R. (League of Energy Materialization and Unexplained Phenomenon Research) have documented anomalous energy fields when the lights have appeared. These include readings on standard EMF meters, IR scanners, and Geiger Counters. It’s been argued that optical illusions could not cause these objective fields.

Conventional thinking would have to speculate if North Carolina is as much of a UFO hotspot as areas such as Bonnybridge. A spokesperson from MUFON-NC, Israel Curiel, said in September 2012, “In the last 18 months, there has been a significant increase. North Carolina is very active. The only ones that outrank us are California and Texas.”
While there doesn’t seem to be a lot of focus on the argument of Brown Mountain being considered a hotspot, considering the increasing claims of higher activity in North Carolina, one could theorize that Brown Mountain could have been the first focal point for such activity.

When reviewing the issue of certain minerals that seem connected to ball lightning, earthlights, and similar activity, one should consider that the ancient civilizations that built such mysterious monuments as Stonehenge, the Avebury stone circles, and the pyramids of the Giza plateau in Egypt seemed to use certain types of stone for a purpose, which can be only dimly hypothesized at present. The Great Pyramid is made of 2.5 million tons of limestone blocks; in the pyramid is the King’s Chamber, which is lined with granite – no one knows what is the purpose of the chamber. Some have suggested that the builders and priests who designed and used the Great Pyramid knew about the special properties of granite, perhaps understanding that when great pressure was applied, under the subtly shifting weight of 2.5 million tons of limestone, it emits ghostly lights and some power that makes men see otherworldly visions.

Could ley lines have a connection to Brown Mountain? It is believed that a ley line runs through Hertford, North Carolina. Brown Mountains are to the west. Unless such a ley line could have an across-the-board impact geologically on the area, it is inconclusive that such ley lines could influence mineral quartz to trigger such anomalous events, and such a hypothesis is merely speculative. Besides, one must then ask, why wouldn’t such activity occur in other parts of North Carolina? But then this raises the question of whether these events have anything to do with UFO activity at all.

When you consider the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, which occurs when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with elements in the magnetosphere, a teardrop-shaped area of highly charged electrical and magnetic fields, and that this phenomenon deals with electromagnetic energy, there could similar forces at work. But the Borealis is diffused, and these sightings deal with concentrated energy events.

These phenomena could be connected to vortices, or whirlpools, which Lord Kelvin explained in 1867. Such vortices of energy couldform different substances, because there could obviously be many different types of vortices – different sizes, speeds, and so on. Such students as David Ash in 1968 from Belfast University would argue that such vortices are the bridge between the supernatural and natural world. Ash argues that as energy is more “fundamental” than matter, so “pure movement” is more fundamental than energy. Ash describes this as “super-energy”; he writes: “Objects of super-energy would share the same form as things in our world, but their substance would be entirely different.” In other words, they could co-exist in our physical world but would be, under normal circumstances, undetectable. Parallel dimensions and alternate realities are plausible. A lot of people believe that ley lines have a lot of connections to paranormal and UFO activity, and thus, one could hypothesize that the Brown Mountain area acts as a magnet for such activity.

Therefore, this location could have to do with all of the above – ghost lights, will-o-the-wisps, foxfire, ball lightning, UFO probes – or none of the above. Nevertheless, the Brown Mountain Lights hold a natural fascination for those who speculate there is more to this world than most people can perceive, and perhaps the purpose of this phenomenon is to remind us of that.

Page Editor: Bellefleur


The Mammoth book of UFOs, by Lynn Picknett, published by Carroll & Graf, © 2001
The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved by Colin & Damon Wilson, published by Carroll & Graf, © 2000

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