Thursday, February 13, 2014
Legends from every continent mention the "Will-o'-the-Wisp". This mysterious phenomenon is witnessed only at night, usually in forests and swamps. It manifests as a flickering ball of light, often seen at a distance through the trees. Travelers may mistake these lights for lanterns, following them off the past and getting lost in the woods. In fact, they are not human-made at all -- but what are they?
Nowadays, we know that the answer is swamp gas -- ignited by natural processes. Bioluminescent fungus may also produce the "Wisp" phenomenon. But these explanations weren't available until the advent of modern science. The world's mythologies, understandably, thus came up with other answers. Some legends claim these lights are demons, trying to lure wanderers to their doom. Other say they are ghosts -- or fairies, or monsters, or something else entirely. But my favorite theory comes from Japan. The "Will-o'-the-Wisp" is produced by a yokai, it's claimed. And this yokai is a fire-breathing chicken.
Yes, you read that right. I did mention that there were a lot of strange yokai out there -- this is one of them. It's called the Basan, and by day it sleeps in the canopy of the forest. At night, it emerges from its sleep, and lights the darkened sky with its glowing, fiery breath. The Basan is not dangerous -- thankfully, its fire produces no heat, and is incapable of burning. This chicken's serve only to illuminate -- as a weapon, they're absolutely useless.
The Basan's flames are often mistaken for those of other yokai. In fact, various creatures of Japanese legend can produce wisp-like fire. One is the kitsune -- a trickster fox, which can produce glowing lights called Kitsune-Bi. Other phantom lights come from Hitodama -- human souls, wandering the earth before entering the afterlife. These are interesting legends, and certainly worthy of attention, but not quite so interesting as a supernatural chicken.
Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/ShunsenBasan.jpg (public domain)