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Will-o'-the-Wisp

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Engraving by T. W. Cook
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A spectral light is spotted upon the misty moors one night. If by chance there are travelers who are lost, the Will-o'-the-Wisp's light is an alluring sight, but a savvy traveler knows that the light of the Wisp may only lead them further astray. The light itself is supposed to resemble a flickering flame. The explanation for the lights is that the areas where the flames were often seen were bogs, and the flames were the result of methane combustion in the air.

What the Will-o-the-Wisp is depends on the mythology, sometimes it can be a ghost when it's played straight, other times it can be a fairy or demon, it goes by many different names and most of the time a Wisp is malicious, but on rare occasions they can be helpful. The Latin name for it is ignis fatuus, "fool fire".

Will-o'-the-Wisps tend to appear in desolate locations with a macabre history, appearing as vengeful apparitions or a lost soul wandering aimlessly. Wisps in video games function as a (usually) weak enemy found in graveyards or swamps.

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See Hitodama Light for ghostly lights of Japanese folklore, Faux Flame for a supernatural illusion of fire conjured up by someone, and Spark Fairy for fairies or magical insects depicted as a point of light. Supernatural Light is the Super-Trope.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Pumpkin Scissors: Invoked. The 901st used Bottled Heroic Resolve in the form of a special kind of lamp oil that burns at a specific frequency of blue light that drove them Ax-Crazy. At a distance, at night, this looked like Will O' the Whisps, and a legend sprang up around them that they were evil ghosts "guided by the Will-of-the-Wisp."

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Will-o'-the-Wisp is a Spirit creature that doesn't do much beyond fly, but it's Black — the color associated with swamps, and its card indeed shows the wisps drifting in a dark mire — and its flavor text references will-o-the-wisp myths of various sorts. Its original text consist of lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner describing ghost-fires on the sea, while its modern one references an in-universe myth of the ghost of a deceased woman wandering the moors at night with a lantern in hand, trying to find her lost brother and dooming the living who meet her to join in her endless search.
    • Withering Wisps are a Black enchantment that damages creatures once for each swamp card you have in play.
    • The Shadowmoor set includes a group of five cards — Aphotic Wisps, Cerulean Wisps, Crimson Wisps, Niveous Wisps and Viridescent Wisps — depicted as clusters of floating, ghostly lights, which whisper indecipherable messages to the living and show omens and visions in their glow.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Evilswarm Obliviwisp, whose name was originally Vers O-Wisp, is an Evil Counterpart of a fire elemental.
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    Comic Books 
  • Johan and Peewit: In "Le Pays Maudit", the duo is crossing a bog on a raft when they notice Will o'the Wisps. Unfortunately the King is traveling with them, and he is superstitious; he soon causes the raft to capsize.
  • Marvel Universe: There's a villain named Will o'the Wisp, who most often fights Spider-Man. He can control his density and hypnotize targets.

    Fan Works 
  • Fate Revelation Online: Will-o-Wisps are ethereal monsters that are intangible to physical attacks and have a compulsion spell to lure players into the swamps of the Fourth floor, before shanking them with a knife projection.
  • Lost Cities: The spirits of the northern forest include little motes of light that flit among the trees, wavering and bobbing, vanishing and reappearing, fading and waxing, tempting travelers to wander deeper and deeper into the wood to get just another glimpse of their fascinating dance...
  • The Meaning of Harmony: The group runs into several Will-o'-Wisps in the Hayseed Swamps, the first of which nearly manages to kill them by luring them into the swamp.
  • The Power of the Equinox: There lives in the Everfree Forest a fiery fae that giggles a lot and loves enchanting whatever creatures it can, leading them to Ghastly Gorge, and causing them to fall to their death. When it enchants Scootaloo, its flames glow blue (though it shows itself to be capable of changing colors), as do the victim's eyes. Fortunately, Scootaloo is saved at the last minute by Zecora who proceeds to destroy the dark fairy by throwing at it salt and wrought iron shavings, causing it to change colors in agony before exploding in flames.
  • The World is Filled with Monsters: Will-o-Wisps are among the creatures that have been encroaching on the lands around Hazelnacht. They're described as clusters of little lights that appear on the moors at night, bobbing and weaving and enticing travelers to head closer and investigate them. They have an almost hypnotic effect, making victims obsessed with reaching them and finding out what their excited movement is about, luring them further and further away from the path. Particularly lucky or perceptive people are able to see past the light and see the wisps' wings, eyes and teeth. The rest are eaten.

    Film - Animated 
  • Brave has the Wisps, which appear as glowing blue lights and apparently have the power to lead people to their fate and encourage them to change it. They are based on Scottish lore of will o' the wisps that lead people to treasure or doom. They guide Merida to the witch's cabin. At the end of the movie, it's shown that they are actual ghosts.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Apparitional: The ghosts haunting the Freeling State Penitentiary are shown to manifest as little balls of light.
  • El amor brujo: Candela things she's being haunted by the ghost of her dead lover, Diego. In one scene she goes to his grave and sees will-o'-the-wisp that seem to be leading her to him.

     Gamebooks 
  • In Deathmoor, the titular moor is inhabited by swamp ghosts, who appears only at night as shining orbs of gases, and are capable of attacking passerbys with their ice-cold touch.

    Literature 
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Will-o'-the-wisps are small spirits that are described as "struggling to keep up with the times." Visible as flickering flames on the first plane, they were once employed to lure travelers to their death in pits or quags, but with the invention of cities, were employed to lurk over manhole covers, to rather less effect.
  • "The Buried Moon": The Moon is captured by evil creatures while Walking the Earth (long story), and buried under a great stone at the foot of a twisted tree, with a will o' the wisp keeping watch to make sure she doesn't escape. After a time, a local wise woman has a vision of "a coffin, a cross, and a candle," and sends a few brave souls out to search for those signs, and find where the Moon is hidden.
  • Dracopedia: Willowisps are a species of feydragons native to marshes, with bioluminescent tail tips and throat sacks. They feature in many folktales and legends, but hunting for their luminous glands has devastated their populations and they're believed to be extinct.
  • Harry Potter has a creature called the Hinkypunk that floats around bogs and marshes and glows. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin tells the third year Defense Against the Dark Arts class that they "[Lure] travelers into bogs. You notice the lantern dangling from his hand? Hops ahead — people follow the light — and then..." "Hinkypunk" is the name for a will o' the wisp in the West Country region of England, where J. K. Rowling grew up.
  • The Lord of the Rings: When Sam and Frodo are being guided across the Dead Marshes by Gollum he warns them not look at them. His term for them is "corpse candles."
  • The Nautical Ballad of Ben Bo Bohns: Will o' the Wisp is the name of the main phantom ship.
  • In The Spiderwick Chronicles, Will O' The Wisps are glowing fairies who disorient and confuse.
  • The World of Lightness, drawing upon Northumberland folklore, notes the Duergar, a tribe of hill-dwelling dwarfs, to be fond of shining their torches through darkened trees, and luring travellers into difficult terrain.

    Live Action TV 
  • Lost Girl: Will, the Will-of-the-Wisp of the "Where There's a Will There's a Fae" episode is a humanoid Fae that has the ability to create bursts of green flames that he uses to lead humans away from his home and treasure.
  • Once Upon a Time; The Wisps from Brave also appear in the first episode of Season 5. Merida needs one to find her brothers; Emma needs one to find Merlin.
  • So Weird: The Phillips family encounters a chaotic and hostile Will-o-the-Wisp on several occasions, the first incident happening when Fiona and Jack are lost in the woods. It can possess people or objects (first Jack, then Molly, then a failed attempt at Annie, and then Fi's computer) and work various forms of magic, and it can only be sent away either by invoking its true name, Bricriu, or by fulfilling a deal. In its last appearance, Fi traps it on a floppy disc, keeping it captive and harmless indefinitely.

    Music 
  • The danish folksong Lygtemandens Sang- Hvor er mine fødder dog ømme (the Lantern Man's song - How my feet are aching) is about a man who follows the titular Lantern Man, convinced that it will lead him to treasure. He ends up wandering forever.
  • Manuel de Falla includes a song about it, titled "Canción de Fuego Fatuo," in the ballet El Amor Brujo.
  • Miles Davis's version of this tune on Sketches of Spain is titled "Will o' the Wisp."

    Mythology 

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Jeff Hardy's masked gimmick, Willow The Wisp, in OMEGA. In TNA, it is stated Willow is nothing but a figment of Jeff Hardy's imagination. Willow's light show makes his surroundings deliberately monochrome.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Will-O-Wisp is a monster that haunts dangerous and deserted places like catacombs, swamps and bogs with traps that can kill the unwary (Pit Traps, Quicksand Sucks, etc.). When a victim is killed by one of these hazards the Will-O-Wisp feeds on their Life Energy.
  • Pathfinder:
    • Will-o'-wisps are aberrations resembling floating spongy orbs that glow with eery light, but can selectively dim and modify their illumination to take on a number of forms — winged humanoids, floating skulls, and so on. They live in lonely bogs, moors and forests, usually alone but rarely in groups called strings or chandeliers, and lure travelers into the wilderness to feed on their fear and life energy when they die. Although they aren't fey, they're fairly common in the First World where the true fey live. In addition to common will-o'-wisps, there's also a large number of variants and related creatures:
      • Dread wisps haunt the depths of the underground, and feed on despair as well as fear.
      • Dune candles inhabit the depths of the desert. Their glow burns with true fire, and in addition to luring travelers into the depths of the desert or into areas prone to sandslides, they also enjoy just setting their victims aflame.
      • Flickerwsips are lesser relatives of will-o'-wisps that resemble three-foot-long clumps of trailing hair that pulse with flickering yellow light. They have similar habits to will-o'-wisps, but feed on confusion and doubt instead of fear, especially the unease of lost travelers.
      • Groetan candles serve Groetus, the god of the end times, and always take on the appearance of the skull-like moon that is their god. Their fires burn deadly cold.
      • Voidgluttons are stronger relatives to will-o'-wisps and flickerwisps, and take the form of glowing, disembodied eyes and claws swirling around a seething black core. Their preferred haunts are sites of great misery, such as graveyards, prison camps and battlefields.
      • Spellvoids are a variant that, instead of eating emotions, feeds on magic and drains it from living spellcasters.
      • Will-o'-the-deeps live over seas and occasionally large lakes. They tend to live in groups, and use their collective light to create beautiful vistas and beacons that they use to lure ships into reefs and away from safe waters.
    • The empyreal lord Ashava is a benevolent version of this. Her true form is a hazy sphere of silvery moonlight, and she entices others to follow her so as to lead them home (if they're living) or to the afterlife (if they're dead). Conversely, she despises true will-o'-wisps due to them deliberately leading people astray and encouraging fear of the wilderness and the night.
    • The Lantern King, one of the Eldest of the fey, resembles a floating orb of light crowned with arcane symbols, endlessly wandering the roads and paths of the First World. He is speculated to be the father of will-o-wisps, in part because of his appearance and in part because he has many in his service, though he laughs off all inquiries on the subject without answer.
    • Lampads, nymphs who live in cavern systems, can create glowing wisps of magical light, which they use to guid lost travelers to safety and to lure monsters to their doom.
  • Shadowrun: The Corpselight, or will o' wisp, is a mysterious magical being that looks like a wisp, floating about two metres above ground in desolate areas. They are solitary and malevolent, draining their victim's essence in a way similar to Vampires.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay:
    • Marshlights are ethereal undead that cannot physically harm their victims, instead they mesmerise them and lead them into danger. They can only be harmed by magic weapons, which banish them in a single hit.
    • The Marsh Lights spell allows a caster to create a number of lights within 100 yards of themselves and then send them off in any desired direction.

    Video Games 
  • Ancient Empires has Wisps as a type of unit. They appear as bluish balls of light that increase the attack of nearby allied units. Their attack does increased damage to skeletons, but their base attack is still too weak for this to be effective.
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura: Several enemies are glowing balls of light found in swampy terrain.
  • Diablo II: The Willowisp monsters are ethereal undead that are transparent until they use their lightning attack. They shoot incredibly fast, come in packs that will focus fire on one character, and are some of the most prominent Demonic Spiders in the game.
    Created from the vapors that rise from the dense jungle swamps, these mindless forms seek out the energy contained in all living things. While not evil in nature, their feeding habits do make them a serious threat to adventurers.
  • Dragon Age: Origins: Wisps are demons who lost their power by being in the physical world without a host for too long or by being destroyed, often by other demons. What remains of its mind clings to a hatred of all living things. Wisps mindlessly attack in the Fade while in the physical world, they pose as light sources such as lanterns to lead the living into dangerous areas. The Spell Wisp is a spell from the Creation tree summons a wisp that grants a small bonus to spellpower while maintained.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Oblivion has them as a mid-level monster encounter. They're incorporeal like ghosts (meaning they can only be hurt with magic, weapons made of silver, or magic weapons) and can use lightning-based magic.
    • Skyrim:
      • Skyrim has glowing hostile creatures called Wisps, which are found near feminine, ghostlike beings called Wispmothers. Unlike the Will-o-the-Wisps in Oblivion, these can be hurt by any kind of weapon. Killing a Wispmother disperses the Wisps surrounding her. These also appear in The Elder Scrolls Online.
      • Yngol's Barrow has mysterious orbs of light that follow and surround the Dragonborn, but they are harmless.
  • Evil Islands: Willow-o'the-Wisps are enemies that appear in the first island (especially around the swamp areas and around the City of the Dead) as a group of lights that start burning when attacking. They throw fire at you, an attack which isn't very damaging at later stages, but makes them quite a threat when first encountered.
  • Genshin Impact: "Mysterious Seelie" are small beings that look like floating blue orbs. Following them to their final destination (called "Seelie Gardens") rewards you with hidden loot.
  • In Mortal Kombat X, Ermac (who is a being made of thousands of souls shoved into one body) has green lights similar to these orbiting him in his Master Of Souls variation. He can use them as projectiles to temporarily paralyze the opponent.
  • Nexus War: Nexus Clash has them as some of the low-level minions of the Lich. They're not very effective in combat but they're cheap, can heal their masters with Life Drain, and their ghostly nature means that even invisible characters can't hide from them.
  • Overwatch references this with the non-canon "Will-o'-the-Wisp" skin for Tracer, redesigning her into a glowing spectre who fires pistols of supernatural fire instead of futuristic energy pulses, and has a new justification for teleporting around beyond time manipulation. The non-canon backstory is that Tracer's spirit was ripped away from her body after a magical accident, but she's come to make peace with the world and uses her powers to her newfound benefit.
  • Pokémon:
    • Will-O-Wisp (originally named Onibi) exists as a status move that inflicts the Burn status on the target Pokemon if it hits. It is commonly learned by Ghost-type and Fire-type Pokemon.
    • A Pokémon that learns this move is Duskull, which has a light floating in its skull. In German, it's called Zwirrlicht, which is a wordplay on Zwielicht (Twilight) and Irrlicht (Will-o'-the-Wisp).
    • It is also learned by the Litwick line, which take the shape of animated candles (Litwick itself), lamps (Lampent) or candelabra (Chandelure) lit with a ghostly blue flames, which they use to mesmerize people and consume their souls.
  • In Quest for Glory IV, Will-o'-the-Wisps are the souls of dead children, and they hang around the swamp at night. Following them into the swamp, naturally, is foolish, but they're also there for a good reason. The Hero must capture a few of them in order to find one of the Dark One Rituals.
  • Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale: Will-'o-Wisps spawn when you spend too much time on a dungeon floor, The first time you see one, Tear recommends outright that you drop whatever you're doing and make tracks for the level exit. Most of the time, Wisps are not worth fighting due to lack of reward except they are the only enemies to drop Salamander Scales which are needed to make high level items. Since you need a) 28 Salamander Scales total to make all possible items once each and b) the drop rate of them is 1:50, you will have to kill a lot of these very dangerous enemies if you aim for 100% Completion of the item encyclopedia.
  • The Secret World: The pumpkin patches Jack inhabits are often surrounded by flickering lights.
  • The Sims 3: The "Late Night" Expansion Pack adds wisps that can be caught like butterflies and are quite valuable.
  • Torchlight II's third act, set in the swamps of Grunnheim, feature "Corpsefire" enemies, from corpsefire huntsmen that shoot flaming arrows or attack with blazing spears to corpsefire dire wolves that will transform into corpsefire werewolves when damaged.
  • Warcraft:
  • We Know the Devil: Venus sometimes sees these in the distance. It is a character tic that hints towards her element, and the nature she takes on when possessed.
  • In ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal, will-o'-whisps are found in the Great Swamp around the Goblin village of Dunmore. You are supposed to follow them to get to the island in the middle of the swamp, because the area is extremely convoluted (by design) and covered in fog, to boot.

     Web Original 
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, wisps are semi-sentient balls of light which are attracted to anything which oozes with mana, whether it's a place of power or a creature. They live by leeching magic from their target and are thus desired by mages who wish to channel the magic within them.
  • In "If You See Ghost Lights, Don't Leave the Trail", a Creepypasta, the narrator describes his run-in with them. His friend, a folklore buff, states that sometimes they lead to a body, sometimes to treasure, and sometimes to the persuer's death. Subverted, however, because they turn out to be the Glowing Eyelights of Undeath of a group of ghostly murdered factory workers.
  • The No Sleep Podcast:
    • The narrator of "I Used To Sit There" sees faint lights in the woods across the lake that he sits on the shore of.
    • A mysterious light stalks the narrator and his friends in "The Midnight Hike".
  • The Thrilling Adventure Hour:
    • Will-o'-the-Wisps are a creature present in the "Beyond Belief" universe. They feed by draining people of their souls while lulling them off their guards by telling stories. In the Valentine's Day episode, one tries this on Frank and Sadie Doyle, telling them tales of their exploits only to fail before he even began due to The Power of Love. This particular Will-o'-the-Wisp, known as Spooky Hal, is also the narrator who opens and closes each Beyond Belief episode.
    • The episode "The Skeleton Grief" features a Will-o'-the-Wisp trying to force a re-do of a previous story, "The Skeleton Brief." He was dissatisfied with how the antagonists, organ-harvesting skeletons, were hit by a bus and tried to change the story to save them. Spooky Hal eventually takes the story back and forces the enemy Wisp to share in the skeletons' fate.

     Web Video 

     Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Will O Wisp

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