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What Are Corpse Candles?

Date: Wed,08 Oct 2008

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Ancient people seem to have thought of light in terms of spirits. In Wales, this idea was manifested in the belief of the canwyll corfe (corpse candle), which was viewed as being a harbinger of death.

A description of a typical corpse candle was given to author, Alasdair MaGregor in Carmarthen by the daughters of John Thomas who died in 1946. It would appear that Thomas and a friend were walking one pleasant summer evening when they saw a strange light travelling towards them from the village of Francis Well. 'It looked like a bright candle flame, without the candle; and it kept on coming nearer and nearer to us,' Thomas told his daughters. 'It passed by us, on the other side of the hedge, just where the footpath came up from the valley. It went on, hopping along a few inches from the ground, and then vanished into the distance.' Though the event in itself was strange, it particularly stuck in Thomas's memory because just three days after the sighting a funeral procession came up that very pathway from Francis Well!

A Margaret Lewis also from Wales saw a similar phenomenon on a road. She saw a light travel between a roadside cottage and outlaying barn, just two days later, Lewis maintained, a woman died during childbirth in the cottage, and her body had rested in the barn prior to the funeral.

At the turn of the 20th century, an old Welshwoman told another writer about supernatural lights seen in and around the small village of Nevern, in Preseli, south-west Wales. She claimed that corpse candles appear like 'a patch of light' usually about 'as big as a pot' and were not a flame 'but a luminous mass.' A pale green one was apparently seen in Nevern just a few days prior to the death of a respected local doctor.

But is it all just country myths? Apparently, not, if a 1991 incident in Nevern is anything to go by. In March of that year, local builder Paul Ladd was on his way home through a hamlet via his usual stop at the village pub, when he was accosted by a light. It came up from the river when the builder was crossing the ancient bridge there. He described it as being a little under three feet in diameter, and silver-grey in colour. 'It was like a torch with no beam, a shimmering, glowing spooky thing, only about as tenth as bright as a street light.’ he said. As Ladd walked on, the light followed him. The burly builder began to feel unnerved and he lit a cigarette; as his match flared, the light shrank back, just like an animal would when confronted by a flame. Ladd walked on past an old church and then tried to hide in a hedge under a tree to get away from it as it continued to stalk him. He stated 'It came into the tree then shot out again. Came in, shot out - this happened about eight times, then it just vanished.' much to Ladd's relief!

Whilst it might be put down to Ladd having had too much to drink at the local tavern that night - the strange thing was several more residents of Nevern reported that evening having encountered the same strange light.
One young woman told a local radio reporter that a hovering light had apparently tried to enter her house when she was saying goodnight to her boyfriend, but she managed to slam the door shut in time to prevent it entering. She was afraid if it did - death was sure to follow for a member of the household!
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