Will o' the wisp

The "red and green will-o'-the-wisps" in the first sentence of Circe seem to be electric traffic lights telling tram cars whether to stop or go, but Joyce's language makes them heralds to a place of witchery. Will-o'-the-wisps are ghostly lights that hover over swamps at night, constantly receding, drawing travelers into unseen dangers. In Goethe's Faust, one leads to a Witches' Sabbath.

JH 2014

Arnold Böcklin, Das Irrlicht , 1862, oil painting displayed in the Museum Georg Schäfer, Schweinfurt. It shows a will-o'-the-wisp leading a traveler down into a dark declivity at the close of day. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

An 1887 theatrical poster for a performance of Goethe's Faust. The scene is "The Brocken." Mephistopheles stands on a ledge at the upper right, conjuring apparitions. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Johannes Praetorius, witches' sabbath in the Blockes-Berges Verrichtung, 1668. Source: Wikimedia Commons.