The Amazing St. Elmo's Fire

St. ELMO's FIRE (Photo courtesy of Harald Edens-
St. ELMO's FIRE (Photo courtesy of Harald Edens-
St. Elmo's Fire collage(Photo courtesy of
St. Elmo's Fire collage(Photo courtesy of
Wierd weather and St. Elmo's Fire(Photo courtesy of
Wierd weather and St. Elmo's Fire(Photo courtesy of

When I was young, my father's helpers (mostly young men) usually passed the night with stories about the unknown, including St. Elmo's fire. We usually call it santelmo in Tagalog or Filipino language.or maybe, the corruption of the term became the popular term for the phenomenon.

They said that is also called "ball of fire" or bolang apoy usually found in many caves, as if guarding it at unrest soul that cannot found peace in the afterlife. Even, the drama soap opera on the radio tackled this phenomenon or the comics before. My father's helpers said that maybe, santelmo was guarding hidden treasures in the cave.

My father have a close encounter with St. Elmo's fire. He's been a member of their family band. There was no electricity, then  (1950s) in our place, so they have to brave passing vast riceland through its paddies in order to reach another barangay. He recounted that he saw a ball of light. He also carried a bamboo torch or sulo (fueled with kerosene gas or crude oil). He hurried and want to the person carrying the light ahead of him. When he went near the light, he found out that it was santelmo. He felt that every hair on his body, especially his nape sprung, an indication that he'd just met a supernatural being when he is being attack by  the light. He said he ran for his life and  hide at the irrigation canal (submerged himself)  until the light disappeared.

Our visual encounter with it was after the heavy rain that happened in the ricefield. Our  house was near the highway and we saw that there are many lights playing around the field at a distance. We've seen that these ball of lights were moving, playing in the ricefield, then forming a huge ball of fire, separating again, then disappear. It lasted about half an hour.

Now, that I am a sailor, stories at sea always include St. Elmo's fire. I've seen sightings of it at a distance. I've also known that it is the patro saint of seafarers, St. Elmo or San Elmo that became santelmo.

If you have experience with St. Elmo's fire, please share your stories here. Thanks.

Flying through Iraq thunderstorm c/o rfp313

Saint Erasmus or Saint Elmo - Patron Saint of Sailors

 Saint Erasmus of Formiae, Italy (ca. 303) is venerated as the patron saint of sailors. St. Erasmus or Elmo is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, saintly figures of Christian legend who were venerated specially in Central Europe as intercessors.

Erasmus was persecuted by Emperor Deocletian because of his continued preachings of Gospel to the pagans and converting many of them into Christianity. His legend recounted that many kinds of tortures were afflicted to him but he was always saved by the angels of God. This continued during the reign of Roman emperor Maximian.

His being the patron saint of the sailors happened when he continued preaching even a thunderbolt struck the ground beside him. This prompted sailors who are always in danger from sudden storms and lightning at sea, to claim his prayers. The electrical discharges at the mastheads of ships were read as a sign of his protection and came to be called "St. Elmo's fire".

A Ship's drawing with St. Elmo's fire at the masthead
A Ship's drawing with St. Elmo's fire at the masthead
The martyrdom of St. Elmo, made by unknown painter from Netherlands, 1474
The martyrdom of St. Elmo, made by unknown painter from Netherlands, 1474

St. Elmo's Fire as explained by Science

 Although, it is referred as "fire", St. Elmo's fire is actually a plasma. The electric field around the object in question causes ionization of the air molecules, producing a faint glow that is visible in low-light conditions. It is usually seen during thunderstorms at sea.

St. Elmo's  fire and normal spark can both appear when high electrical voltage affect a gas.

The nitrogen and oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere causes St. Elmo's fire to flouresce with blue or violet light; similar to the mechanism when neon lights glow.

Ball lightning is often mistaken as St. Elmo's fire. It is another phenomenon.


The belief on St. Elmo's fire still amazed me up to these days, although science explained hot this phenomenon exists.

From my viewpoint based on the series of events that happened during my childhood, I can say that I already have a better understanding why such thing occur.

Although in the far flung barangays of the Philippines, locales still believe that the appearance of Santelmo or St. Elmo's fire will lead them to a treasure. That I strongly doubted if such tip can be given by it.

Fuego de San Elmo c/o luisrn

St. Elmo's Fire -Movie Trailer c/o zukki3skh

St. Elmo's Fire Story

St. Elmo's Fire: A Phenomenon

Back in the 1950s, seamen who can get a glimpse of St. Elmo's Fire believed that it can bring both good and bad luck.

Former Chief Fire Officer James Cassady of Liverpool, England recently published a book on St. Elmo's Fire (July 2011) narrating the protagonist's (Jack Druce -fictional character) experience about the phenomenon.

Born in 1934, this World War II veteran narrowly escaped the perils of that period and spent most of his life as fireman.

As a retiree, he was able to weave this interesting fiction that is relative on how he moulded his life for the past decades.

Yet, the humour-laden twists on the story also reflects on how he loved his other profession as a sailor on the Merchant Navy of UK.

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Comments 21 comments

earthbound1974 profile image

earthbound1974 6 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

I've never seen like it. I thought it is only in many old stories of my grandfather.

thesailor profile image

thesailor 6 years ago from Seven Seas Author

@earthbound1974: It's a unique phenomenon and it's true. I've seen several of its sightings.

Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama 6 years ago from New England

Awesome hub about St. Elmo's Fire, "The Sailor." Now I understand a little more about it. My first reference to it was when I saw the most recent "Moby Dick" film, with Gregory Peck as Capt. Ahab. Great videos! Will look up more about it.

thesailor profile image

thesailor 6 years ago from Seven Seas Author

Thanks, Seafarer Mama. I'm always amazed whenever I see sightings of St. ELmo's Fire.

Lita C. Malicdem profile image

Lita C. Malicdem 6 years ago from Philippines

When I was a young girl I saw a ball of fire that rolled on the ground near our house and climbed up a coconut tree. It was too bright that I momentarily closed my eyes and covered my face with my hands but it still penetrated my sight. The following day the tree top was burned with soot all over it and a trace of red was seen on the trunk from down and up.

Could it St. Elmo's fire? Everybody in the neighborhood said it was struck by a lightning. This is great!

thesailor profile image

thesailor 6 years ago from Seven Seas Author

Thanks, Lita. My fascination at St. Elmo's fire never ceases. I'm still on watch at night hoping to have a glimpse of those phenomenal lights.

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

I love this hub so much. Thanks for writing this. Actually I have written about "Incredible Pictures from Deadly Lightning". I really enjoy the video. You share a fact, my friend. We have to know this and for further action is we must be careful, right. Vote up. Love and peace!


thesailor profile image

thesailor 6 years ago from Seven Seas Author

Thanks, for your appreciation, Prasetio. Yes, we're always careful about our voyages.

Buddy 5 years ago

nakakita na po ako ng santelmo kasama ang aking mga magulang at dalawang kapatid habang naglalakad kami sa daan na nasa tabing aplaya. Bolang apoy na kasing laki ng suha at ito ay lumilipad ng marahan mga labing limang metro ang layo sa amin.Tumagal ito ng ilang minuto hanggang sa mawala. mahirap ipaliwanag kung paanong nagkaroon ng apos sa ibabaw ng dagat.Pula at dilaw na apoy ang kulay nito.

thesailor profile image

thesailor 5 years ago from Seven Seas Author

@Buddy: May nakita rin akong kagaya niyan noong bata pa kami ng mga kapatid ko. (I've seen such thing when we were still young.) It was amazing to see this kind of phenomenon, although, some recounts that it's dangerous to go near the thing.

howcurecancer profile image

howcurecancer 5 years ago

amazing! tweet it.

thesailor profile image

thesailor 5 years ago from Seven Seas Author

Thanks for tweeting it. Please check my Twitter account @canary325.

dodong_buktot 5 years ago

I was 14 years old when i first saw the ball of fire it looks like a light of a candle dancing in the air suddenly it becomes big then small again, at first i thought it was just one of our neighbor who went home. We don't have electricity in our place at that time its too dark at night, most of us uses gasoline lamp. It was fun watching the fire i still don't know that it's a Santelmo at that moment but when my uncle told us he saw same fire and he was frightened i asked him why, then the time i learned about it i felt scared i don't want to see it again...

thesailor profile image

thesailor 5 years ago from Seven Seas Author

@dodong_buktot: Fire ball is still a mystery to me,as Santelmo did (or he popular name for it). My father told me his near-death experience about it as it went closer at him. Good thing there was this irrigation canal with running water that he submerged himself into it to draw that fire away.

They say its some lost souls who continue roaming the Earth for some unfinished businesses.

daviddwarren22 profile image

daviddwarren22 5 years ago

Wonderful story!How I wish I can see such thing someday. I'm really interested about santelmo.

thesailor profile image

thesailor 5 years ago from Seven Seas Author

@daviddwarren22: Thanks! It's hard to see santelmo at night this time. Maybe, nature's exploitation contributed to the demise or disappearance of this phenomenon.

Poyje 5 years ago

Sa pgkaka alam ko sa probinsya namin, kapag may nasaksak o npatay at tumulo yung dugo sa lupa pag umulan nagiging santelmo, yung dugo pag na uulanan umuusok daw saka nagiging santelmo...

thesailor profile image

thesailor 5 years ago from Seven Seas Author

@Poyje: Hi, Jepoy! Siguro, isa 'yan sa mga rason kung bakit nakikita ang santelmo (Maybe, that's one of the reasons why Sain Elmo's fire appear.)

The scientific finding is that after the rain, particles of phosporus in the air mix with other elements or compounds (like nitrogen, hydrogen, etc.) that made it glow or ignite.

SHIELA 3 years ago

When i was grade school i saw a ball of fire above the river. i am now 27yo i was grade 3 that time when i was playing on the river with friends. we play mata mataya then suddently strong breeze comes. we always wanted a strong winds bcoz above that river are huge and tall trees and winds shakes them then there fruits fell down onto the water so we all waiting for a fruits to fell down while were busy catching each fruits on the water a sun rays reflects onto the water and it create different kind of shine. me and all friends saw it. i don't remember what time it was but we usually swim on the river around 8 am till 11 am. then suddenly the air seems stops to blow then the reflection of the water became fire. one leave that fell down onto the water burned and it create small fire then became bigger. me and my friends were so scared so we all run it was funny bcoz from deep part of the water i swim too fast till i get to the rocky part of the river. and bcoz i was scared i didn't noticed im already on the river shore. and i still swim despite water is below my knees already. and my face was already rubbing into rocks. then i run when my feet hit the ground going home our house is not that far from the river so i call all the people living above the river to see what was happening and also my others friends did. then we go back to see the river with few people comes along to us. then we saw that the fire became huge and the water is moving round like whirlpool. from small it getting bigger and bigger and it happens on the deep part of the water. we all amazed hows that happen and people worried bcoz its getting huge so some of fisher man gets dynamite. and throw into the water and trying to stop it. every-time they shot dynamite the water spread but the fire didn't change. it took less than 8 dynamite to stop the whirlpool then that's how the fire slowly gone. the flame fade away slowly not fast. i didn't know if that is same as santelmo. i know science can explain it. but i heard that it also happened in thailand and they make fest for that phenomenon. all i can say with my experience specially from a place where i been i saw many weired things not only seeing ball of fire. but hearing a crying baby in the middle of the forest and see animals that you cant tell what kind of animal. specially when u live close to the river and mountains there are times u see strange things that u can see as fast like you wink. and you will doubt urself if u really saw it or not. but what u see is what you see. all i can say is nature elements are so true.

thesailor profile image

thesailor 2 years ago from Seven Seas Author

@SHIELA: I agree with what you've seen when you were a child. We cannot explain it, but God has all reasons why such phenomenon exists.

Joyelle 2 years ago

This is what we need - an insight to make eveoyrne think

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