Brocken Specter - The Ghost In The Mountains...
Beware Beware of the Brocken Specter!
Have you heard the tale of the Brocken Specter?
If you climb the Broken mountain, you may see this ghostly figure through the mists....
And woe betide anyone who does! The Brocken Specter fortells the death of somebody on that mountain, and that someone could be YOU!!!
The Ghost on the Mountain...
"Now to the Brocken the witches go;
The mighty multitude here may be seen
Gathering, wizard and witch, below"— Scenes from the Faust of Goethe, translated by Mary Shelley
How the Brocken Specter Got It's Name
The Brocken Mountain, or Blocksberg, is the highest mountain of the Harz mountain range and of Northern Germany at 3,747 feet. The Brocken Specter is so called because of the legend of a hiker on the Brocken Mountain who saw a ghostly grey apparition that loomed up at him out of the mist, this frightened him so much he plunged to his death.
The mysterious Harz Mountains in Germany are are associated with folklore and fairy tales, such as Snow White, Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. Brocken Mountain is deeply forested and shrouded in mists and fogs for approximately 300 days a year, it is easy to see why this mountain has inspired legends and fairy tales throughout the centuries.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 -1832) made the mountain famous throughout the rest of Europe in his tragic play "Faust", about a young man who sells his soul to the devil. In Faust, Goethe uses a local legend of witches gathering on the summit of Brocken on Walpurgis night, exactly 6 months from Halloween on 30th April to celebrate the beginning of Spring.
This phenomenon was first scientifically observed by Johann Esaias Silberschlag (1721 - 1791), a Lutheran Theologist and Scientist, who wrote down his observations of the "Specter" after seeing it on Brocken Mountain.
You can actually see a Brocken Specter on any mountain or ridge, and why this phenomenon occurs is explained below......
Where to Find Brocken Mountain
The Brocken Specter is also known as....
Brockengespenst, Glockenspectre, Brocken Bow, Mountain spectre and Buddah's light....
How a Brocken Specter is Formed
If you want to see a Brocken Specter the conditions must be right. You have to find a misty or foggy mountain and climb up during the early morning or early evening! You will then need to look down the mountain into the mist, and hopefully the Brocken Specter will appear.
With sun behind you, look down the mountain into the mist. You will see your shadow, the "Specter" against the mist, which will be distorted to make your legs look long and your head small in a triangle shape. Your shadow doesn't look recognizable to you as yourself due to not only the shape but also because this shadow appears to be standing opposite you, like a ghost. This is due to perspective, you are looking into white mist and have no other objects such as houses or trees to put the shadow into context. Your depth perception is altered due to the bank of white mist.
Concentric rings of rainbow colors will form over the head of your shadow, which is caused by the low sun defracting off millions of tiny water droplets of equal size that make up the mist. The rings around your shadow are called a Glory, which are formed at the anti-solar point.
You can also see Brocken Specters and Glories from planes, which I think may be more spooky than seeing it on a mountain! When you see one from the air, it is called a "pilot's glory".
The woodman winding westward up the glen
At wintry dawn, where o'er the sheep-track's maze
The viewless snow-mist weaves a glist'ning haze,
Sees full before him, gliding without tread,
An image with a glory round its head....— Constancy to an Ideal Object, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 -1834)
Broken Specter from an Airplane
The Brocken Specter in Literature
This list (by no means complete) points you to the direction of writers and poets whose imaginations were caught by the idea of the Brocken Specter. These websites below will take you to more information about instances where a Brocken Specter has appeared in literature, poetry and prose.
- Phantasmagoria Canto III ( Scarmoges ) by Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll is best known for writing Alice in Wonderland, but this poem is about all the different types of ghosts, including a ghost called Inspector Kobold who He tried the Brocken business first" and is rather fond of port wine....
- Autobiographic Sketches by Thomas de Quincey
Thomas de Quincey saw the Brocken Specter on Brocken Mountain and this is his account of it.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). From Constancy to an Ideal Object.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). From Constancy to an Ideal Object. A poem where a woodcutter sees a Brocken Specter.
- Confessions of an English Opium-Eater - Thomas De Quincey - Google Books
Wirten in 1821, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is Thomas de Quincey's most famous book, where he describes his experiences with taking Opium. Type in "Brocken Spectre" to find his account (very similar to the one in Autobiographic Sketches) on
- A Community of One: Masculine Autobiography and Autonomy in Nineteenth ... - Martin A. Danahay - Goo
A Community of One: Masculine Autobiography and Autonomy by Martin A. Danahay - Google Books. This book discusses Thomas de Quincey and Samuel Coleridge and analyzes their experiences of the Brocken Specter in their work.
- Bram Stoker - Dracula's Guest
This story is set on Walpurgis night, when the witches gather to celebrate the start of Spring. Could the "tall and thin" man who appears in this short story actually be a Brocken Specter?
- Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Two characters in Gravity's Rainbow, Geli and Slothrop, see their "God shadows" up on the Brocken Mountain. You can search for their encounter with the Brocken Specter in text in this book on Amazon.com, though be warned that this is an explicit scen
......reaching the summits of the forest mountain about sunrise, we shall have one chance the more for seeing the famous Spectre of the Brocken. Who and what is he? He is a solitary apparition, in the sense of loving solitude; else he is not always solitary in his personal manifestations,but, on proper occasions, has been known to unmask a strength quite sufficient to alarm those who had been insulting him.— Autobiographical Sketches by Thomas de Quincey