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Brocken Specter - The Ghost In The Mountains...

Updated on September 25, 2015
Brocken Spectre
Brocken Spectre | Source

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...

Brocken Spectre at Peak Korzhenevskaya
Brocken Spectre at Peak Korzhenevskaya | Source

"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......

Brocken Mountain

Summit of Brocken Mountain
Summit of Brocken Mountain | Source

Where to Find Brocken Mountain

Brocken, Harz und südliches Harzvorland, 38879 Wernigerode, Germany

get directions

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.

Night spectre of the brocken
Night spectre of the brocken | Source

......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

Have You Ever Seen a Brocken Specter? - I want to hear all about it!

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Yes! Up on Mt. Diablo, in CA, USA: It's been a major survey marker for several States; it has an observation deck up top, there with all the repeater towers. It was mid-afternoon, between about 2 to 4 p.m.; it was a chilly temp, enough to want a woolie jacket & scarf.

      I walked around the building counterclockwise, up steps along south of building, towards the east, wrapping up east side of building to the north side of the building & platform.

      First time I saw a Glory with a Brocken Specter in it, was when turning corner to go along south side of the museum/observation building at the top of that mountain. I'd no clue what it was, then--the Glory was a huge diameter--guessing, in relation to the building, that must have been at least 75+ feet diameter. The shadow of my head was in the middle of it, the shadow of my body included as for a normal shadow--just bigger, all surrounded by the rainbow Glory. The whole thing seemed unchanged by the irregular surface of the cloudage it was displayed on--almost independent of the irregular cloud surface.

      I noticed it moving with me--fascinating!

      It disappeared while going up the steps on the east side of the building [building between me & sun], then the effect reappeared as soon as I reached where the sun shown across observation platform, with me interrupting that light path.

      Was alone at first.

      Had 360 degree view.

      No clouds touching building or platform, but the mountain top was encircled with clouds/haze to a much higher elevation than the platform.

      Sun from west shown horizontally across platform; sun shining through haze, caused effect on clouds on the east side of the platform, as if the shadow was walking on the clouds; was clearly my shadow, with the rainbow "Glory" all around it.

      I thought maybe there were micro-droplets on my scarf & jacket, so I removed those, thinking it would make the effect disappear--it remained intact. The shadow I understood--the rainbow formed all around that, was the conundrum.

      A few other people, adults & children, occasionally came & went, but made no sign they saw anything but clouds.

      NO others remarked or pointed to the clouds on the east side [surely kids would remark or point?]; they stood & looked into the clouds, only in ways which appeared none saw anything.

      I stood in one place about 40 feet from others, or walking, waving arms to see the shadow effect.

      Some walked across the platform behind me, which should have caused their shadows &/or a Glory of theirs I could observe at that angle, also--but they barely made shadows on the clouds--no other Glories from those.

      I walked back & forth behind others standing on the east side of the platform [they stood to the east of me], watching my Glory/shadow traverse their area, yet only saw a bit of same on a couple others [read: massively smaller effects], & none on most, even when there should have been some overlap--there wasn't any--just mine--even the other's shadows seemed significantly diminished in size & intensity.

      There were a couple others who did have a bit of Glory too, but vastly smaller shadow & Glory; by walking across behind those, their far smaller effect could be seen separately from mine.

      While we were so close at similar angles to sun & clouds, why were the effects so markedly different?

      The effect lasted for the couple hours I stayed up there--the clouds never shifted much; there sun stayed showing across the platform.

      Since then, I've seen the effects while flying in a plane, & while hiking a couple other places.

      The event created more questions than articles found so far have answered.

    • Oneshotvariety LM profile image

      Oneshotvariety LM 

      6 years ago

      I have not, but sounds pretty interesting. Nice work!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      No, I haven't ever seen a Brocken Specter or even heard of such a thing until I read this lens. This looks so cool!

    • siobhanryan profile image


      6 years ago

      Nice legend


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