La Luz Mala – Argentina & Uruguay

Of the many Latin American legends, perhaps the spookiest are those which we know are real – those that are based around natural phenomenon that anyone can see with their own two eyes. One of the most famous of these real-life tales is La Luz Mala (the evil light) of Argentina and Uruguay.

La Luz Mala is a kind of mythical light that can be compared to a will-o’-the-wisp, also called a fairy or ghost light. In Spanish, this type of natural phenomenon is called fuegos fatuos, from the Latin ignis fatuus (foolish fire).

Just as in the will-o’-the-wisp European legend, in Argentina folklore, la Luz Mala appears in swampy regions, for example, in the Bahía de Samborombón (Samborombon Bay) in Buenos Aires province.

What Does La Luz Mala Look Like?

A simulation of a will-o-the-wisp, or luz mala.

A simulation of a will-o-the-wisp, or luz mala.

La Luz Mala resembles wisps of lights, floating just inches above the swamp. They resemble flickering lamps and seem created to draw in passers-by from safety into the dangers of the swamp. These phenomenon are more common during certain parts of the year, particularly the dry season.

Also called Ailen mulelo (“glowing ember that walks”) by the indigenous people of the area, this phenomenon has a scientific explanation. It is likely to be due to methane emissions which are common in swamps, due to the gases released when organic substances decompose.

Another cause may be the phosphorescence of the calcium salts that make up the skeletons of animals that are scattered in the area. Other explanations for lights seen at night are the reflection of the moon off white birds such as owls, or the light produced by bioluminescent plants and insects, such as fireflies and certain fungi.

The Legend of La Luz Mala

But the fact that la Luz Mala has a scientific explanation doesn’t make it any less creepy.  As with other unusual natural phenomenon that at the time was unexplained, la Luz Mala was feared and became the source of stories and legends.

It was thought be the souls of the departed that have not been forgiven of their sins, and therefore must continue on earth. As such, it was a message from the underworld that should be avoided.

In order to protect oneself from the evils of the light, upon seeing it, locals will pray and bite their knife or sheath, as this weapon is considered to be the only defense possible. When paths were known to have apparitions of la Luz Mala, they would cease to be used for a long time.

La Luz Mala has a number of other names, including Farol de Mandinga (Devil’s Lantern) and Boy Tata. It is considered one of the most famous myths and legends of Argentina, and the legend itself can even be found in neighboring country Uruguay.

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