Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

Notes, types and motifs

Notes for the story 'A Man from Ysbyty Ystwyth sees a Corpse Candle'

Mary Thomas told these stories as part of a conversation between herself, her husband William Thomas, and the interviewer, about portents of death in Ffair-rhos and the surrounding area. These stories follow the anecdote 'Seeing a Funeral on the Road from Pontrhydfendigaid to Ystrad-fflur' and the following comments by William Thomas and Mary Thomas about a particular belief concerning the corpse candle, or gole corff ('corpse light'), as they called the portent.

WT: But, you know, years ago there was a corpse candle going along the road, you'd see a little light coming, you see. And old Doctor Rowlands was living in Bont here, you see. And say he'd see a light coming, he'd get down off his horse - at that time, you see, he'd go all over the surrounding area to visit the sick, and so on, and they went on horseback - and what he'd do, was take off his hat, you see, if he saw a pool or puddle of water, he'd put his hat by the water. And he'd see who was going to die, as the light went through the hat.

MT: If you happened to see a corpse candle and you were passing through water on the road, you'd look in the water when the funeral procession went through the water and you'd see the person in the coffin [laughs].

WT: I hope he sleeps tonight! I hope you sleep tonight [referring to the interviewer and laughing]!

MT: Oh dear me!

RG: And who told you this story?

WT: Well, I heard my grandmother telling it. My grandmother was her [MT's] father's sister.

MT: We'd hear the old people talking, you see, the old people discussing [things], you see. It was the old people who told all those stories.

RG: And that was the belief, that you could see who'd die if you looked in the water?

WT: Well, [if] you put your hat here by the water, you'd see the light, and then you'd know the person in the hat, you know, as the light passed. That's what they said.

After Mary Thomas had recounted the experiences of her grandfather, Thomas Jones of Ysbyty Ystwyth, this was her answer to the question: 'What kind of light was this?' 'Well, I'd think that it would vary in size according to the age of the person. I think it would be quite a small candle if it was a child; it would be bigger if it was a grown-up.' And here are further comments from her about her grandfather's beliefs and his influence on her (tape MWL 6450).

He was a very remarkable character... quite unique. He'd see ghosts and corpse candles everywhere.

Do you believe in things like that?

Well, yes, I do.

Do you?

Yes, I do believe, because my grandfather believed and he saw them, and of one thing I'm sure, that my grandfather didn't lie. My grandfather told the truth.


Types

ML 4002 (W)Supernatural manifestations.
ML 4040 (W)Premonitions of death.
ML 4040 (W) (b)The corpse candle.
ML 4040 (W) (c)Toili (phantom funeral)

Motifs

D 1825. 7Magic sight of incident before it actually happens.
E 272Road ghosts.
E 421. 1.1Ghost visible to one person alone.
E 530.1Ghost-like lights.
E 530. 1.6Ghost-light serves as death omen.
E 723.2Seeing one's wraith (corpse candle) a sign that person is to die shortly.


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