Brocken spectre  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A Brocken spectre (German Brockengespenst), also called Brocken bow or mountain spectre, is the apparently enormous and magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. The phenomenon can appear on any misty mountainside or cloud bank, or even from an aeroplane, but the frequent fogs and low-altitude accessibility of the Brocken, a peak in the Harz Mountains in Germany, have created a local legend from which the phenomenon draws its name. The Brocken spectre was observed and described by Johann Silberschlag in 1780, and has since been recorded often in literature about the region. However it can be seen in any mountain region. (The dubious term glockenspectre has also been used to refer to the phenomenon; however, there appears to be no reliable evidence of its accuracy.)

References in popular culture and the arts

Lewis Carroll's Phantasmagoria includes a line about a Spectre who "...tried the Brocken business first/but caught a sort of chill/so came to England to be nursed/and here it took the form of thirst/which he complains of still."

In James Hogg's novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) the Brocken spectre is used to suggest psychological horror.

Carl Jung in "Memories, Dreams, Reflections" wrote:

... I had a dream which both frightened and encouraged me. It was night in some unknown place, and I was making slow and painful headway against a mighty wind. Dense fog was flying along everywhere. I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment... Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me... When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was a "specter of the Brocken," my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying.

In Gravity's Rainbow, Geli Tripping and Slothrop make "god-shadows" from a Harz precipice, as Walpurgisnacht wanes to dawn. Additionally, the French–Canadian quadruple agent Rémy Marathe muses episodically about the possibility of witnessing the fabled spectre on the mountains of Tucson in David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest.

The explorer Eric Shipton saw a Brocken Spectre during his first ascent of Nelion on Mount Kenya with Percy Wyn-Harris and Gustav Sommerfelt in 1929. He wrote:

Then the towering buttresses of Batian and Nelion appeared; the rays of the setting sun broke through and, in the east, sharply defined, a great circle of rainbow colours framed our own silhouettes. It was the only perfect Brocken Spectre I have ever seen.

In Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Book II Chapter 23, Flora Finching, in the course of one of her typically free-associative babbles to Mr Clennam, says " . . . ere yet Mr F appeared a misty shadow on the horizon paying attentions like the well-known spectre of some place in Germany beginning with a B . . . "




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Brocken spectre" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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