from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A candle used at ceremonious watchings of a corpse before its interment, as at lich-wakes. Candles are set at the head and feet, and often one is set upon the corpse itself.
  • noun The will-o'-the-wisp, or ignis fatuus, a luminous exhalation which, when seen in a churchyard, is supposed to portend death, and to indicate by its course the direction the corpse-bearers will take.


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • Llan Curig, not far from Plynlimmon, was struck down dead as a horse not long ago by a corpse-candle.

    Wild Wales : Its People, Language and Scenery

  • The light around them faded again to the corpse-candle gleam above Antryg's head; he turned back to the stygian arch that led once more into the mazes and the hellish walk back to the outer air.

    The Silicon Mage

  • For the charm to be really effective one had to walk around the spot at midnight carrying a corpse-candle, but I found myself laughing at the thought - which suggested Drotte's mummery about simples drawn at midnight from graves - and decided to rely on the verse alone, though I was somewhat astonished to discover that I was now old enough not to be ashamed of it.

    The Shadow of the Torturer

  • Then he proceeded to examine the alcove -- the stairs, where the gleaming eye had wavered like a corpse-candle before Lizzie's affrighted vision.

    The Bat

  • "Good Lord, Chase, you're not clinging to that corpse-candle straw, are you?" cried his lordship, beginning to pace the floor.

    The Man from Brodney's

  • But the best of all was when Joe came home, the very next day, and when, the three of them sitting about the supper-table, Mira herself told the great story, from the first moment of Deacon Bassett's visit down to the triumphant close -- "And I see him coming back, shining like a corpse-candle, and I fell like dead on the floor!"

    The Green Satin Gown

  • At last the poor Giacomo came, half undressed and holding a lantern in his hand -- he seemed terrified, and trembled so much that the lantern jogged up and down like a corpse-candle on a tomb.

    Vendetta: a story of one forgotten

  • But when he saw in the moonlight, though far off, a tiny white figure of a woman drifting on some strange current in a small boat, on the prow of which rested a faint light (to me it looked like a corpse-candle!), he thought it might be some person in distress, and began to cautiously edge towards it.

    The Lady of the Shroud

  • She is a comet that has a strange fancy only to come forth like a corpse-candle, and dance over men's graves.

    Wisdom, Wit, and Pathos of Ouida Selected from the Works of Ouida

  • A ghost of a watchman, carrying a faint corpse-candle, haunted the distant upper gallery and flitted away.

    The Uncommercial Traveller


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  • "He seemed so much a part of the wood that I might have stumbled over him, had I not been stopped by the patch of brilliant blue.

    Soft as velvet, the strange fungus spread its cloak over the naked, cold white limbs. It followed the curve of bone and sinew, sending up small trembling fronds, like the grasses and trees of a forest, invading barren land.

    It was an electric, vivid blue, stark and alien. I had never seen it, but had heard of it, from an old soldier I had nursed, who had fought in the trenches of the first world war.

    'We called it corpse-candle,' he had told me. 'Blue, bright blue. You never see it anywhere but on a battlefield—on dead men.' He had looked up at me, old eyes puzzled beneath the white bandage.

    'I always wondered where it lives, between wars.'"

    —Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber (NY: Delacorte Press, 1991), 867

    See also saprophytic.

    January 3, 2010