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Beware of Haints!

If you've ever awoken and still felt tired, you just may be the victim of a Lowcountry haint. Members of the Gullah community have long been aware of the troubled spirits that haunt the American South, but they've also come up with a handy bag of tricks to ward off these supernatural beings.

The Infamous Boo Hag

"Haints" is the Gullah word for the spirits that haunt the South, including the spirits of those humans who have not quite passed to their eternal rest--your average, ordinary ghosts. Some of these may be maliciously motivated, while others are as friendly as can be. More threatening, however, are the evil boo hags. These otherworldly creatures are similar to vampires (or the Dementors of Harry Potter fame), in that they survive by sucking the life force from the living. They sneak into the homes of unsuspecting victims in the middle of the night. Mounting them like horses, the boo hag sucks in the person's breath, then flies away before daylight. The poor victim awakens exhausted, as if they had not rested at all. "Don't let the hag ride ya" is the Gullah way of saying, "Stay safe!"

Bottles and Blue

Never fear! Fortunately, there are a number of methods by which to ward off such a gruesome encounter. Often assumed to be merely colorful garden art, bottle trees (see photos at top and left) have long served as a protection from ghosts and boo hags alike. To create your own bottle tree, select several colorful glass bottles and place the necks over the branches of trees near your home. (These days you can even find metal "tree" structures specially designed for the task.) According to Gullah legend, the spirits will become trapped inside the bottles as they approach your house and never make it inside. (Tip: Cobalt blue bottles are believed to be particularly enticing to haints.)

If the haints get past your bottle tree, keep them from entering your home by painting the porch ceiling blue (see photo at right). When the spirits step onto the porch, they will mistake the "haint blue" ceiling for sky, leading them to fly up and away. Similarly, painting doors, window trim, or even the entire house blue (see photo below) is also a barrier to haints, who will believe they've stumbled into water--which they cannot cross. In fact, "haint blue" porch ceilings and house trim are such a popular notion in the South that companies such as Sherwin-Williams now produce and market the color for the safety-conscious--or perhaps just fashionable--homeowner. (Although paint companies may consider "haint blue" to be a specific aqua hue, centuries of experience have shown that any shade of blue will work to keep haints at bay.)

If All Else Fails...

If, despite your best efforts, a haint DOES manage to infiltrate your home, Gullah tradition dictates that there are some last-ditch measures that can save you from harm. Ghosts--and especially boo hags--are said to be terribly vain and easily distracted, so placing a mirror in your entry hall will consume their attention so that they forget any evil motivation. A broom propped by a doorway will also distract haints, who will be compelled to count each and every straw rather than approach their victim. A good cleansing of the home, by burning sage in each room and mopping the floors with pine and camphor, should rid the site of least until the next nightfall.

I must admit that, in all my years in the Lowcountry, I have never (knowingly) encountered a haint--good or evil--despite having taken NONE of the precautions described above. Even so, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Perhaps I'll start right now emptying some wine bottles to make a bottle tree. After all, we could all use a good night's sleep.

Don't let the hag ride ya!

For more Lowcountry tales, check out my Carolina-based historical mysteries at

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